Nurse Time Management: Tips and Techniques for Nurses and Nursing Students

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A nurse taking notes stands between a clock and a calendar to indicate the importance of time management in nursing.Whether they’re working in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) attending to the needs of an infant in crisis or at the bedside of a scared burn patient, nurses often treat people at the most critical times in their lives. Being able to deliver high-quality patient care requires nurses to have not only incredible stamina but also sufficient time to notice subtle changes in patients so they can respond as needed with the appropriate care.

Recommended nurse-to-patient ratios help ensure such time is available to nurses. The appropriate nurse-to-patient ratio depends on the type of nursing care being provided. For example, in a critical care unit, nurses should have no more than two patients, whereas in an emergency department, nurses can safely care for up to four patients.

Unfortunately, the ongoing nursing shortage has disrupted these nurse-to-patient ratios in many cases. The lack of nurse educators and the aging nursing workforce, which exacerbate this shortage, make the need for more nurses to pursue advanced roles particularly urgent.

By putting into practice effective nurse time management strategies, however, nurses can improve the efficiency of their care delivery and potentially shrink the nurse-to-patient ratio gap.

What Is Nurse Time Management?

In nursing, time management refers to how nurses use and organize their time. Effective time management typically requires nurses to adopt a set of behaviors that help them to work smarter, not necessarily harder. With the right habits in place, nurses can increase their efficiency and boost their productivity.

The behaviors key to effective time management tend to revolve around:

  • Planning
  • Setting goals
  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Identifying ways to save time

Developing time management skills in the above areas can help nurses balance heavy workloads and meet the demands made on their time.

To gain further insight into nurse time management, nurses may find it useful to examine its components and how they relate to various nursing tasks.

The Purpose of Nurse Time Management

Nurses frequently have tight time blocks to handle a great number of responsibilities — everything from taking patient medical histories and checking diagnostic tests to mentoring newer members of their nursing teams.

Effective time management can empower nurses to carry out more tasks in less time. It can also help nurses adapt to the constraints imposed upon them without compromising the care they deliver.

Benefits of Nurse Time Management

Beyond making it possible for nurses to carry out their duties in the face of time crunches, time management skills can help nurses improve their job performance. Enhanced job performance typically leads to increased motivation at work and, in turn, greater job satisfaction.

What Effective Time Management Can Achieve

Effective time management can correct poor time allocation and lead to better clinical decisions. That’s because, when nurses manage their time well, they feel less pressured. This gives them the space to think more clearly and make measured choices based on their past experiences, their knowledge of the patient, the context of the situation, and other considerations.

Conversely, a lack of time can result in nurses only attending to the tasks they must do, and forgoing the tasks they should do related to patient care. For example, a nurse may make sure to turn patients to prevent them from getting bed sores, but they may skip having conversations with patients that provide needed emotional support and reassurance.

Effective time management can enable nurses to spend more time with their patients and get to the less urgent nursing tasks that are still very important.

Why Is Time Management in Nursing So Important?

Nurse time management not only affects a nurse’s ability to effectively carry out their duties. Time management can also impact patient safety, professional advancement, and successful collaboration with other care providers.

Following are some other important advantages of effective nurse time management.

Reducing Patient Care Gaps

As mentioned above, the nursing shortage has resulted in patient care gaps. With nurses often facing less-than-ideal nurse-to-patient ratios, some patients end up receiving care that falls short of best practices. These breakdowns in care can increase the risk of adverse health outcomes for patients.

Time constraints often contribute to gaps in care, and with fewer nurses on duty, individual nurses have less time than ever before. As a result, nurses may struggle to find the time to fully discuss preventive care with their patients, for example, or adequately explain a diagnosis. This can result in patients not getting a needed colorectal screening or a recommended mammogram.

However, sharp time management skills can help nurses prevent such lapses in care. By redefining how they work and adopting habits that improve their efficiency, nurses can create more time in their schedules, allowing them to engage in best practices that keep care gaps in check.

