Career advice

How to manage your time better so you can focus on your priorities

If you feel inundated and are struggling to cope, then these tips are designed to help you take control of your workload

Sometimes it seems like a nurse’s work is never done. Safe staffing guidance is due this year, but no one expects a major improvement in nurses’ workloads any time soon. So how are nurses to cope?

Picture credit: John Houlihan

Prioritisation is paramount in a fast-paced acute environment, says Nick Simpson, chief executive of health recruiter MSI Group.

‘Although working environments can differ dramatically, the fundamentals are the same. Prioritisation takes practice, and good nurses build their shifts around permanent fixtures on the schedule, such as breakfast, handover or consultant rounds. This agenda is then filled with flexible tasks, allowing time for admin,’ he says.

Registered nurse Julie Parry, managing director of Cordant Occupational Health Services, says nurses must be led by their clinical judgement. ‘Why would you sit at your desk to finish off a report when a patient is crying out in pain?

‘However, it is not so easy when you have many similar scenarios going on at the same time.’

The key to prioritisation, she says, is to think about the consequences for you, your patients or colleagues if you do not complete certain tasks in the set time frame.

Failing to delegate efficiently, or at all, is common cause of excessive workload. In teams, more gets done when delegation occurs, but it needs to be effective. ‘Delegating a task should be straightforward, giving a clear instruction with time frames and expectations,’ says Ms Parry.

Clear communication is vital to workload management and part of this is asking questions. Mr Simpson urges agency nurses in particular to speak up. ‘If you know the local procedures, where the supplies are kept and where you can find your line manager, you can plan your shift to achieve maximum productivity.’

Make a daily task list.

Prioritise urgent and non-urgent tasks.

Consider the consequences if tasks were not completed, to help you prioritise.

Listen to your colleagues and patients – they will guide you on priorities.

Ask for help.

Work as a team and communicate.

Take breaks and rest.

Be flexible with your workload and update your lists throughout the day.

Ask staff for help or delegate to them without giving them adequate information and expected time frames for completion.

Take on a task that you do not feel competent to perform.

Take on a task for which you cannot meet the deadline.

Source: Cordant Occupational Health Services managing director Julie Parry

Then there is knowing when to take a step back. ‘A two-minute breather to take stock and re-evaluate can put a hectic situation in perspective,’ he says.

Ms Parry adds: ‘Try not to be overwhelmed by the number of tasks. You cannot do all of them at the same time; do one task at a time.

‘Above all, remember it is fine to say no if you think you are putting your patient’s health at risk or your own. Saying no when you cannot do it effectively or at all is crucial’.

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