In a world where we are bombarded with too many attention seekers (e.g., activities, people, internet), we need to prioritize which stimuli are worth our immediate attention. Nurses are inundated with busy, fast-paced, and evolving roles, and 90% report that they do not have enough time to properly care for patients. The pressure to do so much in a limited amount of time increases stress levels and burnout and decreases our capacity for self-care. Prioritizing and devoting allotted time to our attention seekers may improve stress management, work-life balance, and overall self-care.

What the Research Tells Us

Daily effective time management is an individualized, ever-changing process. Setting objectives and monitoring your time through time logs can help you find the smartest, healthiest, and most rewarding ways to use the same 86,400 seconds we all have every day.

To manage our time effectively, prioritizing our daily activities and assignments according to their importance and deadline is essential. Sometimes, the loudest task or the one seeking our immediate attention needs to be assigned to the bottom of our to-do list. In a 2007 lecture, Randy Pausch recommended using the Eisenhower Matrix to effectively manage our time spent on tasks (see sidebar):

  • Is it important and due soon?
  • Is it important and not due soon?
  • Is it not important and due soon?
  • Is it not important and not due soon?

Although nurses have recurring daily tasks, a day in a nurse’s life is ever evolving and sometimes unpredictable. Allocating appropriate time to assigned tasks is essential to decreasing feelings of always being behind, which in turn increase your stress level and risk for burnout. Constantly moving from place to place or task to task doesn’t mean that time is managed efficiently. Chunta and Boothby explained that poor time management can lead to inefficient workflows, missed deadlines, poor-quality work, and decreased work satisfaction. Conversely, a grounded theory study showed that using time more effectively enables better work-life balance.

How to Practice

Follow these steps to prioritize your tasks and reclaim your time:

  • Create a time log with your prioritized daily tasks.
  • Allow for flexibility and reprioritize the tasks as needed.
  • To prioritize and reprioritize, ask “Is it important and when is it due?”
  • Decide what changes need to be made and commit to following the new priorities.
  • Review, reflect, and, if needed, revise your log at the end of the day.

Finally, to maintain self-care, think realistically before taking on extra responsibilities. Sometimes we just have to politely say “no” or delegate a task to someone else so we can focus on critical tasks.