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Two nurses are standing at a medication cart in the Recovery Room. A male nurse is holding a box of medication and doing documentation in a logbook. A female nurse is verifying the correct medication and entering information on a computer screen.

Time Management Tips for Nurses

6 min readMay, 01 2023

As a nurse, you know time is critical when caring for emergency patient situations. Strong time management skills in nursing are also essential to your overall health and well-being, including combating stress. A solid strategy lets you stay on top of your regular responsibilities while factoring in unexpected circumstances that arise. A well-structured schedule also creates a better work-life balance, so you don't spend your free time playing catch-up. Learn how to manage time as a nurse to ensure the best patient care and work-life harmony.

Prioritize Daily Tasks by Importance

Honing your time management skills and techniques helps eliminate pressure from the to-do clutter. That, in turn, allows you to focus on more critical tasks and what matters most — your patients. Implement these time management strategies for nurses into your day-to-day routine:

  • Identify your most important tasks and create a plan. Any nursing to-do list begins by evaluating and addressing the hierarchy of needs for your patients. That includes ensuring their core physiological needs get met before progressing to additional treatment. Basing care on this tiered system allows you to meet your patients' needs in real-time and prioritize decisions accordingly.
  • Delegate where and when you can. Delegation fosters team cohesion. The tasks you can reassign will depend on your state's laws and a patient's condition. Knowing what's permitted upfront can free up precious time for more urgent matters.
  • Say no to multitasking. As tempting as it can be to address multiple things at once, research shows that multitasking is unproductive, contrary to common-sense expectations. That's because dividing your attention drains your cognitive resources and slows you down. Aim to intentionally "monotask" by carving out designated time for items on your to-do list. 
  • Tune out distractions while trying to accomplish tasks. Interruptions are inevitable as a nurse, but if you're focused on an essential chore, politely tell colleagues not to bother you unless it's a pressing matter. That may necessitate innovative workplace changes, such as creating a red-taped "no interruption" zone.
  • Take care of lower-priority items during quiet periods. Proactively ticking items off prepares you to react quickly to emergencies that demand your full attention.

Plan Out Your Week — With Buffers

Whether you prefer a time management nurse shift planner or Google calendar that you can sync weekly, take time to sketch out how your upcoming shifts look. That entails determining accurate estimations of commitments, including ones outside of work. Allow yourself wiggle room for the unexpected, such as traffic or shifts that run over.

Review and Assess Your Calendar Regularly

Calendar management is time management in nursing. Take a thoughtful and thorough review of your planner regularly to stay on top of your to-do list. When browsing your calendar, ask yourself whether each commitment makes you productive or is just busy work. Tactfully decline or clear out any tasks you can't realistically handle.

Practice Punctuality

Arriving ten to fifteen minutes before you're slated to clock in allows you breathing room to focus and prepare yourself for what the day holds. Consistent timeliness also ensures a smooth hand-off without causing gaps in patient care or forcing outgoing nurses to work past their shifts.

Take Breaks When You Can

A group of nurses are in a medical center cafeteria seated at a table. They are smiling and laughing and engaged in a pleasant conversation.

It's typical for nurses to skip their breaks to prioritize wrapping up tasks or patient care. But like multitasking, missing allotted rest periods can be counterintuitive. It leaves you feeling exhausted and less effective during the rest of your shift. When possible, take fifteen minutes to rest your mind and body to keep your energy level and mental stamina high. 

Leave Work at Work

There are hard time management skills in nursing, such as scheduling. Then there are softer skills, like acknowledging and managing stress and anxiety. As a nurse, compassion is one of your most profound strengths — but it can also be a double-edged sword. Worrying about patients when you're off the clock eats into your precious downtime, leaving you depleted and inattentive to loved ones. That's why time management is important in nursing and contributes to demonstrating nursing excellence.

Do your best to leave the job behind when your shift ends. That may mean muting notifications on your phone and checking in with colleagues during specific designated times only. Effective nursing time management skills involve practicing manageable, evidence-based coping skills for alleviating anxiety or depression, such as relaxation techniques.

Maximize Your Time Off

A central tenet of practical time management skills for nurses is utilizing your time off strategically. If you work twelve-hour shifts, use your days off to catch up on routine home tasks like:

  • Meal prep. This will help you decide what to eat during a long or overnight shift when the cafeteria is closed.
  • Wash your scrubs separately from other items. Tackling this on your day off lets you clean them all at once.
  • If you're too exhausted during working days to exercise, use your days off to get moving. Focus on exercises that prevent injuries common to nurses, such as shoulder shrugs for reducing muscle strain.
  • Have your nursing bag packed and waiting by the door to make getting out the door much easier.

Be sure to allow yourself designated downtime. Adequate rest is critical to reducing burnout in nurses and staying productive and grounded at work. Find more nursing wellness tips and resources at ANA's Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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