Written by Sasha Blakeley
Effective Time Management in Nursing
Working as a nurse can be a highly stressful job. There are always more tasks to complete, more patients to see, and more forms to fill out. Nurses do not just have to get all of this work done — they have to get it done to a high standard that prioritizes patient care. Many nurses will find themselves getting overwhelmed by all there is to do, at least some of the time. One of the ways that nurses and other healthcare workers can get through long shifts and continue to provide reliable patient care is through careful time management. In a fast-paced hospital or clinic setting, good time management can make it easier for things to fall into place instead of spiraling out of control. Anyone interested in becoming a nurse and taking the NCLEX exam and the TEAS exam should consider how they can implement time management skills from the start of their career.
The importance of effective time management in nursing is most apparent during a busy shift, like those that ER and ICU nurses deal with each day. A nurse might have many patients to attend to, some of whom have more pressing needs than others, but all of whom need attention and care. During the shift, one or more patients might go into crisis, pulling attention away from other patients and upsetting the routine nurses had established. This is true in any nursing specialization. Nurses with good time management skills may be more likely to remain calm, shift their priorities, delegate tasks to other members of their healthcare team, and still ensure that all patients get the care they need.
There are plenty of time management skills that can make a big difference for nurses. It is important to remember that these strategies are skills; they take practice and deliberate effort to implement. Improving one's time management does not happen immediately, especially for nurses who are busy and have a lot of nursing duties juggling dozens or hundreds of other tasks. It is essential for anyone working on their time management skills to take it slow. Aiming to integrate one new skill at a time is an effective way to get started. Gradually, as these skills become intuitive, each day should seem a little easier to handle.
While these skills are crucial, they are not magic. Nursing will always be a challenging professional field that requires a certain kind of disposition in its workers. In conjunction with good time management skills, nurses should also aim to practice good self-care whenever possible. One of the ironies of working in healthcare is that doing so can negatively impact one's health; long hours, night shifts, and a high-stress work environment can all take their toll, even for the most organized nurses. This is especially true given the current widespread nursing shortage in the United States. For that reason, it may be helpful for nurses to think of time management skills as one piece of a larger puzzle. Self-care, workplace cooperation, professional skills, and a functional work environment are all necessary for nurses to thrive in their careers in the long term.
Why Use Time Management?
When patients visit a hospital, clinic, or another healthcare facility, they are often experiencing some of the biggest challenges of their lives. They may be in significant pain, reckoning with their own mortality, or not yet understanding the meaning behind their symptoms. All of this can make hospital visits a stressful, painful, and frightening experience. Patients rely on their doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, and other healthcare workers to help them navigate their experience and to provide potentially life-saving medical care. When nurses and other healthcare professionals practice good time management, patients stand to benefit in many ways. Some potential benefits include the following:
- A less stressful healthcare experience
- Increased opportunities to ask questions or express concerns
- Continuous care, rather than care only in times of crisis
- The potential for a shorter hospital stay, freeing up resources for other patients
- A better environment for healing and recovery
- Rapid, high-quality care in times of crisis
- Less risk of being on the receiving end of a medical error
Practicing good time management as a nurse is one way to make the whole healthcare system run smoothly. It is important not to lose track of how patients are experiencing the healthcare environment — after all, nursing is a profession centered around care. Part of the value of time management is that it can make a big difference in patients' lives.
Importance of Time Management as a Nurse
There is a lot to be said about why having good time management as a nurse is helpful for patients, but it is also beneficial for nurses. Well-developed time management skills ensure that nurses are prepared for each shift. Many nurses work long shifts, some lasting twelve hours or longer. Many work overnight or switch between night and day shifts. The tasks nurses have to complete vary daily and hourly, meaning that mental alertness is constantly required. If possible, aspiring nurses should start thinking about their time management skills while they are still in nursing school. Some of the potential benefits of having good time management skills can include:
- Being prepared for any crisis that may arise
- Having the appropriate materials on hand to complete tasks
- Developing and maintaining better workplace relationships
- Carving out more time for breaks when the workload is lighter
- Getting ahead on less urgent tasks
- Being more likely to finish a shift on time
- Making mistakes less often
- Experiencing less stress at work
- Reducing the risk of burnout and poor health outcomes
No matter how chaotic or intense a work shift seems, there are ways to make it more manageable. Taking the time to build these efficient systems might feel like the wrong approach; after all, there is always urgent work to be done. But the benefits can be significant for those who even slightly improve their time management abilities.
