Nurses make a lot of decisions. Many of which are a matter of life or death. Maybe not imminently, but ultimately. It’s also worth bringing attention to the fact that our shifts begin as the sun is coming up and our decision-making responsibilities don’t stop until almost 12 hours (really, 13) later with little to no break.
Between patient care - monitoring a patient's condition, taking vital signs, blood work, charting, and administering medications - and everything else that goes into assuring a visiting family member and making sure that everything goes smoothly, it can be exhausting to simply get through a normal day.
How often have you caught yourself talking gibberish or forgetting what you were saying during handoff? Automation is part of the science behind a standardized handoff (among other things).
Nurses, like all busy professionals, can benefit from some automation at work as well as in many other areas of life.
What Is Automation?
I’ve been super intrigued by the concept of automation since hearing Tim Ferriss talk about it on his podcast. Think of automation as falling into the realm of routine or autopilot. However, routine often has a negative connotation. Most of us think we need to avoid it like the guy on the corner with the cardboard sign (and if you haven’t listened to Tim's podcast on the topic, it’s quite interesting).
Research suggests that rather than avoiding routine, we should probably take the opposite approach and instead embrace and refine what it means. There are aspects of our lives that we can and should put on autopilot. Especially on work days (especially for the boring parts).
The more aspects of our lives that we can automate, the fewer immediate decisions we must make on a daily basis. The less immediate decisions we must make, the more time and mental capacity we have to dedicate to making the important decisions. Our ability to make the best and most rational decisions decreases with each decision we must make. This is referred to as "decision fatigue."
We have limited decision-making capacity in the same way we have limited physical capacity, or energy. Decision fatigue is even further exacerbated when you’re not a good decision maker to begin with (which I swear is genetic!).
So, What Are Some Ways Nurses Can Automate Their Lives?
- Wear (relatively) the same thing everyday. Think Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. But rest assured, it doesn’t have to be that boring - even Regina George and the Plastics had the right idea. This is easy-peasy as a nurse. We get to wear a uniform and that’s that. Add sneakers or clogs and a comfy pair of socks and you’re good to go. Just don’t spend every other day of fashion freedom wearing pink or black turtlenecks.
But also don’t spend two hours deciding what to wear to yoga, to brunch, or on a date (especially if you’re going to have to decide between avocado toast, an acai bowl, or whether to text him/her back or not).
- Eat similar meals at the same time everyday (or try intermittent fasting!). The benefits of this will extend beyond your mental health. Food is fuel. It should be enjoyable but not to the extent that it requires you to spend much time thinking about what you’re going to have, when, and where. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time cooking food - nothing beats home-cooked meals. Just pick something, make it, and eat it. Taco Tuesdays, anyone? (For an on-the-go snack, try one of our nurse's natural energy ball recipe!)
- Go to the gym at the same time every day. And have a plan, whether it’s something you put together or a guide you’re following.You’ll have a much more effective workout, be efficient with your time, and won’t have an excuse when you "don’t feel like doing cardio" that day. The decision was already made, so too bad, get moving! Even if you can only carve out 30 minutes for a daily workout, make it part of your routine!
- Go to the grocery store on the same day every week (unless it’s a Sunday - don’t do that unless you enjoy crowded parking lots). Make a list of the same staple items you buy each time and then a list of whatever you need for the week (and try out meal planning!). Better yet, get a delivery service like Instacart and have it replenish your supply every week without more than a click of a button.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. Yep, even on days off. It will make it that much easier for work days. Oh, it’s already 10pm? It's not time to decide which Netflix documentary to watch next; it's time for bed!
- There are also some excellent apps that can help out with all of the above; check out our list of the top apps for nurses.
By opting for life automation, you end up with more time to dedicate to the important things: intellectual development, cultivating and growing relationships, being present, optimizing health and wellbeing, expanding interests, and progressing your career. You have more time to research whether or not you want to go back to school.
You have more mental energy to decide whether it’s worth putting that rude resident in her place or to be more alert about your patient’s deteriorating status.
The more often we can do this, the more special little changes will feel when you deviate from the norm or “routine.” Trying a new restaurant. Sleeping in or staying up late. Skipping the gym (or "rest day"). Dressing up. Indulging in some ice cream. Going to the farmer’s market. Soaking in the bath. A leisurely brunch.
What if on work days, we reserved all of the mental capacity possible to make the best decisions for patients and families? What if on days off, we preserved this mental capacity to make the most out of our time away, with friends and family, and with focus on our personal lives? I think we'd a lot better about the decisions we make.
We’ve got caffeine and lots of training and experience. Let's add automation to our toolbox for brain power to make good decisions all the way through the 3pm/am slump!
Where to Start?
Begin with the easy stuff: meals, clothing, gym time, specific times when you check email/make calls, even batch your chores into regular times each week. Once you're comfortable with some of these daily tasks, you can start the real adult forms automation, like the automation of your financials! If you're ready for that now, check out our multi-part series on how nurses can retire wealthier than doctors!