Ask the Experts

Q: I’m Always the Last One to Leave Work!

We all have to-do list items that get pushed and pushed and pushed to the bottom because they are so boring or overwhelming or onerous. For this nurse, it’s the daily chore of completing patients’ charts that keeps her after hours. Here, organization guru Leslie Josel offers a clever strategy for anyone who needs an extra dose of motivation.

Dear Organizing Coach: “I’m a 49-yr-old RN with ADHD who works the night shift. I’m successful in providing PT care and but I have difficulty with time management at work. I am always the last to leave work because I’m behind in getting charting completed. At home, clutter is a big problem; my kitchen area and living room are tidy but piles clutter other rooms. Clutter causes anxiety. I often feel plagued by feelings of being unsuccessful, and I feel stuck in a cycle of attempting to tackle clutter but never finishing the job or waiting until the last minute, which causes me stress.”  — DLo757


Hi DL0757:

Always relying on our own internal motivation is exhausting. And it sounds like you ALWAYS need to be motivated to get stuff done, whether at home or at work. So try using the external motivation of your environment instead.

Are you tactile? Would pretty pens or file folders help you complete your charting more quickly? Do you respond to color? Can you surround yourself at work with colorful objects that will help you get going and stay focused on your tasks? Or perhaps you have a favorite snack? Sometimes pairing something we desire (a delicious cup of tea) with the undesirable (getting those charts completed!) provides motivation.

[Free Handout: How to Manage Your Time at Work]

Have you tried playing music while you work? Music helps the brain plan, focus, and initiate. Create a playlist of your favorite tunes. The key is to play the same playlist every time you sit down to do work. Eventually the music will act as a motivator; when you hear the soundtrack, it will signal your brain that it’s time to get work done.

Now about that paper clutter. You mention that you feel unsuccessful at finishing tackling the piles. The thing about paper clutter is that it never stops. Even when you feel like you might have it under control, another batch comes your way!

The key to staying on top of paper piles is to create an easy and efficient system that works for YOU! If you’re an “out-of-site, out-of-mind” girl, then set up a wall system that is visible and keeps what you need top-of-mind. Get creative. Filing cabinets are old news! Think wall files, magazine holders, and binders, even labeled bins. The goal is to create a system that you can comfortably set-up, maintain, and access.

When it doubt, throw it out. I’m a little cold-hearted when it comes to this. But before ANY paper gets into my house, it is sorted over the recycling bin or the shredder. Most paper isn’t personal so don’t treat it as such. Make hard cuts and get rid of what you don’t need before it takes up space in your home — and your head.

[19 Ways to Meet Deadlines and Get Things Done]


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, answers questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to Dear Organizing Coach here!

Updated on December 17, 2018

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  1. I can’t say how to fix this issue, I suffer from the same issue on the floor, but I can say it has nothing to do with motivation. That response actually is part of the problem for adults like us. I’m highly motivated, it had been said to me by more than one person “no one works harder than you do, but no one gets less done.” We are not lazy, crazy or stupid to borrow from the title of the famed ADHD book. This is a time management and organization issue. This is how my ADHD was found and led to being diagnosed. We are always last to leave because we have difficulty: clustering tasks efficiently, going to the linen cart once instead of the times because we forgot something, because we constantly retrace our own steps and have to repeat things we’ve already done. We aren’t going to let our patients go to do that charting so it gets pushed to last, often on our own time because we ran out of time. Every time someone interrupts our counting and we have to start over, or can’t remember what we went to the supply room for because someone asked is something on the way. We expel so much energy making sure we “do no harm” we essentially end up always working doubles because we do twice as much just to get to the finish line every day. That’s not even mentioning the torment we put ourselves through once we are home because we are always running everything we did at work through our heads to make sure we didn’t miss anything. This is every nurse, if they are any good, but throw ADHD in and it’s a never ending quagmire. My hypothesis as to why this is such an issue specifically on the floor, in facility bedside nursing, is the requirements of the job itself leave little room for modification in ones organization. ADHD brains don’t work the same; we don’t organize the same. I was never able to figure it out to be fast enough. I went to home health. It’s a completely different world organization wise. I am still the slowest one, but I have the time. I had to accept I just can’t keep up on the floor, but in home health, with control over my caseload, I’m able to care for people safely, effectively, and much more efficiently. If you want to do better on the floor, find the nurse you work with who has the organization down and is good at teaching. Also areas with lower patient/nurse ratios, like critical care are better units to work in. The case is more complicated, but your attention is split in less directions. You also spend less time chasing other people in these units, and you have more control. What ADHD RN doesn’t love to have control!

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