Time Management for Emergency workers

Living on call is tough...

Living on call is tough…

Recently I received a letter from a Cool Time reader who works in the area of emergency services, i.e. police, firefighting, paramedics etc. He is one of many I have met who live constantly “on call” and as such have an even greater challenge in managing time due to the unpredictability of their work. This has inspired me to pull together a collection of insights I have received over the years from people in this line of work, and I will post their suggestions here on this blog.

In general, Cool Time concepts such as the I-Beam Agenda are geared towards people with a more structured environment such as an office, rather than the more unpredictable pressures faced by people who work in police, firefighting, paramedic and medical fields. To be “on call” is to always be primed for instant reaction, which for some is part of the appeal of emergency work, but unfortunately also works in direct opposition to the type of clear planning-style thought processes that the Cool-Time book refers to. So, given that emergency work is largely unpredictable, my first suggestion is to look at the time that is spent on activities other than active emergency work. Are there times when you are at an office/desk, or waiting around at a courthouse or hospital? Can you review a typical week and identify occasions where time could be applied to other tasks? Although emergencies can happen at any time, even a space of 10 minutes allows people to get a start on their work.

Influence is a powerful tool. Informing co-workers that your focus-time has an end point, such as “I’ll be working on this from 9:45-10:00” is more powerful than saying “I’m busy” since you give people what they want to know, which is when you will be available for them.

Downtime is often lost due to the stress or need to de-stress from the most recent emergency. Using checklists to wrap up the procedures of the most recent call allow the brain to change channels and transition back into focused work more easily. Working in small amounts, such as 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there is better than waiting for a “perfect two-hour block of uninterrupted time. A lot can be achieved in small amounts, if things are kept organized. So… …this means organization is essential to an emergency worker – do you have the files/papers/materials available and close to hand to work on wherever and whenever possible? Is there technology (laptop, smartphones or force specific) that can help you both in terms of processing your work and calendaring? What form do your planning meetings take with superior officers and your team? Can you inform them as to certain time when you would like to spend time on paperwork?

In addition, shift work is tough, especially if you follow a typical 2-weeks days/2-weeks nights program. Most people are not designed for night shift work, and the only thing worse than consistently doing night-shift work is having to switch over all the time. Access to natural light and sunlight whenever possible is essential for revitalizing the body and reorienting the internal clock. Also diet plays a major factor, since high-fat convenience foods depress the body’s chemical functioning. There’s not a lot of good food available at 3:00 in the morning. In response to this, I have always suggested to night shift workers the importance of preparing and carrying good food from home, if possible.

Protein sources such as boiled eggs, nuts and low-fat yogurt are reasonably portable and deliver a protein boost to help get through the long night. High-fibre fruits such as apples help satisfy the sugar craving and are really good at keeping hunger at bay for a couple of hours. Remember, as an emergency worker, your blood sugar takes major hits from two sides: not just the shift-work factor, but also the adrenaline moments that may help you at times of emergency, but also result in a “crash” or metabolic reversal once the emergency is over. Diet will actually assist you in getting the non-emergency work done, since a stable blood sugar level allows the body and mind to focus more readily.

Since I myself am not an emergency worker, I would be grateful for comments from those who are.


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