Managing your time
Question: What do the President of the United States, a housewife, a lawyer, and a nursing assistant all have in common?
Answer: They all have 24 hours in each and every one of their days. So why do some people seem to be able to get their work done with time to spare and others seem to rush through their day and still end up not finishing their work?
Consider the results of a recent survey:
- 31% of Americans say they don’t spend enough time with their families.
- 66% say they don’t have enough free time.
- 38% of Americans are cutting back on sleep to have more time.
- 33% say they don’t finish their work every day.
- 21% don’t have time for fun anymore.
In the U.S., people are living longer than they used to, yet many are enjoying it less because they feel pressured for time. One reason could be the way they manage their time. How about you? Do you ever feel stressed out – with too much to do and not enough time? This inservice will spell out some basic time management skills that can help.
What’s In It For You?
By using time management skills, you can:
- Figure out what your personal and professional priorities are.
- Get more done in less time – and enjoy doing it.
- Avoid the distractions that waste your time.
- Meet your goals and reduce your stress.
- Get in control of your day and balance your work and leisure time.
- Provide a higher quality of care to your clients.
Truths About Time
- If you perform an activity for thirty minutes every day, it will end up taking a solid year of your life.
- Have you ever said, “I’ll be with you in a jiffy?” Did you know that a jiffy is an actual unity of time? It’s the same as 1/100th of a second!
- If you add up all the TV watched every year by the average American, it would equal one straight month – day and night!
- Most children spend more time watching TV by age six than they will talking to their fathers in their whole lives.
- There are 31,557,600 seconds in a year.
- Over a lifetime, most people spend a total of 16 years working, 15 years sleeping, 6 years watching TV and 3 years eating.
- More words are published every day than any person could read in a lifetime.
- There is an actual law in Iowa that says that kisses may last for as much as, but no more than, five minutes.
- Americans are spending more time at work now than they did 10 years ago… and much more time than they did 20 years ago.
- When people waste time, it’s a choice they are making. In high school, actor Robin Williams wasted so much time that he was voted the “Least Likely to Succeed”. He became an award-winning actor as an adult.
- In a lifetime, the average American drives enough miles to work to go around the world six times.
- You’ll never be younger than you are right now!
Wasting Time with Procrastination
Procrastination is when people put things off – especially things they don’t like to do. Many people procrastinate until the very last minute and then end up with a huge job on their hands. For example, have you ever put off doing required paperwork and ended up having a huge pile to finish? Or, have you ever waited to wash dishes until there were no more clean dishes at all?
There is a saying: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. This is good advice, since procrastination is a real time waster – and a bad habit. Here are some ways that people procrastinate:
- Spending lots of time planning how to do something, but never actually doing it.
- Example: Susan spends so much time cutting out recipes and planning what she wants to cook that she never has time to cook. She ends up going out to eat instead – even though she can’t really afford it.
- Solution: Susan could set a time limit for her menu planning. She could schedule an hour every weekend to look through recipes and plan meals for the week. Then, she should buy the ingredients so that she has no excuse not to cook.
- Avoiding boring tasks.
- Example: Tom finds it really boring to fold his client’s laundry. He tends to put off the job, leaving the laundry in a heap until it gets wrinkled. Family members have started to complain, so now his supervisor is unhappy with him – all because of some laundry!
- Solution: Tom could alternate boring tasks with ones that are more interesting. The interesting tasks can be like a “reward” for completing the boring ones.
- Putting off a task because it is unpleasant.
- Example: Lydia finds it hard to get along with one of her clients, an elderly woman named Mrs. Jones. She puts off taking care of Mrs. Jones until late in the day. But by then, both Lydia and her client are tired. This means that it takes longer than it should to finish Mrs. Jones’ personal care and the client is even grumpier than usual.
- Solution: Lydia could ask Mrs. Jones what time of day she would like her personal care – and then do it at that time. This might make Mrs. Jones easier to get along with. Or, Lydia can plan to do Mrs. Jones’ personal care first thing in the morning. This way, Lydia’s least favorite task is finished early in the day and she doesn’t have to worry about it all day.
- Thinking they need a deadline to do their best work.
- Example: Bill tends to work slowly every morning, taking several breaks and taking time out to talk to coworkers. After lunch, when Bill feels that time is running out, he speeds up, rushing through his work to get it all done by the end of the day.
