There’s no doubt that caregiving can be one of the most gratifying jobs on the planet. Being of service to an aging loved one can be deeply emotionally fulfilling—the bond between caregivers and older adults is an extremely special one. Still, the day-to-day tasks can sometimes feel overwhelming, for good reason.
Juggling caring for an elderly parent or aging loved one while managing your own family life, plus work, is a lot to handle. In some cases, caregiving can even lead to chronic stress and possibly burnout. Thankfully, there are some great time-management tools that caregivers can use to make their schedules a little easier. When you master time management, you’ll feel more empowered, less stressed, and able to achieve goals on both a daily and long-term basis—not to mention, you’ll have more energy to share quality time with your aging loved one.
Time-Management Tools for Caregivers
There are a few strategic time-management tools that can help to lessen the amount of stress you feel on a daily basis.
- Make a List
One of the foundations of time management, list-making can help you organize your tasks and prioritize them. Basically, it can turn an unwieldy ball of stress into bite-size, manageable chunks.
— Use online resources: There are a bunch of helpful list-making tools available online for free—Scribbless and Workflowy are just two suggestions.
— Always Prioritize First: After writing all of your tasks down, prioritize items according to urgency. Categorize each task as ‘today,’ ‘tomorrow,’ and ‘later.’ Tackle everything marked ‘today’ first, and get to the rest if you can.
— Choose a Starting Point: Start with the easiest thing—or the hardest. Getting the toughest task out of the way immediately can be energizing and relieving. But if you find yourself procrastinating, just start with something easy. Sometimes accomplishing one small thing can motivate you to do more.
— Determine Your Approach: Mono-task or multitask. Some activities are perfect for pairing together, especially when you can involve your aging loved one. For example, you might want to do simple cleaning tasks while engaging your loved one with a memory quiz. Other times it’s better to focus on a single task only, like making an important phone call or taking care of bills. Use your judgment for the right approach.
- Delegate Tasks
Especially for those who are their loved one’s primary caregiver, asking for help and delegating tasks can free up valuable time.
— Ask friends and relatives: Check in with family members or close friends to see if they can help with jobs like driving your loved one to appointments or preparing daily meals.
— Reduce financial stress: If you have family members who live far away, find out whether they can pitch in from afar by paying bills.
— Check in with yourself: Notice if you’re struggling to ask for help, and remember that delegating tasks is part of being a great caregiver.
— Hire a part-time professional: Getting outside help for even just a few hours per week can really help ease your personal stress—so much so that the financial tradeoff will be worth it.
- Schedule Breaks
It might sound counterintuitive, but taking breaks is one of the best things you can do to increase your productivity. Giving yourself a break will also do wonders to prevent burnout.
— Set non-negotiable breaks: Schedule a few 10-minute breaks throughout your day, as well as a 30 minute one. These should be non-negotiable—unless there’s an emergency, you’re obligated to take time out!
— Take “me” time: Use your breaks to do something you enjoy. This could be a simple crossword puzzle, yoga, reading, walking outside, phoning a friend, or just closing your eyes for a bit.
— Make a date night: Have a regular weekly date night with a close friend or loved one. For bonus points, don’t talk about anything work-related during it!
— Plan small vacations: Schedule a few short trips throughout the year so you have something to look forward to. These can be small and inexpensive, but should be real time off, like going camping or relaxing at a nearby beach—although you may want to plan the occasional big holiday too.
- Exercise and Healthy Eating
We all know that we should exercise and eat well, yet physical fitness and nutrition are usually the first things to go when we’re crunched for time. However, it’s during times of stress that these things are more important than ever.
— Get more from the day: Exercise increases energy, which can save you time in the long run. Spending an hour at the gym in the morning can help you do more with the rest of your day.
— Boost your mood: Getting regular exercise and healthy eating also both do wonders for your mood and overall outlook on life.
— Prioritize self-care: Making your own health and self-care a priority can enhance your feelings of self-worth and confidence.
— Spread positivity: When you feel good, your aging loved one will directly benefit from your positive attitude and spirit.
- Cultivate a Calm Mind
Successful time management is connected to your mental state—it’s difficult to make smart choices when you’re feeling stressed.
— Breathe deeply and relax: Whenever you’re overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths and a short break to gather your thoughts.
— Practice meditation: Take 5-10 minutes to sit in silence, or put on a peaceful meditation audio recording and let your mind unwind.
— Put things in perspective: Does it really matter if laundry gets done today? Or if something is done to perfection? Chances are that most things are not urgent—and those that are, you can find a way to make them happen when you’re calm.
— Practice empathy and compassion: If you’re having trouble communicating with your loved one, try to empathize with them as best you can. Engage in mindfulness practices to stay grounded.
— Think big picture: Remember what’s ultimately important in life, like spending quality time with your aging loved one.
Managing your time well is one of the most important skills you can learn as a caregiver. Practicing time-management tools like these can empower you to feel more in control and help prevent burnout. As challenging as the job can sometimes be, caregiving can be equally rewarding for those in the supporting role: research has shown that people who provide care for family members and spouses typically have lower mortality rates than those who don’t. Managing time better and taking better care of yourself can help you to grow as both a person and a caregiver—so you can continue giving your best to your aging loved one.
If you want to learn how to better support an older adult in your life, Institute on Aging offers a range of services, programs, and online resources to help. Connect with us today to learn more.