Improved Patient Care

Time management can reduce the anxiety nurses experience in the course of doing their job. This helps nurses regulate their emotions and better cope with challenging situations as they arise. This also can lead to:

  • Fewer errors in care delivery
  • Enhanced communication with colleagues and patients
  • Improved analysis of data in decision-making

Improvements in Facility Operations and Operational Management

Nurses serve as the primary providers of care at hospitals and deliver most long-term care in the U.S. They also make up the largest segment of health care workers. Inevitably, they have a huge impact on how health care organizations run.

Nursing practices can affect the efficiency of day-to-day operations at any medical facility. For example, nursing practices can impact patient wait times, operational costs, and the use of resources. That being the case, effective nurse time management can:

  • Save a health care organization money
  • Increase patient satisfaction
  • Help reduce wasteful uses of supplies and equipment

Potential Improvements in Patient Outcomes

Health care organizations have a number of ways they can improve their patients’ outcomes — for example, by increasing the efficiency of their facility’s operations, making efforts to keep patients satisfied, and providing consistently high-quality care, to name a few. The central role nurses play in health care means they can make a huge difference in each of these areas.

From preventing medical mistakes to implementing evidence-based treatments, with the right time management skills, nurses help ensure that their organizations deliver optimal patient outcomes.

8 Tips for Nurse Time Management

Given the many benefits of effective time management, it makes sense for nurses to invest time and energy into cultivating their skills in this area. Such an investment can help nurses be more at ease in their work and, in turn, feel more joy doing what they do best.

The following time management tips for nurses serve as an excellent starting point for any nurse ready to take a proactive approach to improving their experience on the job.

1. Prioritize Tasks with To-Do Lists

Nurses interact with large amounts of information throughout their shifts. They also have many tasks to keep track of. Trying to store everything through sheer memorization can wear a nurse out. By taking notes, making to-do lists that prioritize items according to urgency, and marking to whom each task could be delegated, nurses free up space in their minds and lighten their mental load. This can improve their mental agility.

To-do lists enable nurses to remember details they may otherwise forget. These details can better inform the interventions and treatments they decide to use and lead to better results in patient care as a result.

When writing to-do lists, nurses can ask themselves a series of questions to help them prioritize their schedules, such as:

  • What should I do first and why?
  • What does the patient need most?
  • If this isn’t done now, what’s the worst that could happen?

2. Cluster Care

A nurse clusters care for a patient by completing a slew of important tasks in a single visit. So, rather than making individual stops to check a patient’s vitals, assist them with toileting, and administer medication, a nurse takes care of all these items at once.

By clustering care, nurses can avoid unnecessary back-and-forth movements and, in turn, save time. This results in fewer interruptions for patients as well, which can help them rest better.

Research has shown that because clustering care limits how many times a nurse goes in and out of a patient’s room, this habit also can lower the risk of nurses catching infectious diseases.

In addition to keeping nurses safer, clustering care can keep patients safer too. A recent study found that, in certain cases, clustering care can reduce a patient’s risk of acquiring urinary tract infections and shorten the length of time they require a urinary catheter.

3. Act Proactively

Unexpected events and setbacks tend to occur with some regularity in nursing. For that reason, nurses need to try and stay one step ahead of any potential problems by acting proactively to protect patient safety.

Proactive nursing comes down to taking control of situations, so patients receive the care they need when they need it. It also means seizing opportunities when they appear, and anticipating what could go wrong.

For example, when work slows down, a nurse can use this time to tackle low-priority tasks and, in this way, help create buffers should unexpected events unfold. Or a nurse who suspects a patient needs a specific diagnostic test, such as a chest X-ray, may invite a doctor to conduct an evaluation in the triage room of an emergency department to expedite care.

