Nurses are great at multitasking. How many times have you been on the phone with pharmacy, administering medications to the patient, chatting with the patient’s spouse, while also catching the football game on TV.
Nurse practitioners are no exception! We can multi-task while obtaining the history of present illness, listening to breath sounds, making a mental note to refill the patient’s anti-hypertensive, and also listening to the patient tell a story about their grandchild.
Nurse practitioners are known for multi tasking. However, when it comes to patient safety, focusing on more than one thing at a time change be detrimental. Think about a time when you were chatting with your colleague and sent a prescription in error. This can be a significant patient safety issue.
Multi tasking can also have a negative impact on charting and time management. This can look very different for nurse practitioners. APRNs may be addressing medical refills while also texting their spouse to remind them to pick up the kids after school. They may try to submit orders when chatting with the patient in the exam room. They have their patient messages tab open while trying to finish a chart right after the patient encounter.
Multi tasking as a nurse practitioner can actually have negative impacts on getting those charts signed. When your brain becomes overwhelmed addressing multiple aspects at one time, it actually decreases productivity. The quick switching between tasks causes decision fatigue.
An article titled Multicosts of Multitasking by Madore and Wagner (2019), discusses the negative impacts of multitasking. After studying MRIs of the brain, the authors discovered that task switching takes an increased neural process. This means our brains have to work harder which in turn causes a decrease in performance. People also tend to have preconceived notions about their ability to multitask. Many nurse practitioners multitask without evening realizing. If we can focus on one thing at a time, our time management skills will improve.
An article written my MindTools notes it takes 23 minutes to regain full focus after a distraction. This means that every time we try to multi-task and get pulled to a new task, it takes us nearly ½ an hour to get back on track. APRNs don’t have that kind of time to spend refocusing on the task at hand!
Nurse practitioners know how valuable their time is. If APRNs can save one minute charting on a single patient and are seeing 30 patients a day, that is 30 minutes time saved! That is the difference between having supper with your family or not missing a kid’s activity. Making small changes such as avoiding multitasking and task switching can make a huge impact.
Here are three tips to avoid multitasking as a nurse practitioner so you can STOP charting at home!
Focus on one task at a time.
I know this is easier said than done when nurse practitioners are bombarded with phone calls, patient messages, medication refills, reviewing past medical records, and oh yeah- seeing patients and documenting the visit. Nurse practitioners have a lot of tasks that need done during the day.
If we can become aware and focus on one thing at a time, nurse practitioners can become more productive during the day. When nurse practitioners better manage time, they become more productive during the day, and can finally STOP charting at home.
One way we can focus on one task at a time is by eliminating distractions. For example, close email notifications or turn your phone on silent. When our brains become distracted we tend to switch from task to task. Nurse practitioners work best when focused on one thing at a time.
Schedule your day.
By developing routines and healthy habits, nurse practitioners can better manage their time. Any healthcare provider knows that the only thing that is certain in healthcare is there will be uncertainty. I can be certain that something will come up when trying to leave the office at 5:00pm. Maybe a patient will have to stay late or will have to answer a quick question via telephone.
However, when nurse practitioners work on developing somewhat of a structure or schedule, they can actually better manager their time at work. A schedule will eliminate APRNs from pausing to think about what they need to do next.
An example schedule of a clinic day might be:
8:05 Arrive to work and grab a cup of coffee, get settled, etc.
8:10 Review the schedule for the day. Anticipate any diagnostic tests that will need to be done or identify a need to review medical documentation (ie. for a new patient, hospital follow-up etc.).
8:20 Address any medication refills
8:30-11:30 See scheduled patients- and focus only on this! Try not to address med refills, patient messages, email etc. This will allow us to give our full focus on assessing, diagnosing, treating patients, AND documenting right after the patient encounter.
11:45 Make it a point to address any patient messages or other tasks. If you have control of your schedule, ask for 15-20 minutes to be blocked off to catch up on these tasks.
12:00 Give yourself time to catch up on documentation or tasks. But also give yourself time to refuel and refresh. Make sure to eat lunch and grab some water. Take a 5 minute walk outside to help clear your mind. Tend to any personal emails/issues that are weighing on your mind.
This structure can be repeated for the afternoon. This is just an example of a schedule and can be adjusted to fit your specialty.
If you are a hospitalist or round on hospital patients, a tentative schedule can be created. For example, when you arrive to work, complete a quick overview of your patients. Identify any patients with urgent matters. Determine which patient you should see first, ie scheduled for a procedure or possible discharges. Because hospitals are so large, batch rounding on patients depending on their location. Also make sure you take time to refuel and refresh!
Feel free to use this example of a schedule and adjust as needed! Setting a schedule will help you to avoid multitasking and help you to better manage your time!
Give yourself grace.
Any time nurse practitioners attempt a habit change, we should give ourselves understanding and grace. It is hard to make any kind of changes. Our work as nurse practitioners is so busy and overwhelming, it is difficult to put so much focus on changing habits. However, I want to encourage you not to give up!
It does not have to be difficult to change your charting or time management. Small changes can lead to massive results. Give yourself grace if you don’t get everything perfect the first week you work on avoiding multitasking. Adjust your plan as needed. Continue to constantly update your plan as habit change is long term.
I hope you can use these tips to avoid multitasking and increase focus while working as a nurse practitioner!
For more charting and time management tips check out The Burned-out Nurse Practitioner’s blog page!
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For time management and charting tips, check out The Nurse Practitioner Charting School– The one stop for all documentation resources created specifically for nurse practitioners. Learn more at www.npchartingschool.com