By, Nicole Ruggiano, PhD, MSW
Caregiving can be a time intensive activity, and caregiving needs can sometimes be unpredictable. That can pose a lot of challenges for caregivers, who are often also full-time workers and have other family responsibilities. Even though most caregivers are happy that they are able to care for their loved one, caregiving can still be exhausting.
How often do you feel tired at the end of the day? You are not alone! According to a recent study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, among caregivers of older adults:
Time Management Tips for Caregivers
Have Reasonable Expectations
As caregiving duties become more intense, caregivers are more likely to feel overwhelmed and even be down on themselves when they aren't able to "do it all." In my experience in interviewing caregivers, many report feeling stressed and depressed that they cannot complete all of the tasks they would like to do over the course of a day or week. If you are feeling like this, ask yourself if it is reasonable to complete all of the tasks you are trying to complete on a day-to-day basis.
If you aren't sure if you are being reasonable with yourself, here is an exercise I often ask caregivers to do. Imagine that someone close to you - a friend or family member - recently came to you because they have taken on the role of caregiver to someone they care about. This close friend or family member is distraught because they are trying to juggle all of the same things that you have been juggling lately. They are feeling depressed and ashamed that they cannot complete all of their tasks in a day or week. What advice would you give him or her?
Delegate Specific Tasks to Specific People
Sometimes, people will offer to help us when we are in need, but if we do not tell them specifically what we need from them or when we need their help, they may not follow up. They may also feel that when they do not hear from you about specific things you need help with that other family members or friends have filled in to support you.
One suggestion to help overcome the bystander effect is to be specific with friends and family members about what they can be helpful with. For instance:
Adjust How Tasks are Done
You may be used to completing daily tasks a certain way. For instance, you may have always cooked from scratch, go grocery shopping every week, or go to the mall or store to buy things you need. Consider how making alterations to these activities could save you time. For instance, buying more prepared foods at the store can save you time from cooking. Having groceries delivered can save you an hour or more. Purchasing clothes and other non-food needs on the internet can save you time, as well. Another example might be signing up for direct deposit where you can reduce the number of times you have to go to the bank during the month. Sometimes such adjustments may feel like "cheating," but after time you may realize that you have less stress in trying to complete these errands.
Make Lists and Prioritize
When there are so many things that need to be done that you become overwhelmed, sometimes making a list and prioritize them can help make you feel like your to-do list is more manageable. For example, if you list five tasks that you need to do in the near future but only three of them need to be completed today, that takes the pressure off from doing things that can be put off until later without consequences. AARP suggests that you even divide tasks into categories of what you need to do, what you may need to do, and what you want to do. In my own experience, I make a list every day on a post-it note and cross off tasks as they are complete. At the end of the day, anything I didn't complete goes onto the post-it note for the next day.
Explore Technologies that May Save Time
Technology has advanced incredibly over the past decade and there are many software programs and apps that can be used to save time. Some caregivers may feel intimidated in using new technologies. However, with some guidance from fiends, family members, and providers, they may find that they are easier to navigate once they have tried a few times. Here are some examples of technologies that can save time:
Make Time for Self-Care
Many caregivers tell me that they don't have time to care for themselves. It's often hard to explain to them how important self-care is for providing the best care for their loved one. It's similar to the instructions that flight attendants give you before taking off on a plane, "If the oxygen masks are released during an emergency, put your own mask on before helping others." Finding ways to better manage our time is more difficult when you are in crisis mode. Managing your expectations and asking for help can be instrumental in keeping you grounded, organized, and feeling more in control of your life.
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AARP's Time Management for the Caregiver can provide more information about time management strategies.
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