Top Time Management Skills for Nurses

6 Min Read Published December 20, 2021
Top Time Management Skills for Nurses

By Lee Nelson     

Sandi Thorson works as a registered nurse on 12-hour shifts. In addition, this South Dakota nurse is a wife, mom, grandmother, and a student earning her master's of nursing administration. She shared her top tips for managing time effectively as a nurse with us. Read on to find out how she handles it all.

7 Time Management Tips for Nurses

Here are some skills, personality characteristics, and other tips that can help nurses manage their workload and their home lives.

1. Delegate the Right Way

Healthcare is a team effort for a reason. Nurses don’t have enough time to be hands-on with every aspect of patient care. And that’s OK. Other healthcare professionals, including other nurses, are there to do their part.

A good nursing assistant will make life so much better on the floor, but there’s an art to how you use this resource. Don’t simply delegate all the dirty work to your assistant, says Christy Golden, a nurse in North Carolina with 15 years of hospital experience. 

“Nursing, at its core, is all about relationships, which includes your relationships with your nursing assistants." “Make sure when you delegate that you’re delegating only because you have a more pressing need that only a nurse can meet.

“This will save you time in the long run because you’re showing your nursing assistant that you’re not just going to leave all the dirty work to them. This forges teamwork which will always save everyone time.”

2. Arrive Early to Prepare the Little Things

Showing up for your shift about 10 minutes early can be a time investment that pays off all day.

Golden says she makes sure she has scissors, tape, saline flushes, alcohol swabs, pens, medicine cups -- any basic supply she may need during the course of the day -- before clocking in.

“Anything to save you a trip up the hall to get something later,” she said.

Nurses can’t control their workspace the way people in other professions can. Anything can happen in a 12-hour shift. So spending a few minutes controlling the little things can pay off a lot later. 

3. Prioritization Is a Nurse’s Best Friend 

Nurse Thorson believes time management is all about critical thinking and how to prioritize your time and effort as a nurse.

To get comfortable 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:

  1. What am I going to do first and why?
  2. Which is more important to do, and why is it the most important?
  3. What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do it now?
  4. 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,” Thorson 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.”

Experienced nurses know patient care is a 24-hour job. Work as hard as you can, get better at multitasking, and sharpen your time management skills -- but also remember there’s another shift coming in to relieve you later today or in the morning.

Unless they're related to medication administration or patient safety, many tasks can probably wait. 

4. Take Breaks When You Can (Even if You Don’t Need One Yet)

Novice nurses are often surprised when they get their first nursing jobs and learn there truly is no way to predict how a day will go. All it takes is one phone call to turn a routine day into a blur of exhausting activity.  

So if you find yourself in a lull, take a few minutes to have a snack while you update patients’ charts. You never know whether you’ll have time for an actual break later. You may never have a chance to grab the lunch you packed and put it in the break room at the beginning of your shift.

5. Anticipate Needs

During slower times, Golden says she likes to ask patients whether they’d like to use the restroom or have some water or juice.

“Patients don’t like to feel like they’re trouble,” she said. “When you ask about specific things it’s often a lot more effective than saying, ‘Is there anything else you need?’ Patients don’t always think about what they need unless you bring it up.”

And getting these little tasks out of the way while it’s slow can keep the patient from needing you during an emergency in another room.

Thorson uses similar strategies.

“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.  

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

6. Balance Work With Life

Twelve hours is a long shift. Add in getting ready, commuting, and staying late to give that complex report and your workday can easily turn into 14 hours or more.

“That can be a struggle for some people, especially those with families and kids,” Thorson says. “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 says, 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 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.

7. Have Fun

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

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

Cartwheels may not be part of everybody’s nursing practice. Every nurse needs his or her own way to relieve some of the pressure that comes along with the job.

When It’s Too Late for Time Management: Reducing Stress

In many ways, time management is stress management. When you’re already overwhelmed, it’s often too late to start looking for time-saving tricks.

Everyone has their breaking point, along with their own ways of avoiding that breaking point.

  • Thorson tries to speak with a colleague for a few minutes when she finds she's getting too stressed. “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.
  • “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.
  • “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 says.

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.

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