New Grad Nurse,  Nurse,  Nursing Profession,  Seasoned nurses,  stress in nursing,  Time Management for Nurses

Time Management Essentials for New Nurses

A lot is researched and written about the major struggles for new nurses. Some are blamed on not being taught in nursing school, and others are inherent in the normal adjustments to a new profession. Time management is something that is always included in this discussion. Time management essentials for new nurses is something that is always included in the discussion about major struggles for new nurses. If you don’t learn to manage time, time will quickly manage you!

 You’ll find yourself always working late especially to complete the charting you’re way behind on, skipping meals, and never getting to the bathroom. Your body will be stressed out, and you’ll not be happy with your job. You’ll feel guilty and think you’re a failure because you just can’t get everything done and must ask for help all the time. Your peers and managers will be frustrated with you! STOP! It’s time to fix this problem.


Prioritizing IS taught in nursing school, but it’s relationship to managing your time is more often implied and not always spelled out completely. Some students will intuitively “get it” while others will not. With prioritization comes re-prioritizing. This requires flexibility and the ability to adapt and make changes on the fly.  As tasks are completed, or if everything changes on a dime and seems to fall apart quickly, it becomes necessary to regroup and set new priorities and goals to stay on track and meet your patient’s needs. This can and will happen often during your shift.

Right after report, you need to determine the tasks you need to complete this shift and prioritize them. This can include things such as:

  • wound care (especially BID or TID changes)
  • time sensitive medications (i.e. insulin, thyroid medications)
  • patient education (diabetic teaching, colostomy care, post op care)
  • discharges
  • scheduled tests or procedures today
  • anyone in crisis
  • IV’s
  • Caregiver/family being taught a procedure or care (ability to be present)

Prioritizing nursing tasks involves consideration of time sensitive care, expected completion time, intensity and amount of focus required, difficulty and need for assistance, any premedication needed, and any reasons you want to procrastinate.

The level of priority must be assigned as to whether it’s important, urgent, important and urgent, or none of these. Other considerations include who is the sickest or weakest patient, and who will be the most impacted by the pain, difficulty, or other factors such as objections, fears, sadness, etc.


Organization is key to success and is a must have skill for nurses. If you’re not naturally organized, this is something you must work at. It’s not an easy task, but an essential one. Making checklists is a proven way to begin to organize yourself. This will also help you visualize the tasks at hand and better prioritize things. When it comes time to re-prioritize, you’ll have a clearer picture of what else needs to be done and which things need to move to the top of the list, and which can be pushed down the list.

Many lists may be necessary to get you organized from the start of your day to the end. For instance, do you need reminders to take your phone or your sunglasses? Does your backpack need to be restocked with items you need during your commute and throughout your shift? Did you pack your lunch, or do you have the funds with you to purchase food? Learn to plan while you’re doing this. Leave yourself a sticky note, or make sure things are prepared and ready to go the night before.

Set a schedule and mark on a calendar important routine things such as when you need to pay bills, buy groceries, fill your gas tank, run specific errands, call to schedule appointments with your physician or dentist. At first some of this might seem silly or demeaning, but it’s all part of forming new habits and getting yourself organized. These are routine tasks and should be easy to begin your transition.


In organizing your shift and managing your time, you’ll need to make more lists. After you get report, make rounds, and set eyes on every single patient. Visually assess and Compare what you were told in report with what you see and hear from the patients. Take vitals for those who are lower priority. Those who are higher priority, you can do vitals as you perform the necessary tasks. Introduce yourself or say hi and let them know you’re checking in and you’ll be back. If you have a big task to complete first, let them know when they can expect to see you again and what to do if they have an urgent need before then. This sets a timer that you have 2 hours before you MUST see them again. Make your list of the first set of priorities and get started. This should be a quick process. If you’re getting bogged down, you need to set a boundary and schedule the conversation or tasks for later. Keep moving through your patient load.

Never wait until you have completed your highest priority tasks to make rounds! You are responsible for those patients the minute you hit the floor. A lot can change in a very short time, and you won’t even know what happened and why. If you need to complete something first, delegate or ask for help to check on the rest of your patients. This should be very rare!

Every two hours, you should have set eyes on each patient, charted, completed tasks, and be able to give a solid report if requested by physicians, families, and co-workers. Look at your priority list again and re-prioritize the patients. If you’ve completed all necessary tasks, then Check in, Assess your patients, complete necessary tasks, turn patients, administer meds according to their schedule. Ask if they need anything. Anticipate needs whenever possible and they won’t disrupt your plans. You won’t feel distracted or rushed.

Always prepare for the unexpected! Falls and codes will always happen when you’re most stressed, have the least amount of time to devote right now, and were just about to sneak to the bathroom   Never use the “Q” word, and if it is calm and quiet, take advantage of the moment to catch your breath and ensure you have completed everything to this point.

TIP: Don’t let procrastination steal your time!

There will always be patients you don’t like, or patients who monopolize your time, tasks you’d prefer to never do again and reasons you just don’t want to have to do something. Don’t get bogged down trying to avoid them. Get in there and get them done. “Eat the frog,” as Mark Twain exclaimed. Dragging them out only hurts you and makes your job harder. It’s stressful, you can get cranky and irritable, and your focus is distracted. This opens you up to making errors and omissions. Your job is to provide the best quality care possible. Procrastinating reduces that quality significantly. Sometimes, these tasks should be moved up the priority list just because they need to be your priority. Once that task is done, you can move on, and everyone wins!

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