Sterile processing (SP) professionals are constantly working against the clock. Every piece of equipment has a timer on it. From the autoclave to the cart washers, the countdown to completion is endless and always resetting the moment it hits zero.

Time is how we prove efficiency and productivity in our department processes. The ability to demonstrate abundance and quantity is worth its weight in gold when it comes time for reviews and proving our contribution to the team. It is no wonder that sterile processing professionals experience burnout and workplace fatigue. Even as the lunch timer dwindles to zero and we return to the fast-paced work environment that we have grown accustomed to, we must ask ourselves if we are using this same mentality in our professional development tactics. Is time managing us?

Is time managing you?

Let’s face it, there are a number of processes and responsibilities in the sterile processing department that cannot function without time management. The definition of time management can be vague, but typically it refers to one’s ability to use time effectively and productively. As we have come to learn, the terms “effective” and “productive” are fairly ambiguous unless they are defined by the areas they pertain to.

For example, effective and productive indicators on the sterilization assignment may mean that the next autoclave load is ready to be pushed into the sterilizer the moment the previous load completes. The endless conversation regarding quality and quantity on assembly is a discussion based on time-related effectiveness and productivity indicators. Upon observation, effective and productive sterile processing departments are determined by observing three areas:

  • How long?
  • How many?
  • When?

Given the sensitivity and pertinence of turnovers and inventory, these parameters have made a home in the time-management success/failure model in our sterile processing departments. However, when we take this mentality and apply it to our professional development, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Much like the inventory levels in our departments, we only have so much to give to reach our personal PAR level while managing our professional development.

Manage your time

As sterile processing professionals, we can begin to consider how time management in the department also applies to developing our own time-management skills. Again, instances of how much, how long, and when are referred to while determining our next steps and priorities. For example, you may wonder if you have enough time between work and picking up the kids to go grocery shopping. This sentence alone demonstrates the three areas previously listed. When considering what to do first, it’s ideal to grocery shop alone if time allows, but pick up the children first if this cannot be accommodated.

In this and countless other personal time-management scenarios, we define effective and productive time management by our ability to maximize our time. We challenge ourselves to get as much done as we possibly can in one day (or other duration of time). Notice how this is slightly different from our effectiveness and productivity in the SP department. At work, we aim to do what needs to get done on time and at home we look to finish as much as we can before time runs out.

Exhaustion or burnout is inevitable in these scenarios. And while we would like to ensure this doesn’t happen, sometimes the time-management goals that we define as productive and effective make it unavoidable. These time-management practices become habits, systems, and indicators of success (productivity and effectiveness).

As we begin the journey to time management in our professional development, a hard stop must occur. We cannot afford to put our professional goals through the same rigors of our personal and work time-management mentality. Instead, let’s use this time to flip the narrative.

Flip the narrative

First, let’s evaluate our time-management tools to determine the principles, practices, and skills necessary to achieve our personal goals. The purpose of this mindset shift is to deprioritize time optimization as the primary way we determine our success. By doing so, we shift ourselves into a quality mindset and make our progress intentional. There is no sense in constantly producing or rushing around if it does not help us achieve our desired outcomes. It will ultimately make us tired and may cause us to lose track of professional goals.

Second, we can deprioritize time optimization mentality while still incorporating a parameter of time as a metric for progress. This allows us to shift from “how much I need to get done” to “what am I going to work on” during this time. While some find a to-do list effective for this area, some boundaries should be put in place. Remember, it’s not about all the things we have to do or all the things we’ve done that demonstrates the quality of our time management. We should ask what we want to work on that will yield the greatest impact on our professional goals. This will promote a more robust feeling of accomplishment when completing the objective.

Finally, remember that the ultimate purpose of professional development is defined by you. The principles and practices that are used must be representative of who you are now and who you want to be at the end of all your hard work.

Reconnect with the why

If it comes to a point in our professional development journey that we feel like we have to do something, let’s take a hard stop. It is true that the growth journey we are on will have practices we will need to learn, obstacles we have to overcome, and principles we must practice. But when these challenges become viewed more as demands than as opportunities, it is time to reconnect with why we are pursuing these goals in the first place.

We must always be the driving force that maintains the momentum required to achieve our goals, not:

  • The time that it takes
  • How much we want to get done
  • When we cross the finish line

We are chained to time. While it is a construct, it will always define some type of action and outcome. By developing and encouraging a time-management mindset based on achieving the principles, practices, and skills necessary to create progress in our professional development, we allow for lengths of time to assist us instead of dictating our worth and value.

Note: The views and opinions expressed are of Sarah B. Cruz only and do not represent the businesses she works for or companies she collaborates with.