Working in a healthcare position can be stressful: You may be working long hours on little sleep while caring for patients with critical needs and high emotions, as well as balancing the needs of several patients and families, while collaborating with an entire medical team.
But rather than succumbing to crippling stress levels, the most effective healthcare professionals find ways to thrive under pressure. One of the easiest ways to alleviate the stress of a workday in the hospital is to establish habits of effective time management. When you manage your time well, you no longer feel like your schedule is spiraling out of control and there’s no way to catch up: Instead, you have a plan for your day and strategies for managing the unexpected needs that arise.
Here are five tips to developing effective time management habits while working in the hospital.
1. Arrive early.
The work of a hospital staff never stops. So even though your shift likely begins and ends at certain times, you’re always starting in the middle of what’s already going on before you arrive. That means before every shift, it’s a good idea to arrive early (at least 20 minutes) and take time to review what’s happening so you can be prepared and organize your time effectively. By getting there early and checking in with co-workers, reading reports and otherwise preparing for your shift, you’ll be much more likely to accomplish necessary tasks on schedule.
2. Make a plan.
After arriving early, take time to write down a to-do list for the day. A written list will help you stay on track for managing all your duties or patients, and will keep you organized.
Because many healthcare professionals must balance a wide variety of tasks during a typical work day, it can be helpful to “cluster” similar tasks and do them at the same time, says Megen Duffy, a nurse, blogger and contributing editor for the American Journal of Nursing. For nurses, for instance, that may mean getting patients on the same schedule to be turned at the same time, or handling all patient urine samples at the same time so you can check off the task for all patients at once.
3. Prioritize tasks.
Your work in a hospital will almost always be unpredictable. While there are certain tasks and jobs you can—and should—plan on every day, you also have to be prepared for the unexpected. And when an unexpected task comes along, you need to be able to quickly prioritize those tasks into your existing schedule.
To quickly determine how to prioritize arising needs, American Nurse Today recommends developing a habit of asking yourself a few questions. They include:
- What are you going to do first? Why?
- Which is more important? Why?
- What could happen if you don’t do this now?
- What is most important to the patient?
Your mental answers to these questions can help you determine how to prioritize the tasks you need to complete.
4. Take breaks.
Even if you feel too busy to take a lunch or snack break, commit to doing so anyway. When you’re working in the hospital, you’re not just working physically; your brain is also working hard to make decisions and manage your patients, equipment and tasks. And both your brain and your body need a break. Research shows that even taking short breaks from a task can dramatically improve your ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.
In addition to taking time for scheduled breaks, when your work gets emotional or overwhelming, take time to decompress between patients or tasks. That can be as simple as taking a few minutes for deep breathing or a moment to interact with colleagues before moving on to the next task.
5. Take care of yourself.
Working in a high-stress environment like a hospital can be both stimulating and overwhelming. To succeed, you must manage your time well outside of work, just as you do during your shift. That means eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of sleep. Especially if you work overnight shifts, you’ll need to set aside at least seven to nine hours in each 24-hour period to sleep. Your body needs rest—and you must provide yourself time to get it.
Make time management a priority, and your work in a hospital setting can become less stressful and more fulfilling. As a result, you’ll be a better employee and provide better care for your patients.
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