Time Management Skills
Most time management skills nurses benefit from can be divided into four major categories: delegation, prioritization, anticipation, and organization. Many people will find that they have a natural inclination toward some of these skills over others. For those who want to work on their time management, a good first step is a thoughtful self-examination. Nurses should consider their current strengths and weaknesses, how those skills manifest in the workplace, and what parts of a shift tend to be the most challenging to cope with. From there, nurses can match their current skills with the following four categories and see what practical options would be the most advantageous for their situation.
Healthcare is a team effort that works best when everyone plays their part. Nurses have separate responsibilities from doctors, nursing assistants, and other healthcare workers, though all of these professions do have a degree of overlap. Sometimes, nurses might feel as though they are carrying an immense burden. While it is true that nurses do have a weighty responsibility to care for their patients, it is equally true that they do not shoulder that responsibility alone. Good time management involves knowing what each person in the healthcare team is able to do. It means assigning tasks to others on the team to share the workload so that nobody becomes overwhelmed.
Nurses should always be mindful of their work relationships; delegation does not mean bossing others around. It also does not mean assigning unpleasant or unwanted tasks to nursing assistants. Good delegation involves understanding what needs to be accomplished. It means considering coworkers' skills, experience levels, and current workload when delegating tasks. It also means understanding how and when to ask for help. Some nurses might fall into the trap of thinking they should be able to do it all themselves, but that mindset will only cause harm in the long run. Delegation is part of learning how to work as an efficient team, just as much as it is a time management skill.
Because nurses have to complete such a wide range of tasks, prioritization is one of the most fundamental skills they can learn. Some duties will always be more urgent than others. Recognizing which tasks are high-priority and completing them accordingly is an essential element of time management. Naturally, patient emergencies will always be at the top of the list, followed by routine patient care. Some nurses might find that the sheer volume of tasks they must complete can make them feel paralyzed by stress. Some might focus too much energy on one assignment, neglecting others. Alternatively, some nurses might be tempted to rush through vital tasks just to check them off the list.
Prioritization means understanding the relative importance of different activities throughout a shift. It means having a sense of how long each task should take, what resources should be allocated to it, and how it connects to the broader work environment of that shift. Fundamental to prioritization is paying proper attention; rather than focusing on which tasks will come next, nurses should aim to give each duty their total attention while still being aware there are other jobs to be done as soon as possible. Striking this balance is challenging and takes practice. To some extent, learning to prioritize tasks will come with more nursing experience, though it is also worth being aware of and focusing on improving.
Nursing shifts can feel like a perpetual sprint to keep up with everything. One of the most valuable time management skills nurses can develop is the ability to anticipate future tasks. During calm moments, it may be tempting to immediately switch off and take a break. Breaks are extremely important for nurses, but so is anticipation. When time permits, without working through scheduled breaks, nurses may benefit from putting resources in place to make future tasks easier. Maybe there will be a time crunch later that makes it harder to check on patients. Maybe some resources a nurse usually carries around with them are running low. Taking a moment to think ahead and prepare for the next few hours of a shift will often pay off in the long run. Anticipation can also be related to self-care; a quiet moment could be an excellent time to use the bathroom, eat a snack, or stay hydrated because there might not be time later.
Organization is closely tied to anticipation. It is a continuous process that happens throughout and across multiple shifts. Staying organized means avoiding being caught unawares in a crisis. It means always carrying the necessary equipment and knowing where to find any resources one might need. Organization involves maintaining strong, open lines of communication with other staff members. It means knowing one's schedule and having effective ways to remember what has to be done at what time. Some nurses might rely on a notebook, a detailed calendar, or a digital planner to keep track of everything in addition to any planning resources provided by the hospital or clinic. Utilizing all available resources can help make the organizational process easier; like many time management skills, this will often improve with practice. Nurses should also strive to maintain organization in their personal lives to minimize stress outside of work hours.
