Becoming a nurse forced me to adopt an attitude of extreme focus and productivity.
The first 30 minutes of my shift was always a whirlwind of new faces, medical histories, tasks, and medications to remember.
Most recently I worked on an ICU stepdown unit. Before that, I worked on a cardiac unit. On these units I’d get anywhere from three to six patients at one time.
Luckily, I had help. Lots and lots of help. Also, I developed a few tricks to help me get through the shift in one piece.
1. Planning Ahead
I usually tried to get to work about 20—25 minutes before clocking in. This gave me plenty of time to eat a snack, refill my water jug, and have a few minutes of calm before the storm.
I’d also use this time to look at my assignments and start studying my patients. Yes, studying. This sounds strange because I wasn’t in school or anything. I’d browse through their background to anticipate their needs in advance.
It was definitely hard to come in early for what was already going to be a 12-hour shift. But, it usually meant a lot less wasted time later on, and I’d feel a lot less like I was flying by the seat of my pants. It was the focus I needed to plan ahead and stay on task.
Helpful Mom Tip: Give yourself a little quiet time at the beginning of each day to clear your head. Many moms use this time for meditating or writing in a prayer book. This helps us feel better equipped to handle the stress of the coming day.
Helpful Mom Tip#2: Before your next shopping trip, check to see if the product you’re looking for is in stock. So often I get all the way to the store only to find out it’s not there. Agh!
Helpful Mom Tip #3: Keep your “fuel” within arm’s reach. Before you sit down to do anything, get everything you’re going to need for the next 30 minutes (water, snacks, cellphone, wallet, etc.) so it’s all right at your fingertips.
2. Staying Organized Using a “Brain”
There’s absolutely no way I could have remembered everything about my patients simply by writing it down. I wish I had a photographic memory, but I don’t.
Every nurse has something they call a “brain,” which is essentially a rundown of everything we need to know about our patients. Some nurses just write as they go, which can work if you’re in a hurry and need to get the information down. I had a Word template saved so all I needed to do was fill in categories: history, medications, allergies, and so on.
One feature I loved about my brains – haha, that sounds funny – is that they usually included an hourly breakdown of everything I needed to do for the patient. At 8 p.m. I would take care of vital signs, 9 p.m. medications, and so on. I knew exactly how much time I had to chart before the next set of time-sensitive tasks.
I only recently discovered the incredible beauty of bullet journals. As someone who LOVES lists and planning ahead, this is my new obsession. As a mom, sitting down once a week to fill out my journal gives me a little more control over the week by staying proactive.
Helpful Mom Tip #4: Find a planning system, such as a tangible planner, bullet journal, or even Google Calendar, to help you stay organized.
Helpful Mom Tip #5: Find a spot free of distractions, and fill out your planner with essential to-do items for the week. It will save you time down the road for more important things (ahem, wine, ahem).
3. Setting Deadlines for Myself
For the first couple of days as a newbie nurse, my preceptor would literally set a stop watch during morning med pass. It sounds kind of harsh, but this was a critical exercise for me, because I had no idea how much time I was wasting with excess chatter. I’m by no means a chatterbox, but I was still taking too long. They wanted me to finish everything in 15 minutes or less.
If you’re struggling with taking too long on a specific task, ask someone to time you. Setting a stop-watch for yourself could work too, if you’re really good at holding yourself accountable.
It’s stressful at first. That is, until you get faster and the efficiency is second nature to you. Then it just makes the rest of your life so much easier.
Helpful Mom Tip #6: Think of something you wish you could do faster. Ask someone – such as a spouse or older child – to set a timer for you. Practice a couple of times a week until you feel the task getting easier!
“It’s not how well you mow, but how well you mow fast.” – John Deere
4. Clustering Cares
In the scenario above, I learned to cluster my cares while being timed to do certain tasks. For example, I’d have the blood pressure cuff running while listening to a patient’s breath sounds. I’d also be counting respirations while listening to breath sounds. Pretty soon, I could get vital signs and a full head-to-toe assessment completed in 7—10 minutes. This gave me immediate information pertaining to the drugs I was about to administer and whether it was safe to give them.
Of course, I couldn’t always stick to the 15-minute rule. But I continued to get faster with practice and intentional efficiency.
Here’s another clustering example: later in the day, if I knew medications were due again at noon, I could bring those with me along with new bandages for a dressing change due at 2pm. Using my nurse “brain” prevented tedious trips and redundancies.
Helpful Mom Tip #5: Try to run your errands at the same time when leaving the house. This saves on gas, time, and headaches later on.
Helpful Mom Tip #6: Plan your grocery list at the same time you plan your meals for the week. This way, you can try to overlap ingredients needed for multiple recipes in a short period of time.
Helpful Husband Tip #1: Use an app for your grocery list such as Bring! to easily reference the items you regularly buy, and to make sure you actually buy them before leaving the store!
There were plenty of times in the middle of the shift where my immediate attention was needed in multiple places at once. Moms are familiar with this concept. Unfortunately, I cannot clone myself, so I had to make decisions based on a couple of factors:
- Who is my least stable patient? For example, the patient who’s non-responsive or has troubling vital signs.
