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Time management tips for busy nurses

nurse holding a niddle and a clock

The phone won’t stop ringing, a patient is asking for your help, and the agency HCA requires supervision. With so many demands on your time, it can be difficult to know what to do first. If you’re a newly qualified nurse, these time management tips can make a surprising difference to your day, helping you feel less stressed and get more done.

1. Get to work in good time

Your shift is unlikely to get off to a good start if you arrive late and feeling flustered. Get to work early, with time to read through handover notes before your shift starts, and you can start the day with a clear head.

2. Write it down

Writing down your tasks for the day and ticking off jobs as you do them will help you stay focused and feel in control. Some nurses tick off tasks on hand-over sheets, some draw up a grid of patient names and related tasks in a notebook, while others make a simple list.

Once you’ve made a list, make a note of how much time you’re likely to spend on each task. This should help you avoid spending too much time on one task at the expense of another. Should you get a few spare minutes, you’ll be able to easily identify a task you can do in the time-frame and cross it off the list.

‘As well as diarising your time, writing lists and prioritising tasks on the list, using technology such as apps on your phone to set reminders, can also be helpful,’ says Cathy Taylor, careers advisor for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

3. Prioritise

When there are constant demands on your time and attention, it can be difficult to identify exactly what your priorities should be. Ask yourself which tasks need to be undertaken before you can carry out others. What will be the consequence if it’s not done immediately, in the next hour or this shift? Once you have decided on priorities, mark these on your list.

Even though you will spend much of your shift reacting to patients’ needs, you should still block out time for your most important tasks. Build in breaks between these and this will give you a buffer zone to manage inevitable interruptions.

4. Check your patient’s priorities

Keep in mind that your priorities may be different to your patients’. For example, sleep and rest may be a much higher priority to a patient than cleanliness. Don’t assume – ask.

5. Be flexible

Of course, priorities can change rapidly and you need to constantly re-assess situations and respond appropriately. This is especially true during an emergency situation. As Jackie Hole, RGN and author of The Newly Qualified Nurse’s Survival Guide says, you may never feel as if you have ‘caught up’ during a shift where there is an emergency.

‘This is something you must learn to accept. Make sure that your patients are safe and cared for, but do not worry if other jobs such as restocking the trolleys or making referrals have not been done. They can be done by the next shift of nurses.’

6. Make use of quiet periods

The key is not to try and do everything at once, according to Jackie. For instance, if you know that you will have a relatively ‘quiet’ period after lunch, do your writing then.

‘You will be less likely to make a mistake and will also have time to carry out any other jobs that arise from doing the paperwork. For example, you may need to refer a patient to one of the multidisciplinary team and this may become apparent when you are completing the documentation for the doctors’ rounds.

‘If you try to do all of this in between caring for your patients, you are likely to make a mistake or forget to do it completely.’

7. Say “No”

With the best will in the world you only have one pair of hands. If you can’t help a patient, explain that you’re needed elsewhere and reassure them you’ll be back in a few minutes.

8. Be organised

Keep your desk, computer files and storage areas well organised and free from clutter. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how much time can be wasted searching for a misplaced file.

9. Delegate

Delegation is one of the most underutilised time management skills. Good delegation means ensuring the person who is doing the task gains valuable experience and is adequately trained and supervised. This may take time in the short term, but can save lots of time in the long term.

10. Take a break

Nurses, both newly qualified and experienced, are notoriously bad at taking breaks. This may be unavoidable in the case of an emergency, but you should always try to take your breaks.

Taking time away from the ward gives you a chance to relax, socialise with colleagues and generally de-stress. You need to switch off mentally too – leave the paperwork on your desk and flick through a magazine or read the newspaper. Taking your breaks will also give you chance to eat something. It’s hard to stay focused if your blood sugar levels are low. It’s been said many times, but you can’t take care of others if you don’t take proper care of you.

Photo copyright of Photodune.net

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