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Seven time management tips and stress busters

Even though the stress of holidays is behind us, the role of the nurse manager allows little time for rest. Constant e-mails, piles of paperwork, and creeping deadlines can easily bog you down if you don't keep on top of your time. Get moving at full speed again with these time management tricks:

1. New year, new calendar. Block out an hour to create a calendar outlining major responsibilities throughout 2009. Having a calendar to refer to helps guarantee that you're not dropping the ball on anything, explains Diane Farineau, director of administration for graduate medical education and faculty affairs for the Department of Medicine at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville.

If details overwhelm you, sketch general descriptions on the calendar such as "interview." If you like details, list as many to-do items as you want on your calendar.

2. Be on time with timelines. Timelines help you track the details of big projects. Develop timelines by expanding the to-do list for major responsibilities noted on your calendar. Work backward from the due date and set mini deadlines, Farineau suggests.

If you collaborate with others on these jobs, assign each person tasks and deadlines; indicate them on the timeline. Get progress reports and update the timeline accordingly.

As with your calendar, once you've created your timeline, use it year after year, modifying as you go.

3. Eliminate e-mail madness. Effectively managing e-mail can save you countless hours, says Odette Pollar, a management consultant specializing in personal productivity at Smart Ways to Work in Oakland, CA.

There are several ways you can become more efficient with e-mail. First, turn off notifications that appear on the screen or play a sound when you have a new message. This way, you won't be tempted to read e-mail rather than do work. Instead, check and respond to e-mails at specific times throughout the day, Pollar says.

Rather than using your in-box as a storage unit, create folders for specific events or topics. File the e-mails you want to save so they're easy to find.

E-mail filters, or mail rules, are another time-saver. Filters send e-mails from certain senders directly to a specified folder instead of your in-box. This feature is especially helpful for e-newsletters or listserv messages that can easily pull you away from work.

"Go to the folder when you have a minute and you feel like reading," Pollar says.

Typically, you can set up filters by going to the tools or settings section of your e-mail program.

4. Work around interruptions. As a nurse manager, it can sometimes be hard to have an uninterrupted thought.

Break assignments into smaller pieces that you can complete between interruptions. For example, divide an hour-long project into five 15-minute steps. "Then, when you get interrupted, you're probably at the end of a step, so it's not as disruptive," Pollar says.
If you need to focus intensely on an assignment, ask your manager if you can temporarily adjust your work schedule. Come in at times when the facility is less chaotic such as early morning or on weekends.

5. Stay on top of your daily tasks. In addition to calendars and timelines, managers should have a to-do list for smaller, everyday jobs. Prioritizing the order in which you tackle your tasks isn't always easy.

"Use importance, criticalness, how valuable it is to the service, organization, or person, and timeliness to set priorities," Pollar suggests.

Create one daily to-do list. Don't waste time looking through multiple lists or sticky notes. It's also easier to prioritize tasks when they're in the same spot.

Go with your instincts when choosing a format for your to-do list. If you're inclined to reach for paper to jot notes on, stick with a paper-based format such as a notebook or calendar. However, if you love gadgets and are extremely disciplined, give PDAs a try.

6. Do away with paper stacks. If you don't stay organized, paperwork can clutter your desk and make you feel out of control.

Make time every day to tidy up. The end of the day or five minutes before lunch are perfect times to organize, and it will make a huge difference, Pollar says.

The best way to keep your desk orderly is to prevent it from becoming a paper dump in the first place. "Whenever a piece of paper arrives, don't let it hit your desk. Scan it for what your next action is on it and put it into its permanent home," Pollar says. Write your action item on your to-do list.

7. Make a map. When something simply isn't working, Farineau's go-to solution is a process map.

"We were having a problem with scheduling. We sat down with everyone who touches the schedule and mapped out how it works and who was involved with which components," she explains.

Process mapping lays out the big picture so everyone involved can understand each part of the process, making it easy to identify bottlenecks and possible improvements in the system.

Source: This article was adapted from the HCPro, Inc. publication, Residency Program Alert.