- Solution: Bill can set up “mini” deadlines for himself. He can divide his work into fourths and tell himself that he needs to finish one fourth by 10:00, another fourth by 12:00, and so on. Until this new way of working becomes a habit, Bill could ask his supervisor or a coworker to check if he’s meeting his mini deadlines.
Procrastination can be good at times. It’s best to put off a task if you don’t know how to do it or if another task is more important to a client’s well-being. Be sure to let your supervisor know why you aren’t doing a particular task.
Wasting Time With Perfectionism
- Perfectionism is the desire to be perfect all the time. As health care workers, it’s important to do your best. Clients depend on you for quality care, and sometimes it can mean life or death to them. So, trying to be perfect in your work is not a bad thing, unless it “takes over” and begins to waste your time.
- Example: Marvin is an excellent nursing assistant who tries very hard to be perfect in everything he does. Lately, he has become especially worried about making a mistake and is taking longer and longer to finish his work. For example, to get towels folded perfectly, he sometimes unfolds and refolds them several times. To make sure his clients are getting enough exercise, he walks them twice as far as the other nursing assistants do. And, to make sure his documentation is perfect, he reads over what he has written three times.
- Solution: Marvin needs to do two things. First, he needs to have more faith in his skills. He is an excellent nursing assistant and needs to have faith that he will do something right the first time. Second, Marvin needs to set some priorities in his work. Instead of trying to be perfect in every task, he needs to decide which ones are worth the time. For example, refolding towels until they are perfectly folded is a big waste of time! Marvin should “save” his perfectionism for tasks that are really important. HINT: Mistakes are opportunities for learning! No one can be perfect all the time.
Wasting Time With Interruptions
- Interruptions in your day can cause you to waste a lot of time and keep you from getting your work done on time. Remember, there will always be things that change the way your day is going, such as:
- Client accidents and emergencies.
- New client assignments.
- Staff meetings.
- Picking up the slack for coworkers who are out sick.
- Problems with equipment.
You need to learn how to manage these unpredictable events without letting them “screw up” your whole day.
- Example: Cynthia is a home health aide. When she gets to Mrs. Johnson’s house, she finds that the client’s wheelchair is broken. Cynthia can’t get Mrs. Johnson out of bed without it. A family member takes the chair to be fixed while Cynthia waits at the house for over two hours. Now, Cynthia is really late for her other clients and has a hard time catching up.
- Solution: The first thing Cynthia should have done is call her supervisor. Perhaps there is another way to get the chair fixed besides having the family member gone for several hours. Or, if the client is able to be left alone, Cynthia could visit another client or two and come back to Mrs. Johnson’s house after the chair is fixed. If not, perhaps Cynthia’s supervisor can reassign some of her clients to other aides.
Other Time Wasters
- Taking shortcuts can be a big waste of time. In fact, they can end up causing tasks to take more time instead of less!
- Example: Melinda wanted to save time during bath time so she was using bar soap to wash her client’s hair. But, the bar soap caused her client to develop a severely dry scalp. Now, Melinda has been ordered to use a special shampoo every day and to brush her client’s hair with a special brush. This process takes her twice as long as before.
- Solution: Melinda could easily have set up her bath supplies so that the regular shampoo was handy. Taking a few seconds to put down the bar soap and squeeze out some regular shampoo would have saved her lots of time in the end – and given her client better care.
- Bouncing from one task to another without really finishing anything can eat up a lot of time. This often happens to people who are easily distracted – often finding themselves going in two directions at once.
- Example: Steve is a “bouncer”, constantly moving from task to task. But, he doesn’t really finish anything. Steve gets bored very easily and is happy when a coworker or family member interrupts his work. He likes to do things differently every day. His supervisor hasn’t really noticed the problem because Steve always looks busy. But his coworkers end up having to help him finish his work nearly every day.
- Solution: Steve needs to set some basic goals – and stick to them. If he gets bored, he should ask his supervisor if he can switch his client assignment or complete his tasks in a different order on some days. Steve might benefit from a daily To Do list, checking tasks off as he completes them. Steve needs to remember that staying busy is not the same as getting things done. His coworkers shouldn’t help him if it means they can’t get their own work done. Steve needs to learn to complete his own work.
- A negative attitude can really waste time – and energy.
