September 2, 2015

Effective Time Management Skills for Nurses

Effective Time Management Skills for Nurses Staff By: Staff

By Lee Nelson     

Sandi Thorson not only works as a registered nurse on 12-hour shifts, but this South Dakota woman is a wife, mom, grandmother, and a student earning her Master's of Nursing Administration.

“So my life is very hectic. Sometimes, I feel I am just lucky to get the things done that I need to,” she says. Thorson works in the Women’s Center at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Thorson carries around a piece of paper during her shifts that lists all of the important tasks and times they are to be completed. Time management remains an important skill she tries to perfect every day. 

“My day can change in a heartbeat. So, I try to stay on top of things and not get to where I'm feeling behind.” 

Developing organizational skills and patience and utilizing well-needed short breaks can eliminate many of the normal stressors that others might not be able to overcome. This allows a nurse to flourish in all the tasks that get piled up during a shift.

Here are some skills, personality characteristics, and other tips that can help nurses manage their workload and their home lives -- hopefully be happier and more productive in both areas.

Have Fun

Nursing can be a very intense and focused career, so picking the right times to just goof off or blow off steam in a pleasurable way can help relieve that tension.

“I like to have fun; I will try and get the team involved,” Thorson says. “Sometimes, I'll take things from the housekeeper’s cart and hide them. She'll come looking for them, and I'll deny that I've seen them. Eventually, we'll tell her what's going on.”

Everybody gets to have a little fun, and nobody is hurt, Thorson says, but everyone is still able to complete their tasks.

“I've also been known to do a cartwheel or two in the hallway when nobody from management is around. I just try to stay positive and do the best job that I can.”

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Prioritize Tasks

Nurse Thorson believes time management is all about critical thinking and how to prioritize your time and efforts as a nurse. To get to that point of comfort in prioritizing, she says that nurses need to ask these four questions that can help put everything in its place in your mind and in your schedule:

What am I going to do first and why?

Which is more important to do, and why is it the most important?

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do it now?

What is most important to the patient?

“That’s how they teach time management in many nursing schools; but nurses have to remember that they can’t do everything they set out to do that day unless, of course, it’s giving medicine to a patient,” she says. “There are certain duties that must be accomplished. But there just might be a few things that can be left off until the next day or next shift, such as some administrative duties that aren’t so critical.”

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Balance work with life

Nurses don’t always get the luxury of a 9 to 5 shift all the time; some work 12 hour shifts for four days straight or even longer.

“That can be a struggle for some people, especially those with families and kids,” this very experienced nurse reflects. “It all depends on your organizational skills. If shift work is stressful for you, then you need to balance out that heavy workload with the things that eliminate stress for you – which can be exercise, hobbies, or time with friends or family.”

Hopefully, she remarks, your family can be supportive of your weird hours, and accommodate by helping out around the house and scheduling family events when you are available.

Thorson adds that she tries to spend her weekends with her husband and visiting her children and grandchildren.

“I do try to go out for walks but am not always successful on getting that done every day."

Thorson also tries to just get out of the house and take a trip to the store or take a ride just to clear her head for a few minutes in between studying.

Best Tips for Getting Things Right

“I use the computer a lot,” Thorson says. “I have access to patient’s electronic medical records as well as their electronic medication administration records (eMARS). I look at the patient’s arm band at the beginning of the shift to confirm it is the correct patient.”

When administering medication, she always uses electronic scanning whenever possible to eliminate medication errors.‘When she is working with a patient from surgery or labor and delivery for the first time, she tries to get a thorough report and have all of her questions answered.

“I also write down the name and phone number of the nurse giving me a report in case I have any questions,” Thorson adds.

Quick Stress Relievers During Work

Everyone has their breaking point, along with their own ways of not getting to that breaking point.

For Thorson, she tries to speak with a colleague for a few minutes when she finds she's getting too stressed out at work.

“Sometimes, I'll try to look at what has me so stressed out and think of other options. In the worst case, I'll step into the break room or leave the unit for a minute and go for a walk. I've visited the chapel on a few occasions as well. I also know that sometimes I'm just not going to get it all done, and I'm OK with that because I know that I did the best job I could.”

Thorson agrees that it's important to take those simple five minute breaks for peace of mind.

“Even just a few minutes can really help you out. You can go to the bathroom, go to another floor, or walk up and down some stairs. Taking that short breather instead of sipping your 18th cup of coffee can refresh you instantly,” she explains.

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Anticipation of Needs

Sometimes, experience just allows nurses to know what will come next and what is needed to save trips back and forth.

“I'll try to anticipate the patient’s needs and bring everything I think they may ask for in the room with me' this cuts down on unnecessary trips."

For instance, if she is dealing with a newborn and her mother, Thorson will try and schedule assessments at the same time so she does not have to return within a short time frame.

“At home, my husband and daughter have really stepped up to the plate to take care of household issues so I can concentrate on my school work,” she admits.

Being a nurse can be a rewarding career, but with an unending stream of responsibilities, stressful situations, and demands.

By learning and using time management skills every day, nurses can get through their shifts successfully and live fuller and happier lives.

For more stress-reduction ideas for nurses, read our 7 tips here.

How Can You Advance Your Nursing Career?

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Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in,, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in

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