How to Be Productive When You Work the Late Shift

late shift

Nursing is a tough job. Long shifts and busy schedules lead to workweeks as exhaustingly long as 100 hours. It’s often thankless work, helping people who are weak, sick, upset or confused. It’s high-pressure and sometimes frantic, because people’s lives are literally in your hands.

Then, there are the stresses that uniquely accompany third shift, also known as the graveyard shift. Just because it’s time to sleep doesn’t mean that people aren’t getting hurt or suffering from medical problems. Even though the tougher schedule sometimes comes with a better paycheck, it is hard to constantly adjust your most active time of day from day to night and back again.

How do you stay productive at work when it seems like the cards are stacked against you? Keep reading for some advice that will help you not only survive the late shift, but maybe even thrive in it.

Stop Dragging Out Tasks

We all have habits that cause us to lose some time at work, whether we mean to or not. Identifying these problems is the first step in cutting them out, so during your next shift, constantly ruminate on the question, “Is this what I need to be doing right now?”

Some common time sucks include chatting with patients or other hospital staff, watching TV or even spending longer than you need to on the phone. While it’s okay to do all of these things some of the time, if you find that you are spending a large chunk of time on things other than your duties, something has to change. Don’t be afraid to tell your patient that you have a lot to work on but that you’ll check back on them later.

Also, don’t be afraid to tell your coworkers that you have some things you need to do. Let them know that you’d love to hear their gossip another time. When you start doing this, you’ll be amazed at how much extra time you suddenly have and how much more you can get done.

Give Yourself a Healthy Energy Boost

Constantly switching between being awake during the day and being awake at night takes a toll on our bodies and our minds. Even if you are a rare breed who manages to maintain the same sleep and wake cycle on your days off, the darkness of the nighttime is constantly telling our brains and bodies, “You should be asleep now.” With these pressures, it can be extremely hard to battle sleepiness and still be a productive nurse.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to stay alert. First, make sure that you are getting enough sleep with no interruptions. Ask housemates to maintain a quiet atmosphere and only wake you up for true emergencies.

If you have kids, you might have to explain what does and doesn’t count as an emergency. Make sure your bedroom is dark enough. Use blackout curtains or a sleeping mask if you must and make sure your cell phone is set to silent.

At work, try to avoid caffeinated beverages after the first 2-3 hours of your shift because they will interfere with your sleeping later. After that, if you’re feeling dull, walk a lap or two around the hospital or jog up and down the stairs. Your busy schedule should keep you going. Even if most of your patients are asleep, there’s always stuff to do as a night nurse.

If you don’t like the night shift and just can’t seem to rise up against your tiredness, consider trying to switch to another shift. If that’s not an option, consider another career path entirely. You could go back to school in a related field or continue your education in another industry entirely. But remember why you became a nurse and try to think rationally about your career aspirations before you make any big changes. Just because you’re stuck in the night shift now doesn’t mean you’re stuck forever.

Make Time for Patients AND Desk Work

Most patients will be asleep for your shift and will not require any attention over the night hours. However, every now and then, you get a patient who is a little too happy with the nurse call button. These patients will call you every few hours to ask about a minor ailment or for a glass of water. It can seem like they want to keep you from doing your job.

First of all, don’t get angry at these patients. They are most likely feeling helpless and the hospital setting can be unsettling to people who are used to being able to do things for themselves.

Then, try to anticipate your patients’ needs instead of simply performing your duties and moving onto the next one. Take five extra minutes now to ask if they need any food or water, or if they are having any difficulties. This will save you more time than if you rush off and need to come back 30 minutes later to get that glass of water.

Following these three tips will help you find more time during your shift and allow you to get more done. Ultimately, serving your patients better and going above and beyond your duties are both essential components of being a great nurse, no matter what shift you’re on.

Image by Fotos GOVBA

About the author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a healthy living blogger with a passion for productivity and motivation. You can read more of her Nursing Feed posts by following her on Google+ and Twitter, or you can check out her site, for more posts!

Tamara Olsen - Apr 19, 2014

Great article Kayla! I’m currently doing a huge project on how healthcare institutions impact the sleep of their night shift nurses, and how they allocate certain resources differently between night and day shifts.

I’m putting it out there, share your shift adaptation tips and tricks, your vents and rants, all things night shift related.

Kayla Matthews - Apr 24, 2014

Hi Tamara! That sounds super interesting! Good point about the different resource allocation among night and day shifts. I’d be interested to read your article when it’s finished! =) Thanks for the comment!

    Nursingfeed Staff - Apr 24, 2014

    Yep Kayla…we do agree with Tamara about different resource allocation for night duty. Actually it is a good idea to implement.

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