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Time Management Tips for RN Graduates

Monday April 7, 2003
Lourdes T. Rao, RNC, MA, offers practical 
suggestions for time management in the 
clinical setting.
Lourdes T. Rao, RNC, MA, offers practical suggestions for time management in the clinical setting.
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It's almost a guarantee that your first three to 12 months in your new job will be a time of great challenge and adjustment - maybe the biggest one you will face in your entire career. You'll stay an extra one, two, or three hours after your shift every day for those beginning months - to carry out that last doctor's order, finish patient charting, or to go back to talk to a patient.
You're not alone. Almost all new staff nurses experience "reality shock" in their early professional life. And yes, they've all survived and thrived! In the process they've learned valuable lessons about time management. Here are some tips -
∑ The greatest time saver is being organized. Establish routines that go like clock work. But know other things come up that break your perfect schedule, for example, a long disaster drill, an emergency meeting, or a code blue.
∑ Use your ingenuity. Through trial and error, research, reading, and role modeling, you'll learn strategies that work. Some of those strategies include the "Swiss cheese technique." During times when there's a lull in activity, you can get those things done that aren't high priority but are important to accomplish. You can start writing your notes or make patient assessments before the physicians take the charts or you can check to see that you have all the medications you need for that day.
∑ At the end of the shift, reflect on your accomplishments and make a list of your priorities for the next day. Try to spend at least 15 or 20 minutes the day before to plan your next day. Organize your clothes and accessories, like stethoscope and pens of different colors, so there're ready to go in your bag. Planning and delegating are important to your own personal achievement as well as to the success of the whole unit.
∑ Prioritize your daily "things to do" everyday. A daily reminder book works but try not to drive yourself crazy. Categorize those things that are very important or critical for work success. Some tasks can wait, and some can be delegated. Be flexible and ready to change priorities.
∑ Some jobs may be so ominous that you dread the thought of doing them. Break them down into small tasks with short-range goals that give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. In this step-by-step process, your long-term goal will be accomplished.
∑ Accept the realities of life, and visualize yourself coping with change, turmoil, and chaos. You'll be mentally prepared, ready to face challenges, and learn coping skills that you can use in the future.
∑ Once you're promoted to a leadership position, learn how to communicate to staff and management effectively. In meetings, set up an agenda and stick to it in your own timetable. Entertain those questions that are relevant to the issues and promise to discuss anything else with staff directly at a later date. Make sure that staff has a good grasp of what needs to be done by tactfully asking each person to enumerate or explain what he or she heard you say.
∑ Communicate by e-mail or telephone where appropriate.
∑ Have an open door policy at a time that is mutually convenient to you and the staff.
∑ When you need to answer a memo from management or from staff, write your thoughts in the same memo so everyone concerned understands the context of your response.
These are just a few tips to take with you as you start your first job in nursing. Know that if you are an effective time manager, you can get more accomplished, have improved quality of work, and meet deadlines and other commitments. If you can manage your own time effectively, people around you will benefit - they will begin to use their time more efficiently. You can set the tone - right from the start.