A proactive approach can be a crucial nurse time management technique, resulting in less work for nurses because it helps limit complications that may occur in patients’ conditions. It can also lead to quicker handling of complications, which can prevent bottlenecks from forming that may require reorganizing patients and create even more delays in care delivery.

4. Use Effective Organization

Effective organization can help nurses gain more control over how they spend their day. By organizing one’s workspace and establishing routines that create order and impose a logical structure on how tasks are completed, nurses can work much more efficiently. This efficiency can increase the time nurses have to interact with patients.

Being organized can also give nurses better visibility when it comes to seeing the big picture of patients’ conditions and needs. This visibility can help nurses make more astute clinical decisions that generate better patient outcomes.

Useful organizational strategies can include:

  • Developing a system for storing patient records and documents so time isn’t wasted trying to locate important information
  • Starting a shift by grouping tasks according to urgency, making it easier to prioritize and cluster care for each patient
  • Implementing routines that ensure necessary medications, supplies, and equipment are ready and quickly accessed

Additionally, at the start of each shift, nurses can organize their work with time in mind by considering questions such as:

  • What nursing interventions can I implement while I’m waiting for medical orders?
  • What resources can be used to complete the day’s work that can improve efficiency?

5. Perform Hourly Rounding

Planned hourly patient visits help nurses ensure their patients are safe, each patient’s required routine care has been performed, and each patient’s comfort has been checked. A best practice in nursing, hourly rounding helps nurses control their time by preemptively addressing patients’ needs.

This time management tip for nurses both lowers the number of times patients ring for assistance and reduces patient falls. While making hourly rounds on day and night shifts, nurses who keep in mind the five P’s will reap the most time-saving benefits from the practice. Issues to address and questions to consider when making hourly rounds include:


Is the patient experiencing pain? If so, at what level? Nurses can discuss options for addressing the pain. They can reaffirm their intent to make the patient as comfortable as possible.


Does the patient need any assistance using the bathroom? Nurses can assure patients that their bathroom needs are a priority and that they can get whatever help they need.


Is the patient in a comfortable position? Nurses may need to reposition patients to protect their skin. This may involve pulling them up, placing pillows under their limbs, or adjusting the bed’s position up or down.

Personal Items

Can the patient reach their various personal items, such as their phone, lip balm, or water? Nurses can ask patients if they have everything they need and offer to place a specific item closer.


Does the patient have the privacy they desire? Nurses can ask patients if they want the curtains drawn, the door shut, and so on. They can also reiterate their desire to respect the patient’s privacy needs.

6. Seek Assistance

Fellow team members can often provide support that helps nurses strengthen their time management skills. Talking to colleagues about their approaches to various tasks can enable nurses to learn new techniques and processes that increase their efficiency and eliminate redundancies.

Additionally, asking colleagues to provide constructive feedback can also give nurses useful insights about where they may improve their management of particular tasks.

7. Use Technology Efficiently

Nurses have a huge range of technological tools to help them prioritize their work, stay organized, increase their productivity, track their habits, and the list goes on. For many busy nurses, technology serves as a great time management hack.

To start, nurse time management apps can help nurses plan their days, create to-do lists, set reminders, and more. These apps allow nurses to keep track of their various patient care duties and prevent time-consuming oversights.

Additionally, many health care organizations use software to record patient data. These programs often have time-tracking features that can help nurses assess how they’re spending their time and make changes as necessary.

Alongside time management apps, nurses can take advantage of apps that specifically cater to the health care community. Some of these apps provide medical information, including the side effects of certain medications to drug interactions. Others deliver the latest medical news, translate medical terms into different languages, and give descriptions of diseases and their symptoms.

Using these tools can empower nurses to communicate with diverse patient populations, verify information, better educate patients, and develop time-saving habits.

8. Take Breaks

Though perhaps counterintuitive, taking breaks can actually help nurses save time. While some nurses choose to skip lunch and forgo even a brief recess from their duties, this can sometimes do more harm than good.

