Help I'm sinking in email quicksand!

by MshawSVS

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Drowning in emails, death by meaningless meetings, putting out spot fires and it's not even 7am! 84% of nurse managers feel they are struggling with workload. It seems that the time it takes to deal with emails and meetings are overtaking HR as the biggest issues taking up time. There has to be a better way.

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    Help I'm sinking in email quicksand!

    As a leader if I had more time what do you think I would do with it? Indulge me for a moment while I step into utopia and slip on my rose coloured glasses to imagine what my ideal day looks like.

    It starts with a freshly brewed cup of something, the ward is calm, the staff are happy and the patients are all cared for. All shifts for the day are filled with experienced staff and the doctors are rounding on time. I achieve all things on my 'to do' list and meetings are a minimum. Everything is under control and I feel great.

    The reality though is more like this...

    My working week starts on Sunday night when I read my work emails on my iPad while biting a nail at the same time. It's a restless night sleep while I ponder that email from my Director of Nursing who wants to meet with me in the morning. What has happened since Friday? My stomach is heavy and I try to get some sleep. Soon it's Monday morning and the sun is still sleeping while I walk into my office which by the way, is a converted cupboard and looks like something out of Harry Potter. The most senior nurse on overnight finds me like a tracker bullet to a bullseye, and starts to tell me about the 'issue' that happened over the weekend. I slide my key in my office door turn on the lights and straight away notice the red glow of messages on the desktop phone. All this and it's not even 7am.

    The difference between utopia and reality are poles apart and we both know which state is preferable. The trouble is what do you do when your stuck in what feels like management groundhog day. Staff don't seem to want to take on delegated portfolios because they have so much to do, all the problems seem to get dumped onto you like you're a 'refuse tip' and if you could only get motivated to do something about it because you're just so tired.

    Here's the thing, you actually can.

    What we tend to tell ourselves is that it's 'ok' to be busy, it's 'ok' to be the doer because none else will, it's 'ok' to be blurring the lines between work and life. When in fact, it's 'not ok'. It got me to thinking that maybe we can be our own worst frenemy!

    'But, I'm standing in quicksand email here. How can I make that better?' I hear you say. Well, there is a way that you can make it so much easier and less time consuming by simply having a strategy. It's time to set some rules.

    Try this approach for a week and see how it works out for you. Start by establishing a triage process for emails something like this:
    • All urgent communication is done via a phone call not email
    • All other 'non-urgent' stuff sent as emails gets categorised. The following three category gets highlighted in the subject line, followed by the topic: for information, for response, for action. That way you know instantly what to do first and which ones to respond to later. e.g. 'For information: the canteen hours'
    • Speaking of time, restrict checking your email to 3 times a day (yes TDS) - morning, noon and afternoon. Write this in your signature block 'Please note that I will be checking emails at 9am, 12md and 3pm. If it's urgent please call me on....'.

    Remember it's your sanity that's at stake here and just like the great lady Eleanor Roosevelt said 'We must do the things we think we cannot do'. Alas taming emails is not for the faint hearted not is it the magic silver bullet. So in my next article we will discuss the thorn in all managers sides - meetings!!!!!

    Till then happy email taming.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jul 25, '13
    Joe V, SoldierNurse22, and Altra like this.
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  4. About MshawSVS

    Monica Shaw RN, BN, MN is a nursing leadership coach who helps hundreds of nurses at all levels get ahead of the game.

    MshawSVS joined May '13. Posts: 20 Likes: 13; Learn more about MshawSVS by visiting their allnursesPage

    5 Comments so far...

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    I am sure you rarely hear this from your staff, but thanks for stepping into leadership! We need managers. You all do a job that us staff nurses have only about 10% clue about. I have only been a nurse for 4 years and in that time I have had 3 different managers and I despise the times when I hear people complaining about problems with the managers but they are unwilling to do anything different on their end to ease any burdens. I try very hard to focus on what I like about my manager and go from there. You guys need positive reinforcement along the way just as much (if not more) than staff does.
    Chris81 and Ir15hd4nc3r_RN like this.
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    Looking forward to the next article.
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    Thank you so much and you are right managers need support too. Hope you keep reading and look forward to hearing more of your insights.
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    Great thanks!
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    Quote from BuckRN
    You all do a job that us staff nurses have only about 10% clue about.
    That doesn't stop people from developing firm opinions about virtually every decision, though. For example, I compile a schedule for four weeks at a time. Each new schedule isn't posted for ten minutes before someone has taken it down to dissect every assignment, every day off and every variation. I schedule about 25 people, a little over half of them nurses. They put far more thought into it than I do - and I'm certainly not thinking about who I can favor or screw over as I try to make sure that we have adequate staffing scheduled. I want enough people on duty to get the job done 24/7, and I try my best not to disrupt peoples' normal schedules any more than is absolutely necessary. Still, I had one (day shift) nurse complaining last week that she had covered one more night shift than someone else, and she was being scheduled again. My explanation that she was the only one who wouldn't lose two day shifts to cover one night, killing our day coverage for the better part of a week, fell on deaf ears. The day in question fell on the last day of her work stretch, while the other two nurses she suggested were just starting theirs. Had I done what she wanted, I would have had to rearrange coverage for a two-week period just to make sure that the other nurses got their hours in, and I would have had to restructure several days of work assignments instead of changing just her one shift. This is an employee who is continually asking for schedule adjustments so that she can make various trips.

    Here is another story that would be funny were it not 100% true. My charge nurse and I met with an RN who had been at odds with another RN for what I considered to be long enough, and it was abundantly clear that these two weren't going to budge on their own. During the conversation she said that she had mentioned to us previously that she and the other nurse weren't getting along, so it was our fault for not fixing it. This happened about a week ago.

    The joys of management. "Living the dream", as I always say to anyone who asks how it is going.
    Last edit by Orca on Jul 29, '13
    Altra likes this.


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