- Example: Shelia doesn’t really like her supervisor. She spends a lot of time trying to avoid her and when they do meet up, Shelia only pretends to listen to what her boss has to say. Shelia uses up a lot of time every day complaining to coworkers, clients, and family members about her boss. She ends up having to work late or goes home without finishing her work. Shelia’s job is on the line.
- Solution: Think of all the time Shelia is wasting on being negative. She probably goes home and spends more time complaining to her family about her boss. And, her negative attitude may end up getting her fired! Shelia has two main choices: One, she can find another job with a supervisor she likes. But, chances are, Shelia will take her negative attitude with her to her next job. Or, two, Shelia can decide to change her attitude. She could sit down with her supervisor and try to talk about what’s bothering her. Or, she could stop focusing on her boss and pay more attention to her clients and her work. Either way, she would probably end up with a more positive attitude and with more control over her time.
What’s Your Time Really Worth?
Do you know what your time at work is worth? Here’s an example:
Mary makes $10.00 an hour as a nursing assistant. She works eight hours every day. So what is Mary’s time at work worth?
- Each day is worth $80.
- Every hour is worth $10.
- Every minute is worth 16 cents.
Okay, so every minute Mary spends at work is worth 16 cents. Let’s say she spends 15 minutes every day making personal phone calls. In a year, she will have spent $876.00 worth of time making those calls.
Or, what if Mary wastes 30 minutes every day by trying to be too perfect. In a year, this means she will have wasted $1752.00 worth of time.
Studies have shown that the average American actually works only 6 hours of each 8 hour day. The rest of the time is wasted! Why? Those same studies say that people waste time because:
- They are too tired to get through their work.
- They get involved with personal matters at work.
- They aren’t organized.
- Or, they spend too much time socializing.
- If Mary actually worked only 6 hours every day, that would mean that in a year, she would waste $5,200.00. Let’s say that Mary has 25 coworkers who also make $10/hour. If those coworkers also waste two hours every day, Mary’s workplace will lose nearly $13,000.00 every year in wasted time!
- Some people might say, “So what? My workplace makes lots of money. They won’t miss the $13,000.” But that would be wrong. The more money a workplace loses, the less it has for employee raises or improving working conditions! So, people who waste time at work are hurting themselves in the long run.
HINT: As you go through your work day, remember what each minute of your time is worth. To make the most of your time, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I know what is expected of me on the job?
- Do I have all the tools I need to do my job?
- Do I know who to go to if I need help with my work?
- Do I know that I am doing a good job?
- Am I using all of my strengths and skills?
- Do I know what to do if I finish all my work before the end of the day?
To really manage your time well, you should be able to answer “yes” to all of the above questions. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, discuss the issue with your supervisor.
Saving Time By Setting Goals
- People who set goals are able to see what they have done and are able to feel proud of their accomplishments.
- Example: Jill is a home health aide and has been having trouble managing her time. She has to visit 6 clients every day and turn in her paperwork on Fridays. She never seems to finish her work on time and usually lets her paperwork slide all week. Then, she has to work late every Friday to finish it. She’s feeling stressed and her husband is complaining about her late Fridays.
- Solution: Jill needs to set some goals for herself. These goals might be:
- I will complete three client visits between 8 and 11:30 every morning.
- I will complete 3 client visits between 12:30 and 4:00 every afternoon.
- I will finish my paperwork for that day between 4:00 and 5:00.
- Then, if Jill has trouble finishing her 3 morning visits, she should ask herself why. Was it a problem with the client, did she get caught in traffic, or did she just waste too much time? She can try to correct the problem for her afternoon visits. And, she should stick to her goal of finishing her paperwork each day – even if it means working late for a few minutes. (It’s better to work an extra 10 minutes every day than to have to work an extra hour on Fridays!) By setting morning and afternoon goals for herself, Jill will finish her work on time most days – and feel less stressed.
Saving Time With To Do Lists
- To do lists are lists of tasks that need to be done in order to reach your goals. It’s a way of organizing and planning your time so that you get important things done in a certain amount of time. Think about this: Have you ever made a list of Christmas presents you have to buy for friends and family? That’s a To Do list. It’s a list of gifts you have to get by a certain time… before Christmas. To Do lists can be great tools in your personal life and at work.
- Example: Donald is a new nursing assistant and he has trouble knowing what to do first at work. He ends up wasting time on minor tasks while letting the important tasks slide.
