Time management: tips for busy nurse leaders

10 May 2017

Nursing Review asked some nursing leaders to share some of their best time management tips.

Michael McIlhone, Director of Nursing, Pegasus Health

michael mcilhoneTime management, or more specifically balancing your precious time, is a constant challenge for nurse leaders. The following are a few things that work for me. You might notice that some of my tips appear to be contrary to time management; however, if you can’t maintain a good balance during your working day then potentially you set yourself up for a pretty unproductive day!

In no particular order:

  • Don’t sit longer than 30 minutes; even in meetings, stand up and walk about.
  • Turn off your incoming email alerts.
  • When you read your emails, deal with at least 75 per cent of them when they arrive.
  • Avoid too much caffeine.
  • Block out your diary with tasks you need to do (i.e. writing papers).
  • Use headphones or earplugs (a clear ‘do not disturb’ sign).
  • Block 30 minutes a day for lunch.
  • Always make time for someone who is distressed.
  • If you need to work longer hours, compensate yourself with a walk or power breaks.
  • Look out the window and see if the sun is shining.

Carey Campbell, Chief Nurse Advisor, Southern Cross Hospitals

carey campbellHow to make the best use of your time (and that of others):

Know your work style and most productive times

  • Work out when you are at your most productive – for some it’s first thing in the morning, for others it may be later in the day – and work on your most challenging tasks at that time. 
  • Try to mitigate any probable interruptions and deal with those before concentrating on your most important and challenging task. 
  • Work on that most important task for a good period of time before having a short break.
  • We can’t all work at 100 per cent constantly – so complete some of the more mundane or easier tasks when your energy levels have waned.
  • Strangely enough, I tend to get heaps done on a Friday – so that’s often when I ‘catch up’ with the things that I haven’t been able to finish during the week.

Be on time

  • Use your Outlook calendar and set reminders to help you be on time for meetings and appointments. 
  • If it’s really important, or you have become ‘immune’ to your many reminders, set the alarm on your phone as well (the quacking duck noise is always a good one!).  
  • It’s such a timewaster for other attendees when meetings don’t start and finish on time, so try not to be THAT person who is always late!


  • It is a totally unrealistic expectation never to have any interruptions in your work, especially as one of the key attributes of being a successful nurse leader is being available, approachable and accessible. 
  • The key to managing the impact of interruptions in your work is in how you react to these.

Some suggestions are:

  • Don’t get caught up in others’ emotions and their ‘rush’ (they will always feel their request is urgent; however, most interruptions are not genuinely crisis-driven). 
  • Take a deep breath and clear your head so you can assess the situation objectively and react appropriately. 
  • Try to stay calm on the outside (even if you feel rushed on the inside).
  • If it’s genuinely important, act.
  • If it’s not important, remember that others’ disorganisation/panic/ drama should not make for your emergency!

Submissions welcome

This is the debut of a new regular section sharing leadership and management tips and ideas. If you have any ideas for future topics – or have tips on time management or other areas you would like to share – feel free to email editor@nursingreview.co.nz.

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