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New nurse question: How do you make time for a 30-minute lunch break?


Shutterstock | Dean DrobotShutterstock | Dean Drobot

Time management skills. The unspoken trait of our profession that can make or break your shift. Heck, dare I say, it can make or break your career. It’s the ability to create “time” in an environment that has none to spare.

Everyone, to some degree, lives by the clock. What’s so different about nursing?

As nurses we have to corral our patients’ care. Not only are we performing our role-specific responsibilities, but we also have been tasked with tallying up all the other aspects of our patients’ care. It’s our job to make sure every cog and every wheel are working in the same direction. It only takes one cog, one wheel, one motor to go in a different direction and the whole machine breaks down. We are the engineers who keep the machine moving in the same direction.

So time management skills are essential. As a new nurse we hear the term, but have no idea just how important these skills are until it’s almost too late. Quite honestly, I feel we fail at educating our new nurses in these needed skills. The last time I checked, nursing students were basically thrown into the frying pan and had to either “sink or swim” when it came to mastering time management.

Most nurses will admit that we’d rather skip our lunch in order to get out on time when our shift ends. More times than we’d like to remember, we stay after our “shift” is over to catch up on tasks, and finish responsibilities (like charting) that got “pushed aside” while we were caring for our patient load. In the echelon of the continuum of care, we all know there are certain things that will need to be done, but don’t take priority while on shift (did I mention charting?).

So how do you “make” time for lunch? Here are a few tips that I’ve developed over the years that might help.

Have a plan. After shift report, make a plan. Make it as detailed as you can. Down to the hour if you can. Write down everything you can think of: medication times, will the patient need help taking pills, will the patient need assistance with feeding, bed bath, family visitation hours, family visitation habits (when do they normally arrive), bedside procedures (dressing changes), road trips for test, turning your patient, are they ambulating, do you have specific times for physician rounds, etc. The list goes on. Get detailed. Now, this plan will fail. Let me say that again: The plan will fail. The idea is to follow as much of the plan as you can. This plan is just to get your brain thinking about priorities, nothing more.

Anticipate/expect the unexpected. Things are going to go wrong. Things will happen. You have emergencies. Low blood sugars, change in patient conditions, even a code blue. You will have a thousand call lights and phone calls to answer. Try to think ahead two steps with every action you take, but don’t get bogged down in the process. This skill will get better each time you set foot on the unit. Something as simple as bringing a full glass of water with you when you’re administering medications. So when you enter your patient’s room and he has no water, you’re prepared, instead of wasting time by having to fetch another glass/pitcher of water. It’s the small things that eat up your time.

Know your patients and those who are near you. I’m talking about the patients around you who are not a part of your assignment. Know what’s going on with them in general. Just the basics—their diagnosis and what activities are going on—so when you cover your coworker’s lunch or when they are off the floor, you can answer basic questions on the spot instead of having to find the charge nurse or call the nurse to figure things out. Just another time-saver.

Write everything down. I mean EVERYTHING. Carry around something to write on. Write down everything that happens and the time it happened. Write down who you’ve talked with. Write down family members’ names. Write down tests, procedures, results, labs, diagnosis, etc. The great thing is, the longer you do this job, the less you’ll have to write down. In the beginning, what you forget in your head you’ll remember in your feet (know what I mean?).

Ask for help ahead of time. This is part of the art of anticipation. Ask for help. But ask for help ahead of time. Learn to delegate, but learn to ask for assistance. Is your patient bedside care going to be difficult? Will you need a second set of eyes? Second set of hands? How about help with transportation? Help with ambulation? Pick a time to perform these duties and recruit help. The alternative is wandering the halls of the unit searching for help at the last minute, which—guess what?—eats up more time.

Time management isn’t about eliminating large chunks of time, it’s learning how to eliminate the time-wasting moments. You’re not out to “shave time” or “cut corners”—you’re learning to utilize and maximize every second you spend.

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