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Nursing Essay On Time Management

By Lee Nelson     

Sandi Thorson not only works as a registered nurse on 12-hour shifts, but this South Dakota woman is a wife, mom, grandmother, and a student earning her Master's of Nursing Administration.

“So my life is very hectic. Sometimes, I feel I am just lucky to get the things done that I need to,” she says. Thorson works in the Women’s Center at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Thorson carries around a piece of paper during her shifts that lists all of the important tasks and times they are to be completed. Time management remains an important skill she tries to perfect every day. 

“My day can change in a heartbeat. So, I try to stay on top of things and not get to where I'm feeling behind.” 

Developing organizational skills and patience and utilizing well-needed short breaks can eliminate many of the normal stressors that others might not be able to overcome. This allows a nurse to flourish in all the tasks that get piled up during a shift.

Here are some skills, personality characteristics, and other tips that can help nurses manage their workload and their home lives -- hopefully be happier and more productive in both areas.

Have Fun

Nursing can be a very intense and focused career, so picking the right times to just goof off or blow off steam in a pleasurable way can help relieve that tension.

“I like to have fun; I will try and get the team involved,” Thorson says. “Sometimes, I'll take things from the housekeeper’s cart and hide them. She'll come looking for them, and I'll deny that I've seen them. Eventually, we'll tell her what's going on.”

Everybody gets to have a little fun, and nobody is hurt, Thorson says, but everyone is still able to complete their tasks.

“I've also been known to do a cartwheel or two in the hallway when nobody from management is around. I just try to stay positive and do the best job that I can.”

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Prioritize Tasks

Nurse Thorson believes time management is all about critical thinking and how to prioritize your time and efforts as a nurse. To get to that point of comfort in prioritizing, she says that nurses need to ask these four questions that can help put everything in its place in your mind and in your schedule:

What am I going to do first and why?

Which is more important to do, and why is it the most important?

What’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do it now?

What is most important to the patient?

“That’s how they teach time management in many nursing schools; but nurses have to remember that they can’t do everything they set out to do that day unless, of course, it’s giving medicine to a patient,” she says. “There are certain duties that must be accomplished. But there just might be a few things that can be left off until the next day or next shift, such as some administrative duties that aren’t so critical.”

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Balance work with life

Nurses don’t always get the luxury of a 9 to 5 shift all the time; some work 12 hour shifts for four days straight or even longer.

“That can be a struggle for some people, especially those with families and kids,” this very experienced nurse reflects. “It all depends on your organizational skills. If shift work is stressful for you, then you need to balance out that heavy workload with the things that eliminate stress for you – which can be exercise, hobbies, or time with friends or family.”

Hopefully, she remarks, your family can be supportive of your weird hours, and accommodate by helping out around the house and scheduling family events when you are available.

Thorson adds that she tries to spend her weekends with her husband and visiting her children and grandchildren.

“I do try to go out for walks but am not always successful on getting that done every day."

Thorson also tries to just get out of the house and take a trip to the store or take a ride just to clear her head for a few minutes in between studying.

Best Tips for Getting Things Right

“I use the computer a lot,” Thorson says. “I have access to patient’s electronic medical records as well as their electronic medication administration records (eMARS). I look at the patient’s arm band at the beginning of the shift to confirm it is the correct patient.”

When administering medication, she always uses electronic scanning whenever possible to eliminate medication errors.‘When she is working with a patient from surgery or labor and delivery for the first time, she tries to get a thorough report and have all of her questions answered.

“I also write down the name and phone number of the nurse giving me a report in case I have any questions,” Thorson adds.

Quick Stress Relievers During Work

Everyone has their breaking point, along with their own ways of not getting to that breaking point.

For Thorson, she tries to speak with a colleague for a few minutes when she finds she's getting too stressed out at work.

“Sometimes, I'll try to look at what has me so stressed out and think of other options. In the worst case, I'll step into the break room or leave the unit for a minute and go for a walk. I've visited the chapel on a few occasions as well. I also know that sometimes I'm just not going to get it all done, and I'm OK with that because I know that I did the best job I could.”

Thorson agrees that it's important to take those simple five minute breaks for peace of mind.

