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Think Cows Not Racehorses: A How-to-Guide for Avoiding Post-Conference Overwhelm

I can almost hear the hoof beats from here.

You return from a conference flying high with ideas, passion and evidence. When you walk into the NICU, you might even see certain practices through a whole new lens, an invisible film now removed from your vision.

The tendency is to gallop in, race forward with all the new ideas, things to be done, your head spinning, pondering what to do first. You tend to share this information in fire hose fashion with your colleagues, drowning them in details, practices, stories. This is FUN by the way. But after the initial excitement and sharing, the racehorse approach can leave you reeling, unfocused, and in the end, exhausted by possibility and scattered action.

My mentor affectionately refers to me as a farm animal. (I promise it’s a compliment. Hang with me.) She noted that in the midst of 1,000 details and possibilities I somehow remain undistracted, head down, plowing through each detail, step by meticulous step.

This farm animal concept was soon illustrated by my mentor and me sharing photos of cows with each other. And so it began – the cow as a symbol of steady, forward progress.

What’s the 1st Step in Avoiding Post-Conference Overwhelm?

Take one small conscious step at time.

You might roll your eyes and think, “No kidding. Wow that was enlightening.” (Especially if you haven’t had coffee yet.)

But here’s the truth: this is NOT how we typically work.

We typically return from a conference with a myriad of new ideas, which is the whole point of said conference.

However, we also feel some underlying rush to implement ALL of those ideas. Or we’re not sure where to begin. We notice that there are major practice areas that need updating, refining or complete overhaul.

We CARE about making this right. We race toward the finish line at the exclusion of our own time, health, and sanity.

But there is another way.

After sharing your excitement, ideas, and new information (which again is FUN and a necessary first step in processing) take some time and try this:

  • Take several days to reflect on what you’ve learned.
  • Compare that knowledge to gaps in your NICU’s practice.
  • Make a list of emerging priorities.
  • Weigh those priorities according to patient safety and/or how well they align (or not) under NICU and hospital priorities (enables you to gain support for your initiatives).
  • Choose just ONE.
  • Write it down.
  • Take just ONE STEP forward toward that initiative.
  • Think small. Remember, you’re plowing the field, not racing toward the finish line. Is the first step an email to the NICU nurse manager, to your neonatal therapy colleagues, to the speaker that presented the information you need to share? Is the first step blocking out just one hour a week on your schedule to address this initiative? (That COUNTS as a step forward. Write it down and cross it off when you block out that time!)
  • When that step is complete, all you need to consider is, “What is my very next step?” Anything else will leave you overwhelmed or distracted.
  • And when things get mucky and tedious (which they do out there in the field) take a moment and reconnect with the core of your initiative i.e. improving infant safety, improving parent bonding, improving developmental outcomes, creating a higher standard of neonatal therapy in your unit. Watch a video, tape a photo of a cow near your workspace, or read something that inspires you – whatever it takes to reconnect with the heart of it all. Breathe. And know you’re not alone.

Then take your next ONE step forward.

Pretty soon, you’ll look up and realize you’ve plowed the whole field. And maintained your sanity doing it.