6 Hacks to Optimize Your Leadership

by Nursetopia on September 22, 2015

I’m not an expert on time management, but over the course of 10 years in leadership, I have never had an assistant manage my schedule or emails. I squeeze a lot of goodness into jam-packed days. Students, new leaders, and those I have the privilege of leading often ask me how I get so much accomplished between work, family, volunteering with numerous organizations, church, and hobbies. Here are a few tricks I’ve incorporated into daily work to help optimize my time:

1. Always have a blank notecard and envelope on-hand. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve needed to write a quick, special note. Sometimes it’s because I’ve forgotten an occasion; other times it’s because I just learned of something happening quickly. Because I have the tools on-hand, I can always contribute in meaningful ways that align with my leadership style. Hand-written notes are rarities these days, which means anyone who gives them is quickly set apart from others. It’s an incredibly easy way to differentiate yourself. Popping a few blank notecards and envelopes into your briefcase, outer purse pocket, or work binder takes little effort with maximum opportunity.

2. Easy-access reading material is a must. There will be downtime in your day no matter how hard you try to avoid it. You should always be reading a book or a journal, no matter how long it takes you to finish it. Learning never stops. So, carry journals with you, have audio books downloaded for travel between off-site meetings, make sure you have an e-book ready for a quick chapter read when you can fit it in. You’ll whiz through your reading pile in no time…all during your “downtime.”

3. Incorporate post-meeting follow-up time into your calendar. This little jewel of a tip has been a sanity saver for me as I’ve grown in leadership and in responsibilities. Some days are  continuous meetings, and if you’re not careful, you can end up with 40+ hours of meetings and equally as many evening, early morning, and weekend hours of desk work resulting from those meetings. No thanks! Make sure you schedule follow-up time immediately after most meetings to complete your action items. This tactic can help you seek clarity throughout meetings in anticipation of completing actions following meetings, and it can also help expedite work that can easily get dropped through the proverbial leadership cracks. Even better? Complete low-level action items during the meeting as you discuss them.

4. Schedule your to-do list. I used to keep a list of everything I needed to accomplish. It worked at one time in my career, but now I cannot manage the moving pieces and deadlines of numerous strategic initiatives via a to-do list. I’ve learned that my daily calendar is the best way to set a deadline and work backwards, actually scheduling the milestone work. Covey’s “begin with the end in mind” always delivers.

5. View your calendar one week at a time. If there’s one thing nursing has taught me it’s that priorities change. The same is true in any kind of leadership. The days never look the same, so as meetings get delayed or something else needs attention, I can attack portions of the schedule later in the week or move around daily work to readjust for unexpected moments.

6. Prioritize your day the day before. The last thing I do each day is look at my calendar for the next business day. I often number my scheduled items for the day to ensure I take care of the most important work first whenever possible because – as number five pointed out – priorities change, and what sometimes feels like a priority may not be one at all. Viewing my calendar prior to the next business day helps me refocus. In addition, I often set my desk up so I can jump right into work – separating files and projects in order so I can more easily move throughout my day and work.

And while all of these hacks are great at the office, they most certainly work at home, as well. I am not quite as scheduled at home, but I always have blank notecards/envelopes with me, I am never without reading material, and the next school/work day is always prepped the night before with clothes, lunches, and backpacks. It just makes for a happy and productive day.

So, hack away and have a happy day! What tips do you have that help keep your days humming along?


When Nurses Grieve Together

by Nursetopia on September 4, 2015

Oncology nurses experience grief. All nurses experience grief. It’s part of the job we agreed to as life also encompasses death.

As a nurse leader, grief over a patient death is very similar to the grief I experienced as a frontline nurse. While I do not routinely put my hands on patients daily, I still get to know patients and their families in my role, and I get the pleasure of caring for them in ways they may never know. In addition, I get to hear nurses and the rest of the team talk about patients in care meetings or in the break room as they munch on a homemade treat a patient just happened to bring for the group. Stories and story-telling moments are vital learning sessions in healthcare, and it’s important (and sometimes fun) for me to hear these stories of our patients throughout their care.

And conversely, the grief over a patient death as a leader is different from the grief as a patient’s nurse. That bond is entirely different. Entirely.

The longer I am in leadership, the more tenderly I view my nurses and team during seasons of patient loss. It is humbling watching a group of nurses attend a viewing together or stop by an end-of-life patient’s room one-by-one, only to leave with tear-stained faces. It’s moving caring for a multidisciplinary team passing the Kleenex box around a gathered office space during work hours. It’s endearing hearing a handful of nurses share unknown stories with a family who may have never been in the care environment to experience them, showing either a completely different side of a patient or reinforcing the truest of true personalities and characteristics throughout even the hardest of health times.

Nurses are seriously some of the strongest, most courageous, versatile, and resilient people I’ve ever met. Even in their grief, they are amazing. That gathered grief shows the deep sincerity of their care to people who were once strangers to them but now forever a part of them.