Taking time out to rest every so often lowers a nurse’s risk of experiencing an on-the-job injury and making an error. Breaks can also help reduce fatigue and burnout. Without a chance to recover and unwind, nurses may struggle to do their best work. Additionally, nurse burnout not only harms a nurse’s well-being and overall morale, it also contributes to the current nursing shortage.

Some tips for taking breaks that can help nurses feel reenergized include:

  • Eating a healthy snack.
  • Taking a walk outside.
  • Meditating.
  • Engaging in non-work-related conversations with coworkers.
  • Listening to music.
A list of skills that can help nurses practice effective time management

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A nurse needs a solid set of core competencies in order to develop effective time management strategies. The following skills can transform good time management ideas into excellent time management strategies: delegation, organization, communication, critical thinking, and technical expertise.


Resources for Nurse Time Management

Nurses interested in learning more about time management techniques can explore the following resources:

Important Nurse Time Management Skills

Developing certain key skills can have a significant impact on a nurse’s ability to successfully manage their time. Applying these skills can also greatly improve the efficiency with which nurses perform a host of tasks.


Knowing how to delegate helps nurses manage their workloads. Effective delegation allows nurses to focus on the tasks that require their specific clinical knowledge and assign less complex responsibilities to others.

Essential to teamwork, delegation helps nurses make sure the right tasks are completed by the right people at the right time. Handing off responsibilities to nurse assistants or other health care professionals can enable nurses to tackle tasks that need their immediate attention without getting distracted by less pressing matters.

This can prevent potential delays in the completion of less urgent duties, which often lead to a backlog of tasks that can congest workflows and slow everything down.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) recommends that nurses keep in mind the five rights of delegation when allocating tasks to others. These rights are:

The Right Task

Consider if the delegated task falls within the colleague’s scope of practice and job description. Then ensure the task matches the patient’s care plan.

The Right Circumstance

Only delegate tasks for patients in stable condition and whose status does not require extra safety precautions. This protects patients from unnecessary risks.

The Right Person

Make sure to delegate tasks only to individuals who have already demonstrated their capacity to perform the task. Whoever performs the task must have the proper training, education, and skill set.

The Right Direction and Communication

Provide explicit instructions for the task to the person it has been delegated to, confirm their understanding, and answer any questions they have about what the task entails. Expectations for the task must also be clear.

The Right Supervision and Evaluation

Be available to oversee the delegated task when necessary. Offer support and feedback to ensure the work complies with the proper standards of care and procedures.


Proper communication is a crucial aspect of nursing. It allows nurses to convey critical information about diagnoses, symptoms, and treatment options to patients, their families, and other health care providers. It also enables nurses to provide emotional support to those under their care and clinical support to those working alongside them.

Effective communication is also an important skill for nurse time management. First, it helps limit misunderstandings that can require team members to undo and redo tasks. By communicating clearly with patients, which also involves active listening, nurses pick up on subtle details that can help them understand and then address patients’ needs more quickly.

Additionally, strong communication skills allow nurses to work more productively. Rather than having to spend time clearing up confusion about task delegations, patient symptoms, follow-up instructions, and medications — all of which can lead to poor patient outcomes and readmissions — nurses can focus on conducting assessments, implementing care plans, and completing daily charting.

Critical Thinking

Nurses with strong critical thinking skills can better analyze patients’ conditions and responses to treatment. They can also more accurately anticipate the associated outcomes and risks of those conditions and treatments. This gives them a more precise and complete understanding of their patients’ situations. In turn, these nurses have sharper judgment. They can then act more swiftly to execute evidence-based interventions if needed.

Analytical nurses catch problems early and think for themselves. Rather than blindly following orders, they evaluate each situation to determine the right course of action. For example, after seeing that a patient’s blood pressure has dropped below acceptable levels, a strong critical thinker won’t simply administer the patient’s prescribed blood pressure medication. Instead, they’ll consult with the patient’s physician about how to stop the patient’s blood pressure from dropping even further.