- Solution: Donald should sit down with his supervisor or an experienced coworker. Together, they should make a list of all the tasks that Donald is supposed to finish in one day. Then, they need to organize the list according to what is important (like client care) and what needs to be done at a certain time (like passing out lunch trays). Once Donald has learned the basics, he might want to make a To Do list every time his client assignment changes.
Saving Time By Setting Priorities
A priority is something that is more important to you than anything else. For example, as a healthcare worker, keeping your clients safe is a big priority. So is keeping your clients as healthy as possible. Getting your work done on time is another priority. The problem is, you can only have one top priority at a time!
- Example: John works in an assisted living facility. John has three different client issues happening at the same time.
- Mrs. Smith is demanding that John help her find her glasses right now!
- Mr. Jones is walking in the hall and looks like he’s about to fall.
- John sees Mr. Brown, a client with early Alzheimer’s Disease, wandering down the hall, looking lost.
- Solution: John can only have one top priority. What should it be? Of course, his first priority is to go help Mr. Jones before he falls down. Once John has Mr. Jones settled and safe, what should his new top priority be? He needs to check on Mr. Brown since he may be having trouble finding his apartment, and might wander off. The least important thing is to find Mrs. Smith’s glasses – even though she seems to think it’s an emergency. John will help her as soon as he can, but it can’t be his first priority!
HINT: Be sure you understand what your priorities are – and make sure that they match your supervisor’s idea of what is most important. Each day at work, the order of your tasks may change based on split second decisions you make about what is most important. Be prepared to make these priority decisions – keeping your clients in mind at all times.
Saving Time With The “Worst First” Strategy
It’s pretty common for people to put off tasks that they don’t like to do or that are especially unpleasant. A great tip for saving time is to do these kinds of tasks first. It’s called the “worst first” strategy. This means that you deal with those unpleasant tasks right away – instead of wasting time worrying about them. Remember that unpleasant tasks often become more unpleasant the longer you wait!
- Example: Mabel is supposed to wake up one of her clients and turn him in bed every four hours. She hates to do it because the client, Mr. Avery, is rather grumpy. Mabel puts it off, and usually only turns him once in eight hours. Mr. Avery ends up with a bed sore. Now, Mabel has to turn him every two hours! Her unpleasant tasks just got worse, and the client suffered for it.
- Solution: Mabel should try the “worst first” strategy. By jumping right in and turning Mr. Avery on schedule, she could avoid causing him a painful bed sore and may find that the task isn’t that bad after all.
HINT: Try focusing on the results of an unpleasant task. For example, Mabel could think about the positive results of turning Mr. Avery on schedule: 1. Mr. Avery will be more comfortable in the long run. 2. She will be helping Mr. Avery avoid skin breakdown. 3. She can feel proud of a job well done.
Ask yourself – What will happen if I don’t do this task now? Do I really want to pay the price of putting it off?
Saving Time With The 80/20 Rule
Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It can be applied to many areas of life and work. In relation to your job, it might go like this:
- 80% of your time will be taken up by 20% of your clients.
- Example: Jerry is a home health aide. He sees 5 clients every day. Most days, Jerry can almost count on the same one client taking up a big chunk of his time.
- Solution: Jerry learns to allow extra time for his visit to that one time-consuming client.
- 80% of your time will be taken up by 20% of your tasks.
- Example: Bill works with ten other nursing assistants. He tries hard to be a team player and to get along well with all of his coworkers. But, Bill knows that if he has a problem with a coworker, it is bound to happen with one of the same two people.
- Solution: Bill can either avoid those two people or try to figure out why he has problems with them. Perhaps if he talks to them, he can get to the root of the problem.
Saving Time With Five Minute Tasks
Have you ever thought to yourself, “Oh, there’s just five minutes till lunch. I can’t get anything done in five minutes, so I’ll just go to lunch early.” Remember… it is possible to finish a quick task or to get started on a big task – in just five minutes.
- Example: Martha always quits working about 4:55 every day because she wants to leave on time… and anyway, what can she get done in 5 minutes? Yet, Martha tends to be behind in her documentation, and has even gotten written up for it.
- Solution: Martha could spend the last five minutes of every day catching up on some of her documentation. Or, she could spend those few minutes making a To Do list for the next day. She should be sure to put “Catch up on my documentation” on her To Do list.
