Time Management Strategies for Caregivers

Written by NY Press on . Posted in Healthy Manhattan, Special Sections.


By Carol Bradley Bursack

Don’t let the title scare, you, folks. I’m not presenting a “system” here. Personally, I’ve never seen a chart or graph designed to help me organize my life that I didn’t intentionally ignore. “Systems” designed by experts never seems to consider my life or personality. They seemed like cardboard cutouts, made for some dream life. Textbook examples often don’t take real life into account. My response to most “systems” would be a quiet, internal “You are not me.”

That being said, tips and thoughts from people whose lives have closely mirrored mine, in at least some aspects, have been generally welcome. I like stories. I like knowing how people make their lives work. If ideas are presented to me that way, I feel the flexibility of personalities and lifestyles blending, and that makes suggestions sound less like demands that I “shape up” and act like other people. I can then assimilate the story, take what works for me and ignore the rest—guilt free.

So, please take my suggestions in that manner. I’ve discussed some ideas with other caregivers, including those who care for elders and one man who cares for a child with disabilities. Our time management techniques aren’t that different. When we care for vulnerable people, we are all much alike.

Expect the Unexpected 

For me, the need to be prepared for anything is mandatory. During my heaviest caregiving years, I cared for two children, one with multiple health problems, plus multiple elders. During their last years, several of my elders lived in a nearby nursing home, while I worked full time, so that care was a blessing. I could visit daily, but still know they were cared for while I worked at my “real world” job.

However, a call to my work phone could mean that I needed to leave work to meet one of my elders at the emergency room, or that my son was very ill. It could mean something as simple as one more errand to run for one of my elders, or that it was time to plan hospice care for an elder. I must say a ringing phone can still, at times, be a scary thing for me, triggering a reaction much like the old days when people thought a telegram meant only one thing: someone had died. Knowing I was somewhat prepared for an emergency did have a calming effect to some degree. It still does. Here’s a little sample of my “plan.” Improvise to figure out what works for you.

My employer allowed me to take vacation by the hour, so I hoarded vacation hours for emergencies and for medical appointments for my care receivers.

I shopped as though I was preparing for a disaster, buying multiples of everything any of my care receivers could possibly want, because they always seemed to want what they wanted immediately, and something inside of me made me think I had to deliver. When my mother died, I threw out three—yes three—bottles of the makeup she liked. Shall we say I was a bit excessive about this?

I kept food around that my son could make for himself, should I be called away to tend to one of the elders, which happened frequently. Again, I often threw out my over-stocked food items, but having all needs met for each individual made me feel better prepared, which meant I felt less frantic.

I filled prescriptions as soon as the insurance companies allowed, knowing that a day could come when one person needed a prescription filled and I was too tied up with the needs of another to run to the store and get that errand done.

Many of us have a to-do list that is so long we feel overwhelmed. That is sometimes called analysis paralysis. Say, your mom wants you to go through her closet and get things organized, but your kids need a school project finished and only you can help. Your employer wants you to get rolling on a “fresh, new idea,” while the Medicaid papers for your dad are sitting on your desk at home. All of the projects are important. Where do you start?

Prioritize

That may seem obvious, but it does help. Make a list, yes, but don’t worry about perfection. Make the list flexible. But do write things down. That helps. I find that crossing off just one thing—even something as simple as getting the special shampoo dad needed—crossed off my list, made my day seem a little easier.

Bite off chunks

Realize that everything you do doesn’t have to be done completely or perfectly. The Medicaid forms need to be filled out accurately, but you don’t have to do it all in one day. The closet cleaning can be done imperfectly. Just do enough to make your mom feel that you are tending to her needs. Let the rest go.

Learn that good enough is good enough. Each and every thing you attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. Expecting myself to do everything perfectly can be my biggest time waster, as I can’t get started if I think I have to do it all to perfection.

Lower your standards

Yes, your mom kept a spotless house. Well, maybe that’s what she did during the day. You are working for several people here. Give yourself a break. Rarely has dusty furniture killed anyone.

Find shortcuts that make you feel better

A quick neatening up, even if it means tossing stuff in a closet, can help some people de-clutter their minds. That can bring some peace. Let the true de-cluttering wait until your life is a little smoother.

Less is more

Try to help others learn this, too. Getting rid of “stuff” and not replacing it can be freeing. I know this is a hard concept to pass on to someone who can’t let go of anything, especially an elder who is now forced to give up so much. But if you live your life with that philosophy, without trying to impose it on others, you may find some of that mentality gets absorbed through osmosis.

Taking Care of Yourself 

In a way, time management is a way of taking care of ourselves. Efficiency in “doing for others” may actually leave us a little time for ourselves. Frankly, for most of us, if we don’t do anything to take care of ourselves, even if it’s finding 20 minutes to take a nap, we’ll become less efficient with everything else, and that can cause a downward spiral. Perhaps, taking care of ourselves should be first on our “time management” list. I thought of that, actually. But I figured everyone would laugh and quit reading.

Do try it, however. Most of us are better people, and better caregivers, if we have a little time to do something we enjoy. Our burning out won’t help anyone. If we look at our priority list, we can surely find something that we can put lower on the list, and scoot up our own health care or mental health break a few notches. If we do that, the other time eaters may fall into place, or get so low on the list we can let them drop off, like dust when we shake a rug.

Good luck with your own list and please let us know if you have other time-saving ideas.

Article courtesy of AgingCare.com, a leading website that connects people caring for elderly parents to other caregivers, personalized information and local resources. AgingCare.com has become the trusted resource for exchanging ideas, sharing conversations and finding credible information for those seeking elder care solutions.


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