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Nurse organization: It’s more than keeping your pen.

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Nurse organization: It’s more than keeping your pen.

We’ve all had those days where keeping a hold of your pen is possibly the most organized thing you have done. Those days make you feel frazzled, stressed and made you wonder why everyone else seems to have it together.
Nursing organization could (and maybe should!) be an entire class. How you organize your day may differ depending on what shift you work, what type of nursing you are doing, and how your brain works. There is no right way to organize your day with all those variables, but there are clearly ways that don’t work, and you’ve probably tried some of them.
Your method will need to vary by your specialty. An ER nurse won’t be successful if they try to set up their day like an ICU nurse. The telemetry nurse mentality won’t work in an ambulatory surgery setting. The key is learning a few things about yourself and applying some simple tactics to get you to the end of the day feeling like you kept it all together.
Are you a visual learner? About 70% of nurses are, so how you take notes during a report may be just as important as what you hear.
Nurse Organization: It's more than just keeping your pen.

Visual learners may prefer:

  • Color coding
  • Draw or write in report sheets
  • White space (blank space) on report sheets
  • Draw diagrams or use pictures to represent items
  • Take lots of notes.
Of course, getting a report is just the start. To set yourself up for success, try these tips for organizing your day.

Nurse Organization in 5 Easy Tips

Start your day on time!

Everyone is late occasionally, but if you are “that” nurse on the unit, it’s time to re-think your morning (or night) strategy. Try packing your meals and laying out your scrubs for the day. Have kids? Getting them prepared at night can help you have a smoother morning. If you are running in 10 minutes late, your mindset is on catch-up for the rest of the day. Even worse, you’ve made your nursing colleague wait for you, which means they may rush through report to go home. That’s bad news since up to 80% of patient care errors can be traced back to poor communication.

Use a report tool you like or don’t be afraid to make your own.
Stop writing on paper towels. One short google search can find 100’s of report sheets, many of which can be edited for your unit. If you need an excuse to buy cool colored pens, you can tell your significant other that having a colorful report sheet is proven to help recall and to emphasize important information. Obviously, you need a trip to the craft store. Don’t overdo it though, pick 2 or 3 colors and have a plan.

Nurse Organization: It's more than just keeping your pen.

Actually listen.

It’s easy to get distracted during report. From seeing long-lost colleagues (was it really two weeks ago you were on the same shift?!?) to patients whose needs will wait for no shift report, it can be hard to maintain focus. Report at the bedside has been proven to eliminate many of those distractions, with the added advantage of being better for your patient. In fact, report at the bedside leads to decreased safety events, including falls and increased patient satisfaction!

Chart as you go.

Literally at the bedside while you are with your patient. At first, it may take a few days to get used to logging into the computer before you do anything else, but soon it will be second nature. Charting at the nursing station is very much like looking at Facebook on your phone. Pretty soon, it’s been an hour, and you still haven’t gotten anything done. If you chart as you go, you’ve already documented daily cares, shift assessments, education, and possibly even a few interventions when you move on to the next patient. The real-time data is more helpful to providers and is more accurate. As an added benefit, you won’t have anything left to do after your shift is over!

Cluster your care.

Use your fancy pens to make a list of all the things you need to do for that patient. Start with the hardest task and work your way down the list, doing as many things as possible in the same trip. This can be challenging until you get good at it. In the beginning, try to at least pair things together. If you are going in the room to answer a call light, do a quick check to see if there is anything else you can knock off the list while you are there. After all, if they are up using the bathroom, now might be an ideal time to help them perform oral care. You can check/pack bedsores while performing bed turns. Why not draw blood when you go in to complete your assessment?
Since there is no right or wrong way to manage your time, the only way you’ll know it’s working is by how you feel at the end of the night. Calm, cool, and collected? You’re doing it right!
Don’t worry; every nurse has “off” days, but you can make the majority of your days flow smoothly by implementing a few of these easy tricks. The real challenge is keeping track of those beautiful pens!
Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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