Time Management Tips for Caregivers

family caregiver tips

Does it often feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day? When there is far too much to get done and not enough time, frustration and a feeling of hopelessness can set in. If you’re a family caregiver who also has outside work duties to handle and other family obligations, you can begin to feel overwhelmed even before your alarm goes off in the morning.

Though it might not seem like much consolation, you’re not alone. Nearly half of all family caregivers report trouble with balancing their paid work and caregiving duties. Seventy-five percent of respondents to an Aging in Place survey found that juggling the two is stressful, but about half of them found it overwhelming. Though 90% of them said that caring for a loved one was worthwhile, that doesn’t negate the stress of their busy days.

That stress can lead to serious consequences. According to the American Psychological Association, high levels of stress can lead to an increase in heart rate, an increase in stress hormones, and a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, or hypertension. Muscle tension is common, which can lead to pain and a higher risk of injury. Mental health can be affected as well, with up to 40% of family caregivers experiencing depression[1].

There are numerous products out there to make life easier, such as medical alert systems with fall detection for your loved one, aging in place home modifications to help prevent accident and injury, walkers, canes, and other mobility aids to keep your loved one more independent, and even lifts, swings, roll-in showers, and the like that can assist you with a senior who needs more physical help.

But sometimes, the greatest help doesn’t come from any sort of product. It can come from within – and that can start with time management.

Time Management for Family Caregivers

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day, and it’s important to prioritize your tasks. The problem family caregivers run into is that every task, big or small, can hold great significance. For instance, it’s just as important to take the time to laugh with your loved one as it is to bathe them. How do you juggle the variety of things you absolutely must do with the fact that there is only so much time in a day? Here are a few tips to help you get to a place of equilibrium.

Prioritize Your Well-Being

It seems like an impossible task. Of all the things you must do in a day, how in the world can you put yourself first? While it might be easy to brush off the exhaustion and say you’re fine, remember what every passenger is told to do on an airplane: Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. You absolutely must have enough energy for yourself first, or you will have nothing left to give anyone else.

That’s why it’s important to carve out even small snatches of time for yourself throughout the day, as well as longer stretches of time when you need to recharge. Every hour or so, take five minutes to step outside and take a deep breath, stretch your body, take a quick stroll around the yard, or simply sit in silence. If you have a bit more time, focus on something that matters to you, such as reading a poem, watching a 5 minute video on your favorite hobby, or calling a friend for a quick chat.

But those smaller bits of time, while important to power you through the day, aren’t enough. You also need to carve out longer stretches of time for you, such as 30 minutes at the end of the day to decompress or even a full day away from your responsibilities. Consider these your “oxygen mask moments.”

Come Up With a Plan

When you are dealing with a parent or elderly loved one who needs a lot of help, you need a plan. But even making one can feel overwhelming! According to LinkedIn, the average person has 13 different methods to manage their time. Here are a few that might help you:

·         Make a list of priorities. What absolutely must get done, and in what order? Focus on the things that you have to complete, starting from the most important. For instance, today you might need to take your parent to the doctor, and that’s the number one priority. That means that figuring out transportation is a top priority too. But that might mean that you don’t have the time to cook a nutritious meal, and it’s okay to rely on takeout.  For help with planning out tasks, turn to a notebook to keep a list in one place, or use an app if you are more tech-savvy. Apps like Remember the Milk or Toodledo can be sanity-savers.

·         Use the 4D plan. This works very simply to help you decide what truly matters and what doesn’t. It goes like this[2]:

o   Do: These are tasks that are urgent and very important (changing the dressing on a wound, for instance).

o   Defer: These are important tasks that aren’t urgent and can be completed later (such as organizing the medication dispenser).

o   Delegate: These are tasks that are urgent but someone else can do them for you (like picking up the dry cleaning).

o   Delete: These are tasks that aren’t urgent or important and can be removed from your list.

·         Track your time. To really understand where your time is going, start tracking what you do throughout the day. Set a timer for every hour and when it goes off, write down what you just did in that last hour. Track your habits for a week and then drill down into the information you’ve written down to figure out if there are any changes you’d like to make in how your time is spent.

·         See it through. When you start a task, finish it right then. For instance, if you bring the mail in, go through it while standing over the trash bin and throw out the junk immediately. The other mail should be dealt with appropriately, from filing something away to paying a bill to responding to an invitation. Do it right away and you won’t have a pile of things to do later.

·         Let go of the idea of perfection. For someone who is accustomed to cooking elaborate meals, the use of a crockpot might seem like a travesty. For someone who is accustomed to having a perfectly kept house, not dusting for a week can make them feel like a failure. But what’s worse is losing too much time, feeling stressed out about it, and not getting the important things done. So remind yourself that it’s okay if the house has a little dust and the chicken from the crockpot still tastes delicious! 

·         It’s okay to delegate. Sometimes you’ll realize that there really is too much to handle and there aren’t enough hours, or enough of you, to get it all done. That’s when it’s time to reach out to a professional caregiver or another family member, even if it’s just for a short break. If you’re not ready to go that route, talk to family members about taking on some chores for you, such as taking the car for an oil change or picking up your loved one’s medications.

Get Your Physical Space Organized

Did you know that a person with a messy desk at work spends over an hour a day just looking for things or getting distracted by something[3]? The same is true when you are dealing with a cluttered house. Not only does it create a fall risk to have so many things lying around, it can make it tough to find those much-needed slippers or even that medication you just know you put right there on the table a few days ago. While strong protections can help, such as using a medical alert pendant, there is no substitute for simply cleaning and organizing the space. If it’s too overwhelming, call in someone to help you – even if that someone is a professional.

Make Planning a Daily Habit

It can be easy to become so overwhelmed that we simply take care of the task in front of us and move immediately to the next one, with no plan other than dealing with what comes up. But studies have found that 10-12 minutes of planning out your day can save you a whopping two hours of time[4]! Use one of the time management hacks listed above to plan out your day from the start. Sometimes this will be easier, such as when you and your elderly parent are at home all day, but harder when you take that parent out to the doctor.

Let Technology Help

In addition to using an app-based option to plan out your days, there are many ways you can incorporate technology into daily life to help you get through the hours. For instance, turn the task of vacuuming over to a robotic vacuum. Change out that original fixed showerhead with a handheld one for easier bathing. Invest in a medical alert device for your loved one to provide everyone with better peace of mind. Use an automatic medication dispenser to handle and remember those pills. If there is some way to use technology to buy a little bit of time during the day and/or make your life easier, use it!

Look Into Respite Care

Only about 15% of family caregivers in the United States receive any sort of respite care[5]. That’s a shockingly low number that conveys how difficult it is for a caregiver to put themselves first! Not only is it important to remember that taking a break from your parent or elderly loved one is okay, it’s essential for your own physical and mental health, as well as safety. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to make mistakes. And when you’re dealing with medications and such, one mistake could have serious consequences.

But besides that, perhaps your loved one needs a break from you as well. It can be quite easy for things to get contentious when you’re tired or frustrated. Time apart from the person you are caring for – no matter how much you love them – will allow both of you to recharge the batteries and come back together with a sunnier outlook.

As always, Alert1 wishes you and all those you care for a safe, happy, healthy lifestyle!