I am fortunate to meet many new dispatchers in my travels. Some of them are even courageous enough to ask for advice on how to make sure they succeed in the profession. This blog is, in part, a tool to answer those questions. But one of the most unappreciated tools to ensure success are the habits we create when we first start out. Those little things we do every day to make sure we are focused, prepared, and ready to go into action. They can also help make sure we do the best job possible with every call, every day. Here are a few suggestions to help your professional and personal life as you start out in this career.
1) Have a set wake up time every day and stay as close to it as possible. Also, do not get up too close to the start time of your shift. Leave time in the couple of hours before your shift to eat breakfast (or whatever first meal is appropriate); read and relax a minute; take a walk or so some other physical exercise for at least 15 minutes; and make your way into work. Having a stressful start to your day then going into a stressful job is a recipe for emotional and physical disaster. In this case, getting that extra hour of sleep is not as helpful as managing the start of your day effectively.
2) Try to get to work at least fifteen minutes early. Take the time to grab your coffee or water, say hello to the off-going shift, learn about what is going on, and then start your work day. Rushing in like a crazy person, failing to develop your situational awareness, and just plopping down does not start your shift in an effective manner.
3) I know that we are in a paperless world, but the most important tool I ever used was a piece of scrap paper at my position. I blocked the paper (think tic-tac-toe board) and used each block for the notes to a specific call or incident. When I was done with that bloc I put one line through the block. The important part was that the information in the block was still legible if I needed to go back to it, but I also had tracked my completion of the related task.
4) If at all possible, get up and move around regularly. The human body is not designed to sit for long periods, or to have bad posture. This can lead to all kinds of health problems. On a related note, DITCH THE SODA! Water, Unsweetened Ice Tea; a respectable amount of coffee-- those are all fine. But avoid the sugary drinks at your position. Try to keep yourself hydrated. A good plan is to bring a very large water bottle-- drinking one on the first half of the shift and another bottle on the second half.
5) If possible in your center- rotate your position half way through the day. Doing one thing for eight, twelve, or sixteen hours can turn your brain into mush. Its not a bad idea to switch positions halfway through. This helps keep our minds fresh and gets us to use different skill sets.
6) Try to go for a walk on your break. Every little bit helps and even just a stroll around the parking lot helps combat the negative impacts of working at a console in a 9-1-1 center for a shift.
7) Read at least one professional article each shift. The world of 9-1-1 is always changing. There is never an end to what you can learn. During a down time, take a moment to read about something new, or how some other agency handled a major event. Whatever it is, make learning a part of everyday you spend at work.
8) When the time comes to leave, take some time to talk to the next person sitting in your seat. What happened during the shift? Is there something that the next person should really know about? This information exchange is a huge part of a successful 9-1-1 center.
9) When you leave the building for the day, take a few deep breaths. Think about something that went well during your shift. It doesn't have to be huge, even a small success is helpful. Too often we focus on the bad, even when there is only one bad thing compared to 500 good. Reflect on the good that happened during that day and head home.
Tomorrow's shift will be here before you know it.