time management pitfalls
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How to Avoid Common Time Management Pitfalls in Nursing

Good time management skills are essential in nursing due to the hectic pace nurses face daily in their profession. Nurses have many demands on their time in a regular workday, and some may also experience work overload due to nursing staff shortages. When your facility lacks a few nurses, it’s even more important to avoid barriers that prevent you from managing your time more effectively.

Rapidly changing priorities can skew your schedule, requiring you to adapt quickly to continue providing quality patient care while not falling behind on your routine tasks. If you feel like you’re always rushing but still falling further behind and consistently staying late to finish charting and other paperwork, you might be the victim of common time management pitfalls.

Delegate to Avoid Major Time Management Pitfalls

Susan Gentile, an adult nurse practitioner at ChoicePoint, provides urgent care as a primary care provider to patients suffering from substance abuse. She faces unique challenges in her line of work daily and cautions nurses not to take on too much to try to reap all the glory.

“While working in hospitals and clinics, your time management skills should be exemplary to make sure that every patient gets attention and care,” said Gentile. “Most people have a habit of not sharing work so that they get all the credit. It might work out initially, but in the long run, it causes patient neglect, which might cause bigger problems.”

“Nursing is teamwork,” she continued. “One head nurse can delegate work to all nurses by making to-do lists and organizing charts every day for accountability purposes. Not only will it make healthcare accessible for patients, but it will also increase the efficiency of nurses in healthcare setups. Everyone should share the workload to make things easier for both nurses and patients.”

Nancy Mitchell agrees that a division of labor is essential in time management. Mitchell is a registered geriatric nurse and contributing writer at AssistedLivingCenter.com and has over 37 years of experience as a director of nursing care in geriatric wards. She believes delegation is especially important for nurses new to leadership roles trying to manage their time effectively. 

“Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks,” she said. “Your care team is there to help lighten the burden around the ward or department. A good leader understands that their team is their support system to help things run smoothly — especially in the case of emergencies.”

Mitchell suggests getting to know the nurses and assistants assigned to you so you can learn their strengths and specialties. Armed with this knowledge, you can leverage it to delegate tasks according to each person’s skill, helping everyone manage their time better.

“People work best when they’re placed to perform roles that feel natural or familiar to them,” said Mitchell. “That can be an essential principle in healthcare. The last thing you want is to experience delays in your workflow because otherwise competent people are placed in incompatible roles.”

Take Care Not to Procrastinate

Everyone is guilty of it occasionally, but you don’t have time for procrastination in nursing. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If you’ve ever been accused of poor organization and planning, honestly evaluate your performance to see if you tend to procrastinate when it comes to tasks you don’t enjoy doing, such as charting.

Nurse charting

It’s critical that you identify moments of procrastination, discover strategies to overcome them and motivate yourself to get everything done in a timely manner. For example, finding ways to save time charting to get this time-consuming and often unpopular task completed quickly may help keep you from falling behind because you didn’t stay on top of your paperwork.

Procrastination is the ultimate time management pitfall, but if you can learn to eliminate it, you may find that your shifts run more smoothly and are less stressful overall. Top anti-procrastination techniques include:

  • Avoiding distractions
  • Recognizing tasks that you delay doing and why
  • Focusing on finishing undesirable tasks instead of finding ways to avoid doing them
  • Tackling your least desired tasks as soon as they arise instead of letting them pile up
  • Dividing big tasks into smaller, easily accomplished tasks to motivate yourself to continue working until you get everything done
  • Rewarding yourself after your shift when you don’t procrastinate and removing the reward if you do

One way to help you identify procrastination is determining your most and least productive times during your nursing shift. It also helps to determine your type of procrastination.

Do you get less done in the morning and must make up for it later in the day? You may be a crisis-making procrastinator who prefers working under pressure.

Do you find numerous other things you feel need to be done to avoid doing something you should be doing? Productive procrastinating is hard to spot because you convince yourself you’re not procrastinating.

Or are you simply overscheduling yourself? Over-doers are procrastinators who take on too many tasks without enough time to complete them. It’s okay to say no. Know your limits and allow ample time to complete your tasks, so you don’t procrastinate due to overload.

Manage Time Better with Prioritization

Prioritization is an excellent way to manage your time better, but this doesn’t just involve prioritizing tasks. It also involves patients. Not only will it help you improve your time management skills, but it also makes your patients happier.

Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN, has over 10 years of clinical experience in primary care, pediatrics and family medicine and offers her medical expertise to the Parents Wonder parenting tips website. She explained the importance of prioritizing patients.