Examples of Nursing and Time Management
Nursing time management looks different for everyone. Some people might find that they work better when they and their coworkers keep each other accountable to a particular schedule and workplace ethos. Some nurses might find that maintaining their energy levels with nutritious, energy-dense snacks makes it easier to remain on top of things. Nurses who get skilled at anticipation may be able to maintain a more consistent and manageable workload throughout the day rather than speeding from one crisis to the next. Deliberately and continuously investing in time management strategies can be impactful in the long run, potentially making it easier for nurses to stick with their chosen career without burning out.
Time Management Tips
Learning about time management in abstract terms is one thing, but nurses need practical, actionable advice. The following ideas may improve the daily lives of nurses. It is often a good idea to work on implementing one of these tips at a time; making too many changes too quickly may have the opposite of the intended effect, making nurses feel overwhelmed and ultimately worsening their time management.
|Arrive Early||Most people do not want to arrive early for a long shift, but showing up just ten minutes in advance can give nurses an invaluable opportunity to get ready for the day before they have to hit the ground running. In many cases, arriving early for a shift will lessen the odds of going home late while also making the entire shift easier to manage.|
|Take Breaks||Time management is not about working constantly. Good time management involves taking breaks when possible. Even pausing for just a few minutes to sit down, drink water, or get some fresh air can make the rest of a shift seem less overwhelming. Time management should benefit nurses just as much as patients, which means that nurses must prioritize taking care of themselves while on the job.|
|Avoid Distractions||While at work, many nurses find that numerous factors are drawing their attention at any given time. As much as possible, nurses should endeavor to minimize distractions while working. That means avoiding checking one's phone, saving conversations with coworkers for quieter times, and shutting out any noises in the environment to focus on the task at hand. Getting distracted pulls nurses away from what they need to be doing, which can be detrimental to time management and patient care.|
|Foster Workplace Connections||Nursing is a team effort, and it runs better when everyone can rely on each other. Being able to turn to colleagues for assistance, emotional support, camaraderie, or even help with time management can be invaluable. Deliberately building positive connections and creating a culture of mutual help and support can make the nursing profession much more sustainable. Some nurses may also find similar benefits if they join a nursing organization.|
|Develop a Routine||A big part of what makes nursing challenging is the continuous mental effort involved in getting everything done. One great way to reduce that mental load is to develop solid routines. Having a system for completing repetitive or daily tasks means there is less to think about; those tasks can be done more or less automatically. That leaves extra mental space for more complex tasks, the anticipation of future patient needs, and critical decision-making. Of course, a routine should never get in the way of treating patients as individuals with unique needs; like all time management strategies, this one involves striking the right balance.|
|Avoid Multitasking||It can be very tempting for nurses to try to do multiple things at once, especially when a shift gets busy. While multitasking is commonplace among nurses, there is evidence that it is not actually a very efficient way of working. Focusing on one task at a time often means that all duties will get done more quickly and to a higher standard. Of course, it may not always be possible to avoid multitasking entirely, but strong organizational skills and deliberate focus can help.|
|Think Things Through||One of the biggest challenges in nursing is decision-making. Being able to make effective, accurate decisions for patient care is crucial when it comes to providing patients with safe care. Taking a moment to think things through before starting a task is an excellent way to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes. Often, those mistakes will take extra time to fix, to say nothing of potential dangers to the patient. Pausing for a breather and getting one's thoughts in order before proceeding is a good way to manage one's time.|
These time management tips may help nurses better navigate the challenges of their jobs so they can continue to provide high-quality patient care at all times. Nursing can be a very demanding but very rewarding profession. Good time management skills can help tip the scales away from ''demanding'' and toward ''rewarding,'' ultimately benefiting everyone.