Take some time: Renewal for nurses


Step 2: Become More Efficient

You can free up precious seconds, minutes, even hours each day just by being more strategic in how you spend your time.

Rely on routines

Routines may be boring, but they’re terrific time-savers: They’re automatic, require no planning and ensure that important tasks get done, which saves you from having to reinvent the wheel each morning and evening. An a.m. routine might look something like: eat breakfast, walk the dog, read the paper, take a shower, get dressed. Be sure to include time for yourself. “Every morning I spend about 10 minutes doing focused breathing, just before I have my coffee,” says Suzanne DeWindt, a psychiatric nurse in New York City with 30years of health care experience. “It starts my day on the right note. And I feel better because I’ve spent some time on myself.”

Embrace lists

Consider adding this to your evening routine: Before you go to sleep, write down the things that need to happen the next day. Organize your list from most to least important, putting the most onerous task at the top (if you get it out of the way first thing, you’ll start your day with a sense of accomplishment, not dread).

Also take inventory at the beginning or end of each week, considering what needs attending to at work and at home, suggests David Allen, a productivity expert and author of the bestselling personal productivity book Getting Things Done. “If you can get a clear picture of everything you have to do, you can make choices about what actions to take next.” Without a master list, things left undone tend to roll around repeatedly in your mind, distracting you from the more immediate tasks in front of you—even if that task is simply to relax.

Focus on one thing at a time

It’s tempting to talk to a colleague as you type up a report or talk on the phone while you make dinner. But the human brain wasn’t designed to multitask. In a study conducted at the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, researchers found that when subjects switched back and forth between two problems, it took them 25 percent longer to complete the tasks than when they did them sequentially. Whenever possible, focus on one task until it’s done.

Take recovery breaks

Ideally, you’d take a break after every 90 to 120 minutes of continuous work—that’s how long most people can focus before starting to feel distracted and fidgety, says Schwartz. “People are not meant to operate like computers,” says Schwartz. “They’re meant to pulse. Your body needs time to renew itself, otherwise it becomes less efficient in the short term and burned out over the long term.”

If you’re working a busy floor where it’s tricky to take time away, even a trip to the ladies’ room constitutes a break. Use the time spent washing your hands to slow down and do a simple exercise: Breathe in through your nose to a count of three, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth to a count of six. Do this two to five times. You’ll be surprised at how calming this can be.

Seek out mentors and role models

Surely you have colleagues or supervisors whose efficiency you admire. Either study and imitate them, or ask them to share their strategies, suggests Deb Roffe, an RN and a career coach ( based in Denver, Colo.Simple questions like “How do you leave work on time?” or “How do you manage medication charting?” can open up lively exchanges. Roffe often did this when she was working as a nurse in a GI lab.

Jeff Day has sought out several role models during his 20 years as an RN and while working on a master’s in nursing education. “There are plenty of nurses who will want to take you under their wing,” he says.

Slow down

Here’s a trick to try off-duty: Move at a slower pace. “It’s kind of like you’re saying, ‘I’m not willing to rush through life—no matter what artificial time demands others are putting on me, I want to take it at my pace,’” writes Leo Babauta on his blog, “As a result, your mind is less harried as well.” At work, occasionally look up for a moment from what you’re doing so you can gain some perspective,” says Allen. “If you get too consumed by the stuff coming at you, you lose your ability to respond appropriately and effectively.”


Lesley Alderman
Lesley Alderman, a former editor at Money and Real Simple, currently writes about health and wellness for various magazines and is a columnist for The New York Times. She recently found time to become a yoga instructor.

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