“I managed a dermatology clinic while simultaneously being a lead nurse and biological coordinator,” Lundberg said. “While working in nursing management, there are countless meetings to attend. Safety compliance meetings, quality metrics meetings, staffing meetings and the list goes on. I always felt pulled in several different directions, especially when I had patients waiting on me for treatments.”

“One way I coped with this is to always prioritize patients that are right in front of me. That means if they’re in the clinic waiting for you, make them a top priority. We’ve all been there, waiting at the doctor’s office for what seems like hours. It’s miserable. To keep patients happy with their care, put them first.”

American Nurse Journal, the official journal of the American Nurses Association, suggests planning your workday by prioritizing patients based on care needs. Prioritize your daily to-do list by concentrating on safe, evidence-based patient care and ranking your patients based on immediate, as soon as possible, routine and comfort care needs. Another way to look at prioritizing patients is using the CURE hierarchy, which stands for Critical, Urgent, Routine and Extras.

Create a List to Keep You on Track

Creating a daily to-do list with or without prioritization is a great time management tool. Lists help you stay on track throughout the day and give you a clearly defined plan. Lundberg agreed on the importance of starting each day by making a detailed list.

“Write out all your responsibilities for the day, whether that be restocking, returning phone calls, meetings, patient appointments and more. Keep adding to the list throughout the day as necessary. This visual reminder can help you sort out your priorities for the day. And the best part? Crossing off those tasks when you finish.”

Checking items off your list also helps confirm whether you’re managing your time well. However, you should only work on one item on your list at a time and avoid multitasking. A recent study completed at Stanford found that multitasking makes it more difficult to focus on single tasks and makes you less effective at prioritizing and less productive overall.

Learn How to Gauge Time Requirements

While each nursing day is different, each day generally includes many standard daily nursing activities that become routine tasks. Use this to your advantage through routinization, which is repeating what works in a process to create consistency. This consistency helps with time management. However, the key to routinization is knowing how long it takes to complete standard duties, so you can tweak your routine and maximize your time.

Document all your activities for one or two weeks to learn how long it takes to complete various tasks. Using this information, calculate an average time for each task so you can assign a time frame to them.

These calculations can help you overcome another time management pitfall – underestimating how long you need to get a list of things done. They may also help you catch up after being interrupted five or more times every hour of your shift.

Recognize that Burnout Eats Up Time

Work-related burnout is common among nurses and other healthcare professionals. Healthcare workers dealing with burnout may experience increased depression and substance abuse, which can impact time management skills. However, time management isn’t just about being the most productive you can be on the job. It’s also about taking the time you need to be your best self, allowing you to provide quality patient care and avoid errors with potentially devastating results.

“All healthcare workers, including nurses, suffer from burnout,” said Gentile. “It could be due to a hectic or monotonous routine. Lack of better wages and resources, poor sleep schedule, inability to manage home and work together, excessive patient load and unsupportive coworkers add to the frustration of burnout. Sometimes, it makes nurses leave their jobs.”

Her solution, and the solution touted by numerous studies covering self-care, is to take a break. Intentional self-care helps keep nurses energized and feeling good – mentally, physically and spiritually. It’s crucial in a nurse’s busy day-to-day life and ensuring a good work-life balance.

“Taking a break is a good thing,” Gentile said. “It makes you more productive and alert on the job. Being exhausted due to challenging routines is a normal feeling. However, taking care of your mental health should always be a priority. You can do this by taking short breaks between work, asking your colleague to take over a shift and asking for a leave to spend time with your family.” 

Managing High-Stress Days

Sometimes, a day truly goes south and there’s no way to get caught back up. When you get to this point and recognize that no amount of time management tricks will put you back on track, you may feel especially stressed. Letting stress take over makes managing the time you have left even more challenging, so even though you’re already behind, take a moment to catch your breath.

The general nature of the nursing profession often results in situations that eat up your time, and there may not be anything you can do about it. Recognize these situations for what they are, accept them and do your best to finish as much as possible and hand off what you can’t get done through no fault of your own. Then, go home and recharge so you’re ready to tackle tomorrow’s time management challenges.

Moira K. McGhee

Moira K. McGhee is Vivian’s Senior Editor & All-Around Wordsmith. As part of the Vivian Health team, she strives to help support the empowerment of nurses and other healthcare professionals in their pursuits to find top-notch travel, staff, local contract and per diem positions faster and easier than ever.

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