I don't always keeps my nails looking nice, but when I do, I have a system I always go through - and it helps.
I rub a good lotion into my nail beds and cuticles for 5 minutes or so, and then wipe it off with a wash cloth. Sometimes I'll even rub a cuticle oil into my cuticles first, then it all gets wiped off.
For some reason moisturizing first seems to help a LOT. I picked that tip up somewhere years ago, and I always do it now.
Then, I put a very thin coat of polish on. I let it dry completely and then put on another.
My throughout the week technique is to put on another thin coat of polish every couple of days. Since I usually use lighter colors, the chips don't show terribly, and it's much easier to fill them in with another coat of polish.
If you're going to be doing something hard on your manicure (doing dishes by hand, mopping by hand, scrubbing a bathtub or animal cage, etc.) it's best to wear gloves. Kind of icky, I know, but being submerged in water is really hard on your manicure.