As a nursing student, your life was chaotic. Juggling all the responsibilities of school plus your personal life and basic physiological needs: There’s a reason many nurses list school as the hardest thing they’ve ever done. You’re probably ready and excited to settle down into the routine a new job after graduation, but being a new nurse isn’t always a walk in the park. You probably learned many time management skills in nursing school, and you’ll need even more when you start working as a nurse.
Great nurses don’t appear overnight, but there are tricks to time management that new nurses can learn. Effectively managing your time and tasks will ease the transition from feeling overwhelmed to being in control.
This one is tough, and it won’t happen overnight. Learning how to prioritize competing tasks can be one of the biggest challenges new nurses face, which is why the topic appears so prominently on the NCLEX. After all, the complexity of medical conditions you’ll see will vary greatly and most won’t fit within the parameters of your ABCs. So, what’s the best way to prioritize?
Joyce L. Nelson, MS, RN, NES, preaches the importance of metacognition and reflection. She encourages preceptors, mentors, and seasoned nurses to support and train novice nurses to think through situations by asking several questions:
Initially, stopping to ask yourself these questions may feel like you’re just dawdling and taking up more time, but the process will become second nature after awhile. Learning how to prioritize through questioning, dialogue with other nurses, and reflecting on the decisions you make will strengthen your ability to break down the demands of a situation quickly and efficiently. Remember: Critical thinking skills and time management are tightly bound together.
Nurses and other healthcare professionals are unique in that they have to remain calm, collected, and level-headed during hectic and even frightening moments. You work in an environment of hope and health, but it can be scary and unknown for many patients and their families. Adding to this, you also need to deal with other stressors that come with work — criticism, the challenges that come with working with other people, and being pulled in several different directions at once.
Though setting priorities and having a plan are important tactics to get through your day, you also need to possess some flexibility and patience — and let things go when you deviate from your schedule. As a new nurse, you’ll need to learn the ebb and flow of your new position and be open to change at the drop of a hat.
Part of your job as a nurse is confronting the unknown. If you’re stressed out because you took too long to complete a task, fell victim to too many interruptions during your shift, or had to deal with a difficult situation that took you out of your zone, it’s okay. A frazzled mind won’t help you take back your time, so sometimes it’s best to embrace the fact that your carefully planned shift is heading in a different direction. Remember the bigger picture of your role, re-focus your energy to get it back where it needs to be.
As a new nurse, you’re going to be slower at doing things than the more seasoned nurses around you. That’s totally normal — for nurses and almost any career track! There is so much value in doing a task over and over again. The more you do it, the quicker it will become, freeing up time for other things.
The more you repeat certain tasks, the more you’ll be able to anticipate your next move and a patient’s need. You can start clustering things together as you go. What future tasks around you can you accomplish before you have to run across the ward? How many pressing needs can you address before tackling the responsibilities that can wait till the end of your shift?
Nurse Megen Duffy suggests parsing out as much as you can via conceptual, time, or location-based clustering. Experienced nurses are always thinking about their next move and keeping the big picture in mind, so learn to cluster your care.
When you work 12-hour shifts, the last thing you want to do is stay at your job any longer than you have to. But arriving just 20 minutes early can help you set a good tone for the day and allow you to calmly assess your surroundings before your shift actually begins. You can read over your patient’s charts, get your sheets ready, and go through handoffs with the nurses on duty before you. This time spent in preparation and planning can ensure you leave as soon as your shift ends, saving you the stress of wrapping up tasks after you’re totally exhausted.
Managing your tasks will start to become second nature the longer you’re a nurse, and you’ll begin to feel more comfortable immediately jumping into your day without a second thought.
Take a break. Go to the bathroom. Take five minutes to collect your thoughts. Eat a snack. Drink some water. Reorganize. Then hop back into your shift.
Nurses run themselves ragged for many good reasons, and often don’t have time to stop for a second or two. But by not taking a break, you run the risk of compassion fatigue, burnout, and other serious medical issues. It’s also been proven that taking breaks helps with productivity and mental concentration, two essential ingredients to managing your day as a nurse. A break doesn’t have to be long, just enough time to recharge your batteries before your next boost.