This ability to think for oneself analytically allows nurses to prevent situations from getting out of hand. Averting problems and addressing issues quickly results in fewer complicated and time-consuming clinical situations arising.

Technical Expertise

Possessing technical expertise streamlines nursing care by eliminating unnecessary pauses and gaps that can lead to errors and compromise patient safety. Nurses with emergency care skills or advanced knowledge of how to use medical equipment, for example, can jump into situations without delay.

In today’s nursing landscape, nurses need to be comfortable using a range of technologies designed to boost the efficiency of everything from recording patient data to monitoring patient vitals. When nurses hone their ability to use these tools, it can enhance communication within their teams and speed up the time it takes to complete routine tasks.

For example, by using real-time location systems, nurses can avoid wasting time trying to track down an electrocardiogram machine, IV unit, or other supplies or equipment they need.

A list of skills that can help nurses practice effective time management

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<p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="A list of skills that can help nurses practice effective time management" style="max-width:100%;" /></a></p><p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">Regis College Online </a></p>

A nurse needs a solid set of core competencies in order to develop effective time management strategies. The following skills can transform good time management ideas into excellent time management strategies: delegation, organization, communication, critical thinking, and technical expertise.

Time Management for Nursing Students

Nursing students have rigorous schedules. Managing demanding coursework, labs, and clinical experiences can leave many nursing students feeling overwhelmed, especially those who lack strong time management skills.

That being said, by developing effective strategies for managing their time while in school, nursing students can prepare themselves for career success.

In addition to helping students stay on track with their academic goals, cultivating strategic time management habits helps foster an efficient approach to nursing. These habits lay the foundation for more efficient nursing practice in the real world.

Key Time Management Skills for Nursing Students

So what does time management for nursing students entail? Beyond getting enough sleep and setting up a disciplined study routine, nursing students can benefit from focusing on time management skills specific to the nursing field.

Learn Prioritization Strategies in Nursing School

As already discussed, prioritization is an essential part of effective nursing practice. Accurately identifying what tasks to complete first and why doesn’t just save nurses extra hassles. In nursing, it can mean the difference between life and death.

In nursing school, prioritization can make it easier for students to meet deadlines and effectively budget their time. This, in turn, can alleviate some of the pressure nursing students feel.

To sharpen their prioritization skills, nursing students may want to examine how nurses in the field approach prioritization. When planning their work, nurses who effectively prioritize their tasks ask themselves a series of questions:

  • What important items are dependent on the completion of other specific actions?
  • What tasks are time-sensitive?
  • What is essential to achieving the desired outcome?

Nursing students can apply these same guiding questions to their own work. This can help them organize their to-do lists, block their time appropriately, and realize their academic goals.

Build the Confidence Needed for Delegation

Being comfortable delegating requires a good deal of confidence, but it’s key to effective teamwork in nursing. Gaining this confidence takes time. However, nursing students can take a number of actions to start building it before they’re on the job. To begin, nursing students can practice delegation during the learning process.

For example, nursing students can volunteer to lead when group work is assigned. They can ask probing questions about appropriate delegation to increase their understanding and, in turn, their confidence. They can also simulate delegation with their peers during clinical experiences.

Resources for Developing Time Management Strategies

The following resources can help nursing students develop effective time management strategies.

Cultivate the Right Time Management Skills to Thrive as a Nurse

Effectively budgeting one’s time factors into the success of almost every professional. Effective time management in nursing, however, is more than just a helpful skill. It’s imperative for balancing the workloads and demands made on nurses.

By mastering time management skills, nurses can flourish at the professional level and deliver the highest standard of patient care.

Infographic Sources:

Chron, “Time Management Skills for Nurses”

EMedCert, “10 Time Management Tips for Nurses”

My American Nurse, “New Graduate Nurse Time Management”

StatPearls, “Five Rights of Nursing Delegation”