If family caregivers could get one thing to improve their lives in the new year, for many it would be more time.
Time to finish what they begin, time to complete the to do list one day each week, and time to be with their senior loved one without having to run to do something else.
Oh yeah, most importantly of all, time to care for themselves!
How do we get more time in the day? Impossible, you say?
Well, maybe not.
Tips for Managing Time
There are only 24 hours in a day and what seem like a million details to oversee for your senior loved one and your own family.
We can’t put more time in the day, but we can put more organization into our day to relieve some stress that the lack of time creates.
Making the best use of the time you have with good preparation and planning will help you accomplish your goals and reduce your stressors.
(1) Activity Lists
Keep a list of things you want to accomplish each day. This can be done either in writing or on the computer – whichever is easier for you. There are a number of mobile apps that let you keep your list with you.
You can have a basic schedule with time for lunch, nap time and specific activities for the days of the week such as laundry or groceries. Then as new things join the schedule like a doctor or dentist visit, it can be added to the routine list.
Once you have the basic schedule, it will not take long to update it with new activities. Review it a day or two ahead to be sure you can be properly prepared to meet the deadlines. You can do this when you have a free minute (like when you use the restroom).
(2) Prioritize Activities
Prioritize using the written list you have created. What on today’s to-do list must be completed? What items can slide by to the next day or free time?
(3) A Place for Everything
Establish a place for everything and then keep everything in its place.
Don’t waste time looking for things that you need often like glasses, car keys or telephone book.
Keeping your senior loved one’s favorite pajamas where they can find them or the blue striped socks in the top of the dresser can help them care for themselves and relieve you from locating their favorite things.
Get ready for each day the night before.
Lay out clothes, including under garments, socks and shoes, the night before to reduce the amount of time it takes to get ready especially when there is an appointment you must make on time.
Your senior can help you make choices to maintain their independence and dignity, just don’t wait until the last minute when the clock is ticking to pick the outfit.
Is there anything you need to bring that can be placed by the door like papers for the doctor, money for the haircut or equipment?
(5) Schedule Time for Your Own Needs
Put personal time on your schedule. It is easy to overlook our own needs as caregivers but when it is planned you will find it easier to get yourself to the doctor or lunch with friends. It will help you plan ahead for a substitute caregiver or respite program to allow you to have time for yourself.
(6) Accept help
Because you have a to-do list and a schedule, it is now easier to say yes or hand out assignments to others who may want to help you.
Can you let someone else do the shopping with the grocery list, let someone come and read to your senior loved one while you get your haircut, or can someone cut the lawn for you?
You don’t have to do it all yourself, actually you can’t do it all and still care for yourself. Let others help or seek people to help whether they offer or get enlisted.
(7) Do not disturb!
Some caregivers and seniors have many visitors – too many sometimes. Church friends, neighbors, second or third cousins and others who want to stop by and say hi because they know you are home.
While a good majority of the time they are very welcome and will help you with duties (see #6) but sometimes they are a hindrance to accomplishing something that you want to do, such as helping your senior bathe, having time to eat without distractions or allowing them a needed rest time.
It is OK to hang the do not disturb sign on the door and suggest a more convenient time for a visit. Most people who are aware of your situation will understand and perhaps call ahead of time before a visit to check to see if it is a good time. The sign on the door when needed will help those who aren’t considering your caregiving needs.
(8) Take care of yourself
Get enough sleep and food. You will have a harder time completing daily tasks if you are fatigued or ill.
Taking time for undisturbed sleep will help you be more productive.
If your senior loved one doesn’t sleep well or wanders, get some respite at night so that you can get some much needed sleep during the week for yourself while someone else oversees your loved one.
(9) Give up the pursuit of perfection
It is ok that everything is not done as you would do it when you have a helper. It is ok if the bed isn’t made today. It is ok that things aren’t exactly as they used to be in the house.
It is more important that your senior loved one is safe, happy and you are spending time with them, not just caring for them.
It is important that you don’t sweat the small stuff at the expense of your own health.
(10) Say “No” sometimes
Sometimes family caregivers have to say no when asked to do more. Perhaps there are things you want to do but know that your day won’t handle anymore tasks (because you have made a schedule).
You can’t watch the grandchildren on Tuesday but maybe you can on Thursday.
Don’t accept things you can’t manage. Others will understand that you have a priority that must be met on that day or time.
Time – A Precious Resource
Time is a commodity most family caregivers can’t afford to squander.
Sure, if we don’t finish everything we think we need to accomplish each day no one will know. The problem is you know and it leads to stress. In order to make up for missed opportunities one day, we tend to pile on even more things for the next day.
This just heightens the expectations we have for ourselves and worsens the stress caregivers feel.
Burnout is a real possibility for family caregivers who get overwhelmed with daily chores that somehow never quite get done and dangle over our heads.
Try some of these (and other) time management tips to help you manage your day and care for yourself! You’ll enjoy your day and your caregiving role even more when you do!