6 Organization Tips from a Seasoned ICU Nurse

6 Organization Tips from a Seasoned ICU Nurse

Written by Kate Avery, RN

Do you ever have the feeling that your day is all over the place? Do you forget to complete simple tasks? Do you feel like your productivity on the unit could be better? I will share the organizational tips I use every day in the ICU to keep myself and my patients happy.

1. Start preparing the night before for a stress-free morning

To have a great day at work, you must prepare the night before. Preparation is essential when it comes to setting yourself up for success. The University of Colorado states a good night of rest is a priority for a productive day, and setting yourself for a smooth morning helps reduce anxiety so you can fall asleep easier. For example, setting out your uniform and packing lunch the night before will decrease the time it takes to get ready in the morning and lower your stress to leave for work.

Give yourself plenty of time to get ready. I enjoy working out in the morning before my shift. Exercise gives me an excellent foundation for my day. I wake up two hours earlier than my expected departure time to ensure I have enough time to exercise. Coffee is another essential part of my morning and I lay out a coffee cup and sugar to make my routine easier.

Plan for extra time for your morning commute. Traffic, weather, and road conditions can create added stress or potentially cause you to arrive late. Arrive early for your shift, allowing you time to make it to your unit and get ready to start your day. Every unit is different. As a general rule, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to arrive.

Now you are ready to work. With plenty of time to spare, you can start organizing your day. In my unit, we huddle as a team and receive reports on the patients. We also pick assignments and buddies for the day. 

2. It's all in the report

Once you have your assignment, receiving reports on these patients is critical. Ensure that you have developed a report sheet that includes your essential information. The report sheets will often include any tests or procedures for your patients that day. This information is valuable in starting to plan the day. Every unit will be different, and every nurse may prefer something different. Get comfortable with your choice and familiarize yourself with the information.

Review your patient's charts for any abnormalities you would like to address. Check your patient's lab values, vitals, allergies, and other important information pertinent to specialty care being provided. Get to know your patients and learn to anticipate the problems that may arise during the day. These steps will help prioritize plans for the day. 

3. Plan out your day

Prioritizing your patient’s needs will improve your workflow, allowing you to accomplish more tasks throughout the day. Once you are organized, the next step is to start prioritizing those plans. Sometimes it is easier to plan your morning and re-evaluate in the afternoon. I like to make lists for myself on my report sheet. 

Examples of lists I make include:

  • Medications administration times

  • Anticipated lab work or specimens 

  • Scheduled or ordered tests 

  • Daily patient tasks such as baths, feedings, and mobility

  • Charting details I don’t want to forget

Making a list allows you to take control and have a good idea of daily needs. I also like to add things that I would like to do, but are not a necessity. For example, I would like another IV started, but I need to get their blood sugar at noon. Making these lists allows me to manage my day with the rapid changes that are bound to happen.

Now that you have made your lists, it's time to communicate with your coworkers. In our unit, we work in teams and with an assistant. This assistant also has 12 other patients. Getting together,  my team plans for lunches, breaks, baths, turns, etc. With these times in mind, begin my day. I start by collecting the necessary supplies.

I gather linen, bath supplies, medicine cups, and other necessary supplies. Placing them outside patients' rooms saves them from wasting valuable supplies if not used.

4. Chart while you can

Using your time management skills can allow you to chart in real-time. Often nurses develop time management skills over time. Start with the patient who is the most sick. Give medications, review vitals, and draw labs. Record patients' intake and output. Assess patients, and chart while in the room. This should not take longer than an hour. In the ICU, we only take care of two patients at a time. This timing may not be possible for nurses working on units with higher nurse-to-patient ratios. Nevertheless, these strategies are a great foundation.

5. Plan for the unexpected

Nursing is ever-changing, and our patients' needs may fluctuate throughout the day. Try to accomplish as many tasks as possible at the beginning of the shift to free up time at the end for unexpected changes. Patient transfers, admissions, and status changes can occur at any time. Always remember to stay flexible. If you feel rigid in your plans for the day, you can often cause more stress for yourself. These tips allow you to stay on task and remember everything throughout the day.

6. Communication is key

Another tip to help you stay organized is to be one step ahead. Communicate with your patient to decrease extra trips out of the room and wasted time. Maybe you read a note that morning stating the provider wanted a CT scan, but never ordered it. You can call and verify with the provider to prevent a surprise later in your shift. Communicating with the patient often improves patient outcomes. Open communication with families, patients, and providers boosts patient satisfaction.

Now you know the keys to organization for a successful shift. Try these the next time you report to work. Find out what works best for you and what needs adjusting. Successful execution of the skills above will decrease your stress level at work.



Health and Wellness. https://healthandwillness.org/how-to-stay-organized-as-a-new-nurse/

CU Boulder Today. https://www.colorado.edu/today/2020/09/09/tips-senior-6-ways-stay-organized

Patient Safety Network. https://psnet.ahrq.gov/perspective/approach-improving-patient-safety-communication

About the Author: 

My name is Kate Avery, and I own Avery Content Services LLC. I am also a wife, mother to three crazy kids, nurse, and NP student. My life is messy, but I live and love my way through it and am manifesting what I know I can achieve. For more information about my services, please visit averycontentservices.com.

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