While you may have mastered time management in nursing school, the day-to-day of being a nurse in a hospital is an entirely new challenge. Not only are you constantly pulled in different directions, but amid a pandemic, being short-staffed only exacerbates the difficult task of caring for patients in a timely and efficient manner.


Time management may not feel as important as other nursing skills, but nurses who practice good time management deliver better care and take better care of themselves.


Here are 5 ways you can conquer time management as a nurse and deliver the highest quality of care to your patients.


Tip #1: Utilize Your Nurse Brain.


A “Nurse Brain” is a piece of paper used to capture important patient information to help you to stay organized throughout your shift. Keeping an updated Nurse Brain will help you prioritize your patients throughout the day, so be sure to fill it out at the beginning of your shift and keep it with you on a clipboard or in your pocket.


While it takes some time to complete, a Nurse Brain is an excellent tool for keeping track of patient information and can help you provide effective reports to your oncoming nurses, your CNA, or a doctor.


Tip #2: Fully Engage in Bedside Shift Report (BSR)


A BSR is designed to improve nurse-patient communication and increase patient safety by engaging the patient in their care decisions. While it may be tempting for nurses during a hectic day to simply introduce themselves to the patient and only provide the full report to the offgoing nurse, that defeats the purpose of a BSR.


Instead, it’s more effective to assess and engage with the patient at the start of your shift. Take the time to visually assess the patient, check their lines and drains, and perform safety checks.


Be sure to set an expectation of when you’ll return to their room and find out if they need anything before you leave. Gathering as much information as possible up front can prevent you from having to make multiple trips to their room during your shift.


Most importantly, a thorough BSR will help you prioritize patients as your shift goes on and improve your relationships with them.


Tip #3: Multi-Task and Anticipate Needs


Being proactive is an essential part of time management as a nurse. Multi-tasking and anticipating the needs of your patients saves you time during your shift and keeps you focused on what’s important.


In the U.S., most nurses are provided with a mobile phone that allows them to contact patients while they aren’t with them. Calling the patient while you’re at the nurse’s station to ask them if they need anything will spare you from making multiple trips. It will also assure them that you haven’t forgotten about them.


Finally, when you do your bedside report, keep a list of all items needed for each room. You can then collect and restock these items all at one time. It will save you time and prevent you from scrambling for supplies last minute.


Tip #4: Prioritize Your Patients


When your shift gets hectic it’s easy to lose sight of priorities. But learning how to prioritize your patients based on their condition and needs is a vital skill that every nurse must learn.


Filling out your Nurse Brain at the start of your shift and engaging with your patient during BSR will help you foresee which patients will need the most attention as your day continues.


Be sure to determine what needs to be addressed immediately and prioritize these patients first. Stay mindful of time sensitive medications, like insulin. There are plenty of times when you find you have competing priorities but do your best to determine who needs care right away, and who is in a stable enough condition to wait. It’s not about who needs care, but who needs care at this moment.


Finally, save your most complicated patient for last. This doesn’t mean the sickest patient (make sure they are stable,) but perhaps the patient with a really detailed dressing or who needs assistance with ADL’s (activities of daily living.) You don’t want to feel rushed with patients that require more time and attention, so saving them for last will not only improve their satisfaction but will ensure that you are giving all of your patients proper and timely care. This only works, however, when a thorough BSR has been completed.


Tip # 5:  Utilize Your People


Recognize that your coworkers are your biggest resource when it comes to time management. It’s essential that you rely on your team for encouragement and help throughout your shift. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a co-worker whose patient load is lighter than yours. And whenever possible, return the favor.


If you’ve been searching more information about drug interactions and are struggling to find the answer, call the pharmacist. If you know your patient is going to radiology in 30 minutes, call transport to get them on their transport list. Be sure to utilize all the resources at your disposal in order to save you time.


You may also consider choosing a “nurse buddy” at the start of your shift. Having a designated co-worker to assist you with covering breaks, quick tasks, and overall support can not only boost morale, but help save you time as things get busy.


Working these 5 tips into your daily work routine will produce less stressful shifts and the ability to respond well when things do get stressful. Now you can get back to advancing those other nursing skills.


Jenny Altman, MPS, BSN, RN

Director of Nurse Performance