- Which patient has the most urgent deadline? Example: the patient who needs to have an MRI for a suspected stroke.
- Is there a patient endangering others? Example: a patient or family is acting out and we need to call security.
Essentially, you could replace the word “patient” with the word “kid,” and you’d be right in line with the decision-making process of motherhood.
6. Delegation or Outsourcing
If I needed to be in multiple places at once, I would ask one of my co-workers to use their critical nursing judgment in my place. This saved my butt many, many times.
In the same vein, moms are not alone. We can use our husbands, families, babysitters and even professionals.
The term High Value Activity applies perfectly to this scenario. An HVA is an activity that provides the most value with respect to your personal goals. Spending extra time on a project at work or with your kids is probably going to bring you more satisfaction than cleaning your toilets (though cleaning can also be meditative).
Helpful Mom Tip #7: Take a minute to write down what you consider your High Value Activities. You can use the attached worksheet or write it in an email to yourself.
Helpful Mom Tip #8: Based on your list of HVAs, figure out which chores or tasks you could delegate in order to spend more time doing the things that are most important.
I understand money can be an obstacle when outsourcing certain activities like housework. If you struggle with justifying the expense, ask yourself what X hours of your time is worth.
If you could take the hours you spend doing what I refer to as “soul sucking domestic tedium” and put them into something that adds value to your life, you’ve just streamlined the process. Plus, if you’ve outsourced your housework, you’re minimizing distractions while simultaneously adding order back to your environment.
Maybe paying for a housekeeper means brewing your own coffee instead of eating out at Starbucks. Or your date nights may not be as extravagant as they used to be. Either way, delegation is a priority because it gives you a priceless, rare commodity: time.
Note: if you’re delegating housework to your kids, it may take them longer to complete the task at least initially, so it may not feel like you’re saving a lot of time. But in the long run you’re eliminating this task from your to-do list, which is awesome!
Let’s say it takes you five hours every week to clean your house. Multiply that by 52, and you’re essentially giving yourself 260 hours per year to pursue other meaningful activities.
7. Hiding Emotion
Moms everywhere know this one.
Sometimes we have to mask our desire to start screaming when the proverbial shit hits the fan.
In the workplace, this makes sense because it’s just downright unprofessional. Plus, it would unnerve our patients and/or coworkers. But with kids, it makes sense because they’re very perceptive little buggers. If they sense we’re getting irritated or upset, it can A) make them upset too or B) inspire them to push our buttons further.
When you start to feel the emotions rise, my advice is to just keep moving. Usually when I stop to analyze how stressful things are, it only makes the situation feel worse. Just putting my head down and carving out my tasks one step at a time gives me a better sense of control…even if it’s a false sense of control 🙂
8. Limit Social Media
Because it can be such a time-suck, I save social media as a special reward for myself, whether I’m at work or otherwise. This often doesn’t happen until a lunch break, but that’s okay. It’s a nice reward if you’re in the middle of cleaning your house or doing something that requires a lot of focus.
9. Take Frequent Breaks
We’re only human after all. I can’t keep running full bore and expect not to burn out without bathroom breaks, food, or water (although I will say a lot of nurses have no choice but to operate in this mode when things are really chaotic!).
Have you heard of the 20-minute rule? Breaking down a task into 20-minute sessions is a common practice among successful business people, but it could work for any type of situation. Say you want to learn a new skill such as blogging or how to sew.
According to this theory, you can master a skill simply by devoting 20-minutes to the new practice every day for a few months. Stop after the 20 minutes is up, no matter how tempted you might be to continue.
Breaking up the sessions keeps you focused and excited to return the next day. At the end of 30 days, you should find it’s getting easier to practice every day!
When you’re working on regular work assignments, try the Pomodoro Technique. Similar to the 20-minute rule, you’ll break up your day into 25-minute work sessions followed by five-minute breaks. No email, social media, or texting during those 25 minutes.
Helpful Mom Tip #9: Every day, commit to 20 uninterrupted minutes of doing something you want to accomplish. Something just for you and only you.
“90% of effort is getting started” – Woody Allen
10. Love Your Teammates!
This one is extremely important. In fact, it really doesn’t belong at the end of this list. Professional nursing and motherhood are both “team sports.” When it comes to caring for others, it really does take a village.
Whether I’m at work or with my friends, I try to practice gratitude and a willingness to pay it forward. My scope of influence is exponentially increased when I’m willing to help others and they in turn want to help me. Simply put, we get-er-done!
Helpful Mom Tip #10: Reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Maybe she’s a new mom and needs advice on sleep schedules or breastfeeding. She’ll be more likely to ask questions if you make an effort to check in.
-Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
We only have so many hours in the day, and so many days in this brief life of ours. Even if a simple tip or trick can add 30 minutes back to our day, it’s worth it.
I want to slap whoever coined the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” It’s trite and doesn’t apply to people who work hard regardless of whatever they’re doing. In its place, I propose two replacements:
- Ain’t nothin’ but a thaaaaang! (coined by me one shift in a state of delirium)
- Sorry, I cannot hear you
I’m kinda busy
Keep rocking, ladies!