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10 ways to effectively manage your time on the ward


As a newbie nurse, work on the ward is bound to feel a bit overwhelming but you can use these simple time management skills to de-stress and get more done …

Imagine the scene, the telephone is ringing, your consultant wants you to accompany her on the hospital round and you have a patient asking you for help. What do you do first?

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You probably didn’t think that time management skills would come in handy working on a ward, but they will.  

In fact, learning how to effectively manage your time will probably allow you to deliver better quality care, get more done and feel less stressed in the process.

So how can you best manage your time?

  1. Get into the habit of arriving early. This will give you the chance to read through your reports and handover sheets, settle your mind and organise your tasks before the hustle and bustle of the shift ahead. 
  2. Make a note. If it is just for your personal use only, it could be in any form you fancy, whether it’s a tick box on your handover notes, a to-do list in your notebook or a grid of patient names with associated tasks, writing down your activities for the day will allow you to clearly see what jobs you need to accomplish.
  3. Estimate how long it will take. Add time estimates next to each task so that you can see how much time you’re likely to spend on each. This will prevent you from spending too much time on one task and neglecting another. 
  4. Prioritise. Now that you have your list of tasks for the day, it’s a good idea to prioritise them. What needs to be done first? Which tasks are urgent? Which tasks need to be undertaken before you can carry out others? What would happen if a task wasn’t carried out immediately? Give each task on your list a number according to how urgent it is, 1 being the most urgent and 10 being the least.
  5.  Avoid tasks that aren’t on your list. If they’re not on your list, then they’re probably not the best use of your time. Avoiding activities such as watching television, taking long chats, sending emails or getting involved in long conversations with your colleagues will mean that you’ll fit more things into your shift and feel less stressed too.
  6. Learn to say “No”. You can’t be everywhere at the same time, so some things will have to wait. Check in with a patient, saying something like ‘I’m sorry I have to deal with this right now but I will be back to help you in a few minutes.’
  7. Listen to your patient. Your patient’s priorities may be different to yours, so try not to assume what they would like first, ask.
  8. Take a breather.  You’re bound to get more done when you’re feeling in control. The stress of the ward may make it feel like you can’t take a break, but using a few minutes to collect your thoughts can help you relax and focus on what needs to be done.  
  9. Be flexible. Working on a ward can be unpredictable and your priorities can change very quickly, so learn to be flexible and respond to what’s going on around you. It may be useful to regularly reassess and refresh your to-do list as your shift continues. 
  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. With practice, you will get better at time management. Berating yourself for things that you didn’t manage to do during your shift isn’t helpful. There will always be something that you wanted to get done but didn’t have time. Experiment with different styles of time manageme

Readers' comments (6)

  • This is really good how about in the nursing home.

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  • good tips. one colleague once told me on her ward the sister forbid anybody from taking notes. difficult on a ward of 30 patients when you had to remember name, age, bed number consultant, diagnosis and what care you were going to give them. on another the sister did not allow nurses to sit down during any of the reports on 30 patients. Glad I didn't work on either as my memory is terrible and I was unable to concentrate if I felt uncomfortable and used to have a tendency to faint if I had to stand without moving for too long!

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  • Concentrate on no 2 and no 4, forget 3,5,6 and 9 as they are all the same as number 4. As for number 1, you'll be doing enough work for free throughout your career so arrive on time, or 2 minutes early at the most. Always grab a break when you can-remember don't stand when you can sit, and don't sit when you can lie down and you wont go far wrong. As for no. 10, be hard on others if they are lazing around, even if they are your superior, and pick a nurse who you look upto and follow their style-there are short-cuts that you will learn from them that will become invaluable.

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  • number 5 - watching tv, sending emails and gossiping with your colleagues cannot and should not be regarded as tasks to avoid, you shouldn't be doing these things in worktime anyway unless it's work related.

    As for getting to work early, what for, no-one appreciates it, you won't get paid for it, won't get the time back and colleagues will just take advantage and nip off early when you arrive.

    As for estimating the time to carry out a task, the general rule is double what you estimate because you will be constantly interrupted.

    not the best article I have ever read, let's not forget that nursing is a 24hour job which is why we hand over to the next shift.

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  • I stopped gettig to work early as it meant I spent time listening to staff complaining which left me feeling dejected for the rest of the day.

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  • Nursing is a job that requires a sufficient amount of energy on many levels. Nurses should handle lot of stress in their workplace. With so many responsibilities, a nurse does not have time to waste.

    In a day, nurses have to face so many distractions, disorganization and inefficient procedures can make their day long and burden. To overcome that situations, I would suggest to use time management application to manage the regular schedules and new patients appointments also. Recently, I have come across one such time tracking application from Replicon -

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