In the fast-paced world of first responders, every second counts. Effective time management isn’t just a skill – it’s a lifeline. We’ve put together the essential time management tips that will help you navigate multiple demands, changing priorities, and importantly, a life outside of work.

Tip #1: Plan ahead.

Look at your work schedule within the context of family and social commitments. Then create a master calendar that has everything on it at-a-glance.

  • Write down your work schedule, family time, “you” time, and social commitments. Plug them into your calendar. Pro Tip: If you’re using a computer, you can color code by work and non-work time.
  • The master calendar doesn’t need detail. It’s an overview for your reference.
  • Note any larger projects/events that you will need to address (work or otherwise), and schedule the tasks associated with those into your calendar. This helps you break down a large commitment into smaller bite-sized tasks. Add a deadline to each task.
  • Place this in a calendar that you see daily. This way you won’t overcommit or forget about meetings or tasks, and you can review and adjust as needed.

Tip #2: Set priorities.

Work can be quiet or chaotic for first responders. You’ll want to prepare, knowing that at any given moment, you might need to change course.

  • Set your work goals for the week. Some people use a spreadsheet with columns for tasks, person responsible, and status.
  • Organize each goal by priority: high or low. You can use color coding to provide a visual distinction.
  • Use this weekly list to create a daily checklist. Put high priorities first on that list.
  • Anticipate potential problems and prepare contingency plans. Schedules and commitments frequently change, so allow extra time for tasks.

Tip #3: Establish a routine.

You may not be able to control the emergencies, but you can determine how you will tackle the workload. Creating a regular routine can help.

  • Start your day in a way that will energize you mentally and physically. Give yourself enough time to eat and hydrate before a shift.
  • Tackle the top priority items first when you get to work.
  • Leave the lower priorities for when you have extra time. That way you won’t invest too much in noncritical tasks.
  • For the first week or so, keep a daily activity log. This will help you track what you’re doing. Then you can review and adjust your schedule as needed.

Tip #4: Minimize distractions at work.

It’s easy to get sidelined by distractions, from conversations in the office to emails, texts, and social media. Pay attention to the distractions that keep you from being productive, then take steps to minimize them.

  • Turn off email notifications or sounds from your computer and phone.
  • Set a time each day where you will check messages for a specified amount of time only. You may want to do it every hour on the hour for a 5-minute period, or if communications are less critical, then at the start, middle, and end of your shift.
  • Close your door to minimize conversations, or let colleagues know that you’re unavailable for a certain time.
  • Stay off the Internet so you’re not tempted to surf the web. Designate web surfing time at home.

Tip #5: Avoid multi-tasking.

It may seem as if you’re doing much more by multi-tasking, but splitting your attention between tasks is less productive. You’ll have better outcomes and feel less drained if you tackle one task at a time.

  • Try the 20-minute rule. Set a timer. Tackle a task for 20 minutes. As the timer sounds, decide if you will continue for another 20 minutes or put the task down for later.
  • Remove everything from your desk or screen except the work you are doing. This will help you to focus on one task.
  • Don’t start on anything else until you have finished the task at hand.
  • If you do want to switch gears, put away the first project and bring out the new one.

 Tip #6: Remove things from your to-do list.

You don’t have to do everything even though some days it may feel like that. Remember that you are part of a team working toward the same goal, and similarly part of a family unit or friend group.

  • Don’t invest time in tasks that have no long-term effects. These are naturally low priority.
  • Focus your energy on tasks that you alone can accomplish and ask a team member to complete the others.
  • Say no to tasks that you don’t have time for, especially last-minute requests that are low priority.
  • If you can’t say no, don’t say yes immediately. Ask if you can let them know. That way you can better evaluate the commitment.

Tip #7: Be flexible.

Priorities change, things happen, and the best laid plans may have to be adjusted. Be ready, and flexible enough to make those changes.

  • Schedule 50% of your day, allowing time for emergencies. If there are no emergencies, then you will get more done.
  • Plan for high-priority tasks first and leave lower priority tasks for the remainder of your shift.
  • Be mindful when you are going off track. Adjust priorities accordingly.
  • If you’re interrupted and can’t seem to re-engage with work, tackle a lower priority task.

Tip #8: Get enough sleep.

You need to be well-rested to be the most productive. We know it may be hard to get enough sleep when working 12-hour shifts or double shifts.

  • Set your thermostat to about 65 degrees for optimum sleeping temperature.
  • Create a bedtime routine that does not include devices or television. Sometimes a warm shower or bath can help just prior to bed.
  • Use a white noise machine or wear ear plugs to soften distracting noise.
  • Use blackout shades or curtains and/or wear an eye mask.
  • Try to go to bed at the same time every day even on your off days.

Tip #9: Leave work at work.

Separating work and home are essential for you to feel rested and recharged. If you’re able to manage your time effectively at work, you should be able to leave it there.

  • Use your commute to decompress from work.
  • Create an after-work ritual, whether it’s listening to music, watching a favorite show, changing into PJs, that signals you are done working.
  • Resist the temptation to bring work home or to check emails on your days off. Know that your colleagues can handle anything that is needed.
  • Take care of your mental health. Be aware of signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Seek professional help if needed.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or


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