Monday, August 15, 2022

5 Actions for Overcoming Nursing Career Attention Deficit Disorder

In the midst of a fast-paced, 21st-century life, it's possible for a hard-working nurse to experience what I call Nursing Career Attention Deficit Disorder (NCADD). In this context, the nurse in question loses sight of her goals and dreams, instead becoming scattered and distracted by life's myriad responsibilities and demands; she's pulled in multiple directions and feels like she's running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Can NCADD be turned around? Can our distracted minds be tamed in the interest of developing a more satisfying nursing career?

speed and attention deficit
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

An Understandable Nurse Condition

Modern life can be intense and overwhelming. If you're a member of the so-called "Sandwich Generation", you have both school-age children and aging parents to contend with (I know many people in this position, myself not being one of them, thankfully enough). These duel responsibilities consume much of your time, and tending to the garden of your nursing career can seem completely laughable when you think about the amount of energy you have left at the end of the day.

We're also barraged with information at every turn: emails, social media, phone calls, voicemail, bills, Netflix, news, and politics all crowd around us seeking room in our brains for just "one more thing" to think about. Time to read a book for fun? Not always possible. An afternoon for a yoga class and a massage? You may be laughing ironically when reading that line, too.

And for millennial nurses, this generation is the first that's not expected to do as well as their parents, economically. How do you plan a life and career when the cost of living continues to outstrip your ability to bring home enough to make ends meet, buy a home, and perhaps plan a family?

NCADD can make your life and career feel like they're teetering on the edge, with neither receiving their due. This is both unacceptable and untenable.

Can you create space for working on your career, even as you feel that it's simply impossible to make room for such an endeavor? You can, if you make the choice to do what's necessary in order to move the needle and reengage in the active development of your nursing career and professional life.

Making the Choice

When you feel like there's no time for anything superfluous, how can you make the conscious choice to actively work on your career? Will others suffer for your "selfishness"? Will the world stop turning if you pay your career just a little mind? It sure can feel that way, especially for the types of personalities drawn to nursing -- let's face it, we like to fix and take care of others, often ignoring our own needs as we do so.

Nursing Career Attention Deficit Disorder occurs when we're simply overwhelmed with information and responsibility. Overcoming that sense of overwhelm certainly takes discipline and focus, whether it's committing to self-care, job-hunting, or updating your resume. In the end, it's a choice, and then we have to take concerted action to bring that choice to life.

keep an open mind

Five Actions for Your Nursing Career

Taking action for the betterment of your nursing career can have many components, and it all depends on what you want to accomplish. And how do you know what you want? You make time to think, brainstorm, and dream. Here are the bones of a five-part career action plan for the nurse with NCADD:

1. Open your mind: In order to take the first step of paying more attention to the development of your career, you must first open your mind to the possibility that your career deserves a shot in the arm -- it needs to become enough of a priority for you to commit to the work that needs to be done. Once your mind is open to the possibility, a little light begins to shine through the cracks.

2. Do an assessment: The next step is to allow yourself to do an assessment of your career. This may include conducting a SWOT Analysis, deciding where you want to work or live, or otherwise gathering data about what you have, what you're missing, and what you want. You may also want to explore your values, the things you truly care about, and whether what you do for a living and who you work for is in alignment with those value. The four domains of Schwartz's theory of personal values — openness to change, self-transcendence, conservation, and self-enhancement — figure largely in how satisfied we might be in our career choices and trajectory. And assessing your self-esteem — perhaps using the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale — is another key tool for taking a deeper look at yourself and your life. 

If time is your greatest challenge, keep a diary for 14 days recording how you spend every minute or hour of your day. Just as writing down everything you spend can help you be more conscious of where your money's going, recording what you do with your time can have a similar effect. After a week or so, you may realize that you spend six hours per week on Facebook, eight hours watching TV, and three hours playing Candy Crush. At this point, the data will begin to speak to you, and you'll realize that different choices can be made for how you use the 24 hours in each day.

3. Formulate a plan and a commitment: If Facebook is where you seem to be hemorrhaging time every week, you can make a commitment to cut down the hours you spend there. There are time-management and app blockers that can be installed on your phone or computer to limit your access to social media. You can also log your social media time on a piece of paper and simply stop using it when you reach your new daily or weekly limit. It's simple in theory and harder in practice.

Your plan may include researching DNP programs, updating your resume, learning to use LinkedIn, or connecting with recruiters for your area of specialty.

There are indeed only 24 hours in a day, and it takes conscious effort for you to put some skin in the game and commit to do whatever it takes to get things moving. You may need an accountability buddy to keep you on track: this can be a coach like me, or a friend, colleague, or family member who agrees to hold you accountable and check in regularly about your progress and your adherence to your commitment.

4. Take action: Once you have your plan and a commitment, it's time for action. Whatever you've committed to, it's now time to operationalize it.

Do you want to engage in career coaching? Make it happen by contacting me or another coach of your choosing.

Do you need information about DNP programs? Create a spreadsheet, make some calls, gather data, or contact me or other career specialists about the NP/APRN/DNP journey.

Actions speak louder than words, so your written plan is only as powerful as the energy and results you can produce through your own sweat equity.

5. Evaluate and reassess: Just like the nursing process, once you've gathered data through a career assessment, diagnosed the problem, and created a plan and appropriate interventions, you now need to evaluate your progress.

If your assessment and diagnosis of a patient determined that his pain level was a 10, your natural plan would be to administer pain meds according to standing orders and then return to the patient's room in an hour to determine if the pain meds did the trick. If the patient's pain is unchanged, your diagnosis may have been wrong or your intervention ineffective. When you reassess, a new plan is then formulated to address the patient's recalcitrant pain.

It's the same with your career development and action plan: if your interventions don't produce the desired results, you may need a new plan of action. If you're just not finding enough time to do what needs to be done, you either need to decrease your commitment or find someone to help you keep it: this may involve hiring a coach, finding a resume writer, or perhaps delegating some of your family responsibilities to others so that you can actually have some time for yourself.

Believe You Deserve It, Make No Excuses, Take No Prisoners

So many of us can so easily give up when we feel overwhelmed. However, you worked hard to become a nurse by pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into the initial phases of your education and career  -- doesn't that well-earned nursing credential deserve some time and energy to keep it fresh and rewarding?

Time and attention can be in short supply in our harried 21st-century lives. We all seem so addicted to being "busy", and that can often seem like an excuse for inaction. However, at any critical point in your career, forceful and decisive activity is called for. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What level of importance does your nursing career hold for you right now? 
  • From where will you summon the strength of will to do what needs to be done? 
  • Who or what will keep you motivated? 
  • What will you do if your plan doesn't produce the desired results? 
  • Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make your career sing the song you want it to sing? 
The future is unwritten -- take out your pen and plot your journey from where you are to where your heart of hearts would like you to be.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. written for,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University,, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog,, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. 

Living in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, Keith shares a magical life with his partner, Shada McKenzie, a gifted, empathic, and highly skilled traditional astrologer and reader of the tarot. 

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