“Even just a few minutes can really help you out. You can go to the bathroom, go to another floor, or walk up and down some stairs. Taking that short breather instead of sipping your 18th cup of coffee can refresh you instantly,” she explains.

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Anticipation of Needs

Sometimes, experience just allows nurses to know what will come next and what is needed to save trips back and forth.

“I'll try to anticipate the patient’s needs and bring everything I think they may ask for in the room with me' this cuts down on unnecessary trips."

For instance, if she is dealing with a newborn and her mother, Thorson will try and schedule assessments at the same time so she does not have to return within a short time frame.

“At home, my husband and daughter have really stepped up to the plate to take care of household issues so I can concentrate on my school work,” she admits.

Being a nurse can be a rewarding career, but with an unending stream of responsibilities, stressful situations, and demands.

By learning and using time management skills every day, nurses can get through their shifts successfully and live fuller and happier lives.

For more stress-reduction ideas for nurses, read our 7 tips here.

How Can You Advance Your Nursing Career?

High-paying nursing opportunities abound. As an RN, you are in control of your career. Check out the best jobs from coast to coast on our job board. Get the pay and career path you deserve.

Click here to see today’s best nursing opportunities.

Next Up: 15 Highest Paying Nursing Specialties

Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.

Nurses wear many hats as they address patient concerns, file paperwork and respond to doctors' demands. With so many responsibilities, a nurse doesn't have time to waste. When you work as a nurse, distractions, disorganization and inefficient procedures can make your day long and burdensome. On the other hand, daily preparation and attentiveness to your most important work responsibilities can make your day fruitful and productive.


Even though your responsibilities as a nurse are somewhat unpredictable, strategizing your time by planning out tasks can make your day constructive. For example, you can start the day by making a list of everything you need to do, such as completing patient paperwork, addressing specific patient care needs, submitting laboratory requests, ordering patient meals and attending staff meetings. As you complete each task, cross it off your list. A "to-do list" helps you stay focused on your nursing responsibilities so there's no dead, unproductive time. When you get a break in your workload, assess the list, adding or deleting items according to their significance. Creating a list serves a two-fold purpose; it helps you manage your time and relieves stress by ensuring you don't forget something important.


When you make a list to help manage your time, focus on your most critical responsibilities first. Arranging your day according to priorities allows you to complete the most important activities during the bulk of your shift, saving the end of your day for remaining tasks that you might be able to postpone. In most cases, patient care and patient satisfaction should be at the top of the list. According to Baptist Health Schools, it's best to complete your highest priority task whenever possible, making sure it doesn't get delayed or forgotten, and finish one task before beginning another. Then, you can revisit your schedule and rearrange priorities based on remaining tasks and add any new responsibilities you took on during the day.


Staying organized is one of the best ways to avoid wasting time that you might otherwise spend searching for prescriptions, finding patient records or locating laboratory results. If you keep your workspace tidy and organized, you can locate paperwork and dispense prescriptions quickly and efficiently. A popular nursing website, Nurse Together, recommends starting your day by making sure all equipment is clean and ready for use to help reduce the stress level and make the day easier. At the end of the day, file what paperwork you can, save necessary files on your computer, organize hard copies with clipboards or use in boxes and out boxes to keep from cluttering your work area. This time management skill is especially helpful if multiple staff members need access to the same documents and patient files. Delegating tasks to those who were hired to share your responsibilities also helps each shift run smoothly, ensuring that you're not carrying the workload alone.

Hourly Rounding

The implementation of hourly rounding helps nurses manage their time while increasing overall patient satisfaction. According to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the concept of hourly rounding was created by the Studer Group and was established at the Batson Children's Hospital in January 2011. A less-effective reactive approach to patient care, expecting nurses to respond to a patient's call to address problems, was replaced with hourly rounding. Hourly rounding requires nurses to visit each patient's room at least once an hour to address needs such as pain, food, drink, play items and parent concerns. According to Jennifer Stephen, clinical director of emergency services at Children's Hospital, "This is rounding with a purpose instead of putting out fires." Hourly rounding is an effective time management procedure because it helps you address small concerns before they become time-consuming problems. Once you've completed your hourly rounds, you can work on paperwork or other responsibilities.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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