Finding Balance

Smart Time Management Tips for Family Caregivers

person with mobile phoneAs a marketing professional with a demanding career, my days can be a busy mix of juggling marriage, home and ever-changing work priorities. 

Tack on being a caregiver for my mother—an additional role I’ve had for more than a decade—and a normal day can be downright hectic. 

When my mother began living in an assisted living facility, I sincerely believed that her ongoing care and health issues would be easier to manage. After all, wasn’t all the basic help she needed just a button-click away? However, Mom proved to be rather “high maintenance” until she got settled in and my daily calendar could not catch a break.

During those earlier years of juggling Mom’s care with everything else, I felt as if I was being pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions. Most days I winged it, willing myself to press ahead and tackle each task as best as I could. I was not proactive about planning at all and my life was feeling out of balance because of it. To take back control of my life each day, I had to master the art of time management. If you’re feeling anywhere near as overwhelmed as I was, here are strategies I used to reclaim my time and my peace of mind.

Conquer Your Calendar

The first step I took in adopting smart time management habits was consolidating my various calendars. That meant combining my work calendar, my personal agenda, and my mother’s care schedule all in one comprehensive timetable. Clarifying this daily accounting of all my various tasks and responsibilities allowed me to track each hour of my day and made life much more manageable.  

A big part of consolidating my calendar was taking advantage of technology.  I used Google Calendar, which includes features that allow me to color code my various appointments and set automated reminders. With this invaluable tool in my caregiving kit, I was able to keep up with my mother’s events and appointments more efficiently, plan my days and weeks more proactively, and give Mom reminders to keep her informed and on track. For ideas on how to make technology easier for your aging parent, check out this article: Making Technology for Seniors Easier and Less Frustrating for Family Caregivers.

Optimizing Your Day 

With all of my engagements captured in one place, I was able to thoughtfully plan activities in advance instead of being at the mercy of whatever dates and times a physician provided. Carefully pre-planning my day gave me the power to book follow-up medical appointments on the same day and/or in conjunction with dental, vision, and beauty appointments that are en route from each other. I was able to take care of multiple tasks in one day while maximizing my drive time, cutting down on trips back and forth to facilities, and avoiding any potential traffic snares. 

For example, an appointment day with my mother may look like this:

9am – 9:30am – Lab work

10am – 11am – Routine checkup

11:30am – 1pm – Lunch outing

1:30pm – 2:30pm – Pharmacy (flu vaccine and meds pickup)

3pm – 4pm – Annual vision exam

4:30pm – Return home for dinner at 5pm

Though my mother’s facility offers transportation to medical appointments, I learned that it is much better to be present. Providing emotional support and logistical assistance on these visits proved critical and I was glad to remain in the loop on any health updates.

With careful coordination, I was also able to build in fun and relaxing activities like lunch at a favorite restaurant or a quick shopping excursion. Scheduling these pleasurable moments in the midst of our appointment day was a great way to help Mom feel less apprehensive about medical appointments. Because we never knew what our medical visits might reveal, the fun outings also brightened our day and gave us a chance to take our minds off of difficult health developments.  

Take Advantage of Downtime to Free Up Your Evenings

Operating at a level 10 throughout the day can be physically and mentally draining which is why enjoying a relaxing evening of brainless activity is key to preventing caregiver burnout. To give yourself the treat of true downtime each night, it’s a good idea to make use of those gaps in your day by multitasking and taking care of any business you can conduct on a mobile device.  

During those times spent between appointments, standing in line, or waiting in the patients’ lounge to be seen by a service provider, you can:

    • Pay bills online. If you haven’t set up automatic payments for your utilities and monthly services, there’s often the option to visit utility websites and make payments there.
    • Communicate with doctors via patient portals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers expanded their telehealth capabilities to enable secure communications and virtual visits by email or web.
  • Respond to emails. It is incredibly simple to add your email account to your mobile device’s built-in mail setup to avoid dealing with a backlog of messages at the end of your day. 

During the schedule above, I was able to leverage the four collective hours between appointments to be tremendously productive without having to return home or to the office afterward. I found it quite beneficial to pop into the pharmacy while on the way to the optometrist to get a flu shot for myself and pick up prescription refills. Here’s a secret tip: While major pharmacy chains don’t usually allow early pickup, I’ve found that local neighborhood pharmacies often do, which can save you a trip.

Spend Money to Save Time

With each passing year, I’ve come to understand just how precious and finite a resource time is. I’ve come to cherish each minute I spend doing something I enjoy. Finally, I’ve realized that while I can earn more money, I can’t get back any time I’ve wasted. This is why I don’t mind spending money on conveniences that allow me more time with my loved ones and the ability to do those things that enrich my mind, body, and spirit. If it makes sense for you and your needs, then I strongly encourage you to evaluate the demands on your time and finances to determine if paying for certain conveniences is worth it for you.

In my case, online shopping, grocery delivery, and mobile services have all been a real godsend for me and my family. In a time crunch, or if I just want to avoid the hassle, I’ve found that paying a little more for these services enables me to get more things done around the house, gather more time for exercise, have uninterrupted quality time with my kids, and gain more moments to relax. 

While waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been able to order groceries for the week, and schedule the delivery time to coincide with when I’ll be at home to receive them. I’ve also taken advantage of curbside pickup from a store location that’s on my route back home. I’ve done this with clothing, gifts, household items, knick-knacks…you name it!

Because mobility issues have affected my mother’s ability to pick up her own groceries, I’m able to shop for her online and have her items delivered directly to her. I’ve even set up recurring delivery for items she needs regularly. This saves us on the time it would take to make a trip to the store as well as gas.  

In many metropolitan areas, mobile service providers include everything from home health physical therapy to mobile pedicurists and hairstylists. I can schedule these services for myself and my mother during a time that works best for our schedules and without having to travel. 

Get Smart, Not Frazzled, with Better Time Management 

For working professionals who are caring for an elderly adult on top of marital and family demands,  it can often feel like 24 hours is simply not enough time each day. It can also feel as if you’re somehow failing. Both feelings are false. First, if you’re doing the very best you can, then you’re doing a fantastic job.  Second, if you are willing to take the time to organize your calendar, plan ahead, and thoughtfully leverage technology, you can establish a rhythm that gives you both balance and rest while conquering your to-do list. 

I’ve shared these ideas in the hopes of helping you “win” each day in your caregiving journey. If you have any strategies on time management for caregivers not mentioned here, I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to share them with our community of family caregiving friends here. Hang in there! 

Enjoy the journey.