Aim: To explore the frequency of different nursing tasks in medical and surgical wards. Background: The time nurses spend on direct patient care is important for both patients and nurses. However, little is known about the time nurses spend on various nursing tasks. Methods: A real-time, repeated measures design conducted amongst 67 (n = 39 medical, n = 28 surgical) UK hospital nurses. Between September 2011 and August 2012 participants completed an electronic diary version of a classification of nursing tasks (WOMBAT) during shifts. Results: A total of 961 real-time measures of nursing task were obtained. Direct patient care [median = 37.5%, interquartile range = 27.8], indirect care (median = 11.1%, interquartile range = 19.4) and medication (median = 11.1%, interquartile range = 18.8) were most commonly reported. Participants were interrupted in 62% of entries (interquartile range = 35), reported adequate time in 78% (interquartile range = 31) and adequate resources in 89% (interquartile range = 36). Ward-related tasks were significantly more frequent on medical wards than surgical wards but otherwise there were no significant differences. Conclusions: Nurses spend the highest proportion of time in direct patient care and majority of this on core nursing activities. Interruptions to tasks are common. Nurses tend to report adequate time/resources. The frequency of nursing tasks is similar in medical and surgical wards. Implications for nursing management: Nurse managers should review the level of interruptions to nurses' work and ensure appropriate levels of supervision.