Four Elements of Time Management New Nurses Need to Know

4 Elements of Time Management New Nurses Need to Know

Prioritizing and clustering care are the basic components of time management for nurses. However, new nurses often have unique struggles in this area. These may include being hesitant to delegate tasks, failing to anticipate what could go wrong, staying in control, and neglecting reflection time.

Transitioning from a new to a professional nurse can be challenging, but staying aware of these overlooked growing pains can make you more efficient and productive.

Being Hesitant to Delegate

While delegation is a nerve-racking skill that comes with time, most nurses can’t wait around for it to develop naturally. This process involves handing the responsibility of a task to another person while remaining accountable for the outcome. Hesitancy to delegate can lead to heavier workloads and poor time management. Master delegation with these tips:

Never Delegate T.A.P.E. Tasks

Understanding what and what not to delegate is the key to overcoming your fears. Registered nurses (RNs) should never delegate tasks that require Teaching, Assessment, Planning, or Evaluating (T.A.P.E.). These interventions are unique to nursing, making it possible for nurses to perform at the top of their scope of practice.

Professional RNs often delegate tasks to other RNs, licensed practical nurses, or certified nursing assistants. However, T.A.P.E. tasks belong to RNs and cannot be shared or passed off.

Know The Five Rights of Nursing Delegation

According to the National Guidelines for Nursing Delegation, there are five rights of nursing delegation: the right task, the right circumstance, the right person, the right direction/communication, and the right supervision. Here’s what to ask yourself:

The Right Task

Is this a task within my scope of practice to delegate, or is it a task that only the RN can do? Remember—it’s okay to delegate non-nursing tasks, but avoid delegating T.A.P.E. tasks.

The Right Circumstance

Is the patient stable or unstable? If unstable, don’t delegate. Also, consider the workload of the person you’re delegating work to. Do they already have too much going on?

The Right Person

Does the person you’ll delegate to have proven competency for this task? Is the task within their scope of practice as determined by state and organizational protocols? In order to feel comfortable delegating to someone with limited experience, you may consider completing a task alongside them.

The Right Direction/Communication

Have you clearly communicated expectations, as well as how to complete it and when to report back to you?

The Right Supervision

Always follow up. Was the task completed and performed correctly? Are the patient and family safe and happy?

Failing to Anticipate What Could Go Wrong

Several risks to patients can be avoided by targeting their root causes ahead of time. Developing strategies to anticipate and respond to both expected and unexpected situations can improve patient outcomes and strengthen time management skills.

Create Hypothetical Situations

Start with “what if.” Based on what you currently know about your patient’s diagnosis and health status, what is most likely to go wrong? Think through several ‘what ifs’, from best-case to worst-case scenarios. After identifying the worst outcome consider how likely it is to occur.

Plan Ahead of Time What To Do

Are you ready for the worst-case scenario? What is the first thing you should do in each of these scenarios? Do you know who to call, where to find equipment, and which medications to grab? Do you know what to tell the patient or how to explain it to the family?

Respond. Don’t React

Nobody can predict exact outcomes but by thinking ahead, nurses can reduce the need to react and fully focus on responding. Reacting to each situation takes more time because you’re left scrambling for an action plan. On the flip side, responding to a problem takes less time because you’re prepared and aware of the next step.

Staying in Control

New nurses can quickly become overwhelmed. When your tasks are bigger than your day, things can spiral out of control and productivity can plummet. At a certain point, no amount of time management or organizational skills can turn things around. Losing control of your day by falling behind is one of the biggest time wasters in nursing. Here are some tips to stay on top of your day.

Slow Down

Slowing down when you need to hurry up and get things done may sound counter-intuitive. However, keep in mind that your job is not to complete a checklist of tasks—it is to provide quality nursing care.

Veteran nurses have learned the hard way that rushing through patient care results in more delays and stress than slowing down to focus on each patient encounter. Slowing down allows you to cluster care more effectively, focusing on completing one task at a time instead of multitasking. This is especially important when it comes to giving or hanging medications.

Organize Your Care

At the beginning of your work day, take the time to group your nursing care into three necessary areas: now, soon, and today. This will help you understand the big picture, what to prioritize, and where to cluster your care for each patient. To maintain control of your day, keep these considerations in mind when organizing your nursing care:
  • What nursing interventions can I do, and which interventions do I need an order for? It’s crucial to implement nursing interventions while waiting for medical orders.

  • Which tasks can be delegated? Use all of the resources at your disposal, from leadership to staff. Remember that you are one member of a team caring for this patient. By being the nurse who always helps others, your colleagues will step in when you need support.

Handle Competing Priorities

When multiple treatments, medications, and therapies are ordered, it’s often the nurse’s responsibility to manage when and how these things get done. To handle your nursing tasks without losing control of your day, there are several components to think about.

  • Is the problem acute or chronic? Acute issues often require immediate attention over chronic ones.
  • Which issue can be addressed quickly? When there are two nursing interventions that could benefit the patient equally, completing the easiest and fastest one first is the best approach.
  • What would happen if the problem were not addressed right now? Safety issues and life-threatening situations that require immediate action take precedence.
  • What needs to be done right now, and what can safely be delayed? Routine tasks often take a backseat when unexpected situations arise. Patient care always comes first.

Never Put Off Charting

Documenting as early and as often as possible is ideal, but it’s not always realistic. Regardless, failing to document until the end of your shift will most likely take more time. Here are some tips for gaining control of documentation time.

  • Chart the first physical assessment of the day within two hours. The patient’s condition may change as the day goes on, altering future assessment findings.

  • Documenting the physical assessment immediately ensures accuracy and easier adaptability to unforeseen events.
    Document the most time-consuming task early on. If you can’t document everything as soon as you would like,record the most time-consuming task as early in the shift as possible.

  • Keep notes on the side. Jotting down abnormal findings, vital signs, or teaching moments can make charting faster and more accurate when you do get the time to document.

Ignoring Reflection Time

Reflection is how the best nurses move their knowledge, skills, and careers forward. The only way to truly know if what you did worked well is to analyze the action and the outcome.

Evaluate Your Actions

What did you do first? Second? Third? What should you have done first? What could you do differently in the future to create improved patient outcomes in similar situations? Based on research and best practices, what could you do better next time? Always base your nursing care on best practices by taking the time to review them.

Write It All Down

Using a narrative approach to examine your clinical experiences will help you remember more details, see them clearer, and create enhanced interventions and plans. During reflection, you may be prompted to create a checklist for the next time or develop innovative approaches.

Grab The Insights

Reflect honestly on what worked well and what didn’t. One of the best outcomes of evaluating your actions is gaining insight. In the future, you will be able to avoid wasting time on interventions or tasks that didn’t result in the most favorable outcomes for your patients.


As a new nurse, surviving the test of time management comes down to delegating effectively, anticipating all outcomes, proactively taking control of your day, and consciously reflecting on your actions. By focusing on these temporary hurdles, struggling new nurses can manage their time like a pro while building confidence along the way.

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