nurse looking at watch

7 Most Common Nurse Time Management Pitfalls

January 18, 2019

Nursing time management skills are vital to providing quality patient care. Effective nurse time management, however, can be difficult, as RNs are constantly juggling multiple tasks. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, always rushing and constantly staying late to finish paperwork, you may be suffering from some common nurse time management pitfalls.  

Avoid being stretched beyond your limit on chaotic workdays with these efficient nursing time management tips. 

7 Nursing Time Management Tips and Tricks 

Nurses have a lot of demands on their time and frequently deal with work overload. The first step to improving your nursing time management skills is to recognize common barriers to effective time management.  

Consider the things that get in the way of completing your daily tasks and learn to overcome your barriers with these seven nurse time management tips and tricks.

1. Failing to prioritize 

Prioritizing tasks is vital to effective nursing time management and a skill that only comes with sufficient experience on the job. Failing to prioritize is one of the most common nurse time management pitfalls, especially for new nurses. 

“Avoid putting ‘easy’ before the important,” advises Jeff Skipper, CEO of Jeff Skipper Consulting. “This will only take a moment . . . when there are more critical tasks that are higher priority.” 

Learning to prioritize involves shuffling the most important tasks to the top and not allowing minor tasks to take up too much of your time. Prioritizing tasks allows you to make more effective use of your time and ensures your patients’ most pressing needs are timely met. 

2. Refusing to delegate 

Nearly every nurse time management expert agrees on the importance of delegation, because many people have a hard time asking for help. Nurses are further hampered because they must be able to differentiate which nursing tasks can and can’t be delegated to certified nursing aids or other support staff. 

However, nursing teamwork is crucial and you can’t be afraid to delegate. When you simply can’t complete all your tasks and care for your patients without help from others, it’s not being lazy; it’s being responsible. Remember, nursing is a team effort. 

Refusing to delegate is “failing to enlist the help of peers to protect the time you need to complete critical tasks,” explains Skipper. “They can run defense!”

3. Nurse time management distractions 

It’s easy to get distracted by interruptions from patients and staff members and difficult to get back on track following these interruptions.  

Always avoid interrupting your coworkers, especially during crucial tasks. If someone attempts to interrupt you, learn to ask them to wait until you’ve completed your task. 

“Allowing disruptions in the middle of a procedure consumes energy,” Skipper explains. “It also takes more time and effort to 're-focus' on a task after being interrupted versus completing what you’re doing first.” 

In situations where you must stop what you’re doing, make note of what you were working on and prioritize this task as the next thing on your to-do list.  

Writing things down helps you remember where you left off and reminds you to come back to finish what you were doing so distractions don’t cause you to leave tasks incomplete. 

4. Underestimating time for tasks 

Another common nurse time management pitfall is underestimating the amount of time you need to get things done. Correctly gauging your time for tasks is another skill you develop with experience.  

Start by estimating how long it takes to finish a certain task, then compare the estimated time with the actual time it took.  

Make the most of your nursing minutes by adjusting your workday timeline based on the approximate amount of time needed to complete each of your tasks.

5. Procrastinating 

Poor organization and planning could actually be the result of procrastination, the ultimate pitfall to effective nurse time management. American Nurse Today, the official journal of the American Nurses Association, suggests honestly evaluating your procrastination tendencies and identifying strategies to overcome them.  

Try creating a prioritized list of your tasks for the day, then follow your list, top to bottom, to stay on track and prevent putting off tasks you don’t like. Crossing off tasks as you complete them also helps keep you motivated to get things done. 

6. Feeling frustrated 

The RN Team at FirstCare says time constraints can frustrate you to the point that it’s hard to get on with your day. This level of frustration can become a nurse time management pitfall that ruins a carefully crafted schedule meant to help you manage your time effectively. 

“You expect to be busy as a nurse,” explains the FirstCare team. “For many nurses, that's an appealing part of the job, but one thing that can get you down is not being able to spend as much time with certain patients as you might like. “ 

“Sometimes a patient might really need your time, but in the current healthcare climate, it often just isn't possible to spend time talking with one patient when you have other patients to see. It can be frustrating and mentally tough to get over this and get on with your day.” 

7. Not taking a time-out 

Taking a break may seem counterintuitive to getting your multitude of tasks done on time, but it can actually make you more productive and get things done more quickly than you would have without the break.  

Taking breaks helps with productivity and mental concentration, which are essential to manage your nursing workday. Skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion, making it difficult to work efficiently. You don't need long breaks — just enough to recharge, which helps you adequately do your job and, in the long run, keeps you on schedule.