Not everyone grieves together. I believe it is a sign of a strong team when grief is shared, though. What do you think?


Just Ask: Getting Over the ‘No’

by Nursetopia on July 18, 2015

She Could Say NoThere once was a time in my life that I would assume some of my ideas or requests would automatically be squelched with a “no” answer. My assumption would actually limit me from even asking or discussing the request or idea. One thing is for sure -the answer will always be “no” to something that’s not asked.

I had to get over the fear of “no.” In light of many other things in work and care, being told no is not really that big of a deal, but when you’re told no over and over again, you can start to think your ideas are rubbish and simply stop generating ideas altogether. That’s not good for any organization.

“No” for the sake of “no” has never really set well with me; I have always wanted to know the why behind the answer. Most people are this way, which is why leadership communication is important to validate ideas and questions. Just because the answer is no doesn’t mean the idea or request wasn’t valuable. I’ve learned that both when I’m told no with an explanation or I do the same thing with those who follow me, often times a subsequent idea results to overcome the explanation’s barrier. It’s a beautiful thing – respectful, transparent communication.

Receiving a “no” answer is really no big deal, but it does take practice – just like everything else – to maintain professionalism and competency within the situation. “No” comes in all forms, but it mostly signifies the opportunity to grow – to research more, collect additional data, strengthen a business case. It’s a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block.

Get over your fear of “no.” Just ask.


Doing Right by People

by Nursetopia on January 12, 2015

Nothing replaces the feeling of knowing you’ve done the “right thing” for people. No matter who knows or doesn’t know, it’s a reward like none other.

I am shocked at the number of people who think others don’t, can’t, or won’t do the right thing  in work and/or life.

Do right by people. They’ll do right by you. Even if they don’t, keep doing right by people.


Murphy’s Laws of Nursing Leadership & Management

by Nursetopia on October 16, 2014

Oye VeyHeard the phrase “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”? Yep, Murphy’s Law is prevalent in nursing leadership and management just as it is in other areas of nursing and health care. Here are a few gold-standard Murphy’s Laws for nurse managers and leaders.

1. The day you’ve set aside and diligently blocked from meetings will be the day a stomach virus sweeps through the unit, causing severe short-staffing to the point of needing your clinical assistance for direct patient care. Good job blocking that calendar, and best wishes for “catching up!”

2. Your boss is guaranteed to call you on the one day you leave the office early. And he’ll need some numbers for a report within the hour.

3. The “Can-I-Have-5-Minutes?” conversation will take over your next scheduled meeting – that you lead – and end up with at least three action items to complete.

4. A patient will request to speak with you right as you realize you have yet to empty your bladder during the day.

5. The moment you are fully staffed, at least two team members indicate they need leaves of absence.

6. The probability of Joint Commission showing up for your organization’s unannounced survey increases with the number of days remaining until you leave for your long-awaited vacation.

7. The week after you ask team members to purge storage closets will be the one week of the decade in which something from that storage closet will be requested.

8. Minutes before your budget is due you will remember an ancillary expense that could potentially lead to a major variance.

9. The copy machine will jam and run out of toner as you try to print your presentation for the multidisciplinary board.

10. The candidate you love for the open position will be screened out of the HR system via a glitch, leading to weeks of attempted correction.

Creating these just makes me laugh. Leadership is a trip. In so many great ways.

What other Murphy’s Laws do you have in nursing leadership and management?



NursetopiaMashupCroppedJust like I do with hardcopy journals and books, I tend to save up articles in my email box until I get time to binge-read. Here’s some of what I’ve been reading that I’ve saved for a while. There’s some pretty good stuff here!

Do you save articles and tweets in your email inbox, too? What’s piling up in there?


If You Have to Give Up Something, Give Up Strategy

by Nursetopia on October 1, 2014

Be Without Strategy


Mess with a Good Thing

by Nursetopia on August 28, 2014

Why mess with a good thing?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

Our system works. 

But can it be better? When is the last time any part of the system has been improved? Does it function optimally for everyone involved – a win-win? Are you thinking about potential disruptors? Do you have the market disruption to propel everyone forward?

There is always room for improvement. Always.

Mess with a good thing.


An Unstoppable Reminder

by Nursetopia on August 26, 2014


Thanks to Beau Taplin for such words.

There’s value in continuing despite yourself. Get out of your own way. Move the work you touch. Gather your failures and doubts into a big pile, and step over them.

Be unstoppable.



Clinical Nurse Leaders, or CNLs, are becoming more and more prevalent within the nursing profession. Rightly so; these colleagues are making waves in the industry, saving lives and money. Here’s a little more about Clinical Nurse Leaders: The Air Traffic Controllers of Patient Care.



Disclosure: This article is sponsored by University of San Francisco Online Master of Science in Nursing