5 Ways to Take Advantage of a Slow Day at Work

It’s rare that the words “slow day at work” and “nurse practitioner” are used in the same sentence, but occasionally the unexpected and much welcome not so busy day on the job does happen. This past week in the emergency department, unseasonably cold weather seemed to keep patients at bay leaving me a little free time at my desk. This begged the question, what will I do with these precious extra minutes?

Using downtime at work efficiently can seriously help out your personal and professional workload. Rather than strolling over to the break room to chow down on leftover stale snacks or chat mindlessly with coworkers, having an action plan for productive non-clinical time makes a big difference in our day to day outlook. The next time you find yourself with a few extra minutes, consider filling them with the following activities.

1. Make sure you are caught up with tasks at work

Before you take personal liberties on the clock, make sure you are organized and up to date with your work related tasks. Complete any outstanding charts and call patients back with lab results. Organize your desk, complete the random tasks scrawled on the sticky notes littering your desktop, and empty your email inbox. Or, lend a hand to a coworker. Help the phlebotomist by drawing a little blood if the wait for labs is long. Give a few flu shots if the nurse is overwhelmed. You don’t want to be known as the one who slacks off or does the bare minimum. Use your free time to go above and beyond.

2. Keep your licenses and certifications up to date

It seems as nurse practitioners we find ourselves in a never ending cycle of renewing licenses and certifications. From state licenses to a DEA number, there’s a constant flow of paperwork to keep up with. Check the expiration dates on your licenses. Is your BLS certification expiring soon? What about your DEA number? Make note of those dates in your calendar. If needed, renew any licensure expiring soon. Complete or sign up for an ACLS or BLS course if needed. If your employer requires completion of online training modules or something similar, take time to do these as well.

3. Educate yourself

If you could use a few more continuing medical education credits, use downtime at work to complete online CME credits. Don’t forget to save your certificates or make sure they are stored online. This way, you won’t have hours of education left when your certification is up for renewal. If you don’t need formal continuing education credits, browse online medical journals or educate yourself on a disease process or medication you aren’t familiar with. It can be hard to find time to continue your learning outside of work, so take advantage of unexpected time you may have.

4. Get your personal life in order

As nurse practitioners, it’s easy to get behind in our personal lives. Working in healthcare can mean long hours and feeling exhausted after work. Make a grocery list, plan your meals for the coming week, order household supplies online, schedule your next hair appointment etc. When your personal life is in check its much easier to get some much needed rest and relaxation when you arrive home after a long day.

5. Stretch your legs or get some air

I once had a friend and coworker who used downtime at work to get in a little physical activity. Being that our shifts started at 6am, there was no time for exercise before work. So, when she found herself with a few free minutes, she would walk or jog up and down the stairs of the hospital a few times. Talk about a workout!

Personally, I enjoy stepping outside for a few breaths of fresh air if I have a minute to spare. The walls of the hospital can be confining. I often arrive at work in the dark, leave work after sunset, and don’t see daylight once during a workday. A glimpse of sunlight and feeling the breeze on your face is a great mood booster and keeps your circadian clock in check.

What do you do with downtime at work? Next on my list? Christmas shopping! ‘Tis the season…


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