HINT: Think about the different things you could finish – or at least get a start on – in five minutes. You might even want to keep a list on a notecard in your pocket. That way, when you have five spare minutes, you’ll know right away how to fill them. Those five minutes of work add up, and you’ll find yourself getting a lot done!
Time Saving Tips
- Create extra hours… get up early! If you get up one hour earlier for a year, you’ll give yourself enough extra hours to equal 10 work weeks.
- If your supervisor asks you to do more tasks than you can finish in one day, be sure to ask which task is top priority. Then, finish that task first.
- Keep in mind that most people tend to avoid difficult or boring tasks. Some of your coworkers might try to shift their unpleasant tasks onto you. Be sure you know how to say no!
- Remember that each person has different amounts of energy at different times of day. If you pay attention to your energy level for a few days, you’ll probably see a pattern. Maybe you’ll find that your muscles are strongest in the morning, but you think better in the afternoon. If possible, plan your day so that you work hardest during the times when you have the most energy.
- Having a good breakfast helps keep your brain “fed” throughout the morning. DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST!
- Eating a large lunch makes many people feel sleepy. If you feel like taking a nap every afternoon, try eating a lighter lunch.
- Write down your goals. People who write down their plans are more likely to achieve their goals.
- Know what your skills are so that you can put them to the best use.
- Look for ways to save time every day. Share the things that work for you with your coworkers.
- Wear an alarm wristwatch. Then, if you want to complete a task in 45 minutes, set the alarm for 30 minutes and check your progress. Can you finish your task in 15 more minutes?
- Use commuting time to get things done. For example, when riding a bus you could make a “to do” list for the next day or read an inservice packet. Or, while driving a car, you could think of five good things you got done that day or listen to a work-related podcast or CD.
- To save time when cleaning ink spots off your uniform, try wetting the ink spot with water and rubbing it with a little bit of rubbing alcohol. The ink should disappear!
- To avoid boredom, try adjusting the order in which you complete tasks – if it doesn’t interfere with client care and your supervisor is okay with it.
- If you are stuck not knowing what to do, ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” Answering this question can help you decide what your top priority is at any particular time.
- Keep people’s sense of time in mind. People from different cultures have different ideas about time. Most Americans are “serious” about time. If we make an appointment for 2:00, we show up at 2:00. But, in some cultures, time is approximate. A 2:00 appointment means around 2:00 – maybe 1:45 or maybe 2:15. Communicate and make sure you are speaking the same time language.
- Save half the time! Remember that there are certain tasks that can be done at the same time, both at work and at home. For example, you might exercise and watch TV at the same time, drive and listen to an instructional CD, or finish paperwork while waiting for a meeting to start.
- Don’t waste time regretting past failures. Learn from your mistakes and then continuing moving forward. Hanging on to feelings like regret and guilt is a big waste of time.
- Keeping a To Do list every day is one of the secrets to getting more done. Most successful people will tell you that they make a To Do list every day. If they don’t finish everything on the list that day, they put the leftover tasks on the next day’s To Do lists.
- When creating goals for yourself, make sure you have some way to measure your progress. For example, saying, “I really want to get all my inservice hours done early this year” isn’t really a goal. It’s just a wish. Instead, try saying, “I will complete two inservice hours each month.” This gives you something specific to reach for – and you can easily check yourself each month to see if you have met your goal.
- Make sure your goals give you some “action” to take. Look at this goal, “I will be more of a team player at work.” It doesn’t tell you how to meet that goal. Check out the same goal, written a different way, “Every day at work, I will ask two coworkers if they need help.” Now, you have a specific way to reach your goal of becoming a better team player!
- Keep in mind that teamwork can be a real timesaver. If you are a home health aide, you may not be able to work along side anyone. But, if you are able to work together with a coworker… do it! For example, which do you think would get the task done faster? Two people each making 5 beds? Or, two people making 10 beds together? Try it and see!
- If you work in clients’ homes, try keeping a checklist of the items you need to keep in your client care bag – such as gloves, a stethoscope, soap, etc. Use the checklist when you refill your bag and you’ll never be without the supplies you need.
- Keep on learning new skills. The more you know, the more time you’ll be able to save during your work day. (And, if you don’t know how to do something, be sure you let your supervisor know. For example, you’ll waste a lot of time if you try to “guess” how to operate an electric lift – and you might hurt your client too!)
- Remember… if you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there. Don’t forget to set goals for yourself!