Time is a precious commodity for everyone, particularly, the busy family caregiver, who must juggle multiple tasks in order to get everything done. The ‘Sandwich Generation,’ or those people that find themselves raising children and caring for their elders, often neglect themselves, since there are simply not enough hours in the day to care for everyone satisfactorily.
Family caregivers must pay special attention to managing their responsibilities, so that they can carve out time for themselves, to focus on taking care of their own health and well-being. Whether it’s scheduling long overdue preventive medical appointments, or even just catching up with a friend at the coffee shop, making that time really can enhance quality of life.
To use an old airline analogy – when faced with an emergency, a passenger must first put on his oxygen mask and breathe, prior to helping others. So, too, must family caregivers take care of themselves, if they are to best help their loved ones.
Here are 10 time saving tips and advice for family caregivers.
Say “no” or “not now”
For people pleasers, especially, it can be challenging to say no, but, it is important to prioritize and set boundaries, before you become over-burdened with tasks that other people could do, or by doing things that really could wait. Don’t worry about what other people will think about your “no” response; just focus on what makes best sense, and best use of valuable time.
Utilize online resources
Instead of hanging on the phone, wasting valuable minutes, waiting to schedule an appointment or speak to a customer service representative, consider utilizing online resources. These days, most medical service providers give patients access to online appointment booking systems, and within a few clicks and a matter of seconds an appointment can be scheduled. Test results and follow-up from recent appointments are often available online, too. Most systems are available 24/7, which means you can complete these tasks, when you have time, as opposed to calling during office hours.
Spending time physically going shopping, finding the most suitable products, and dealing with bulky and heavy cartons and containers, can waste valuable time, money, and energy. Consider shopping online, instead. As well as well-known retailers, you will also find specialist retailers, with knowledgeable customer service staff, and a wider range and better quality of products. Products can often be delivered within a day or two; sometimes, even, the same day. Some online retailers will also offer time-saving subscriptions or recurring order facilitation, which takes away the worry of remembering to place regular orders, and often means discounted prices, too.
Plan ahead for the week
Use a calendar or notebook to plan the week ahead. As well as keeping in mind important appointments, think about daily tasks, prioritize them, and figure out how time can be saved. Meal preparation is an area that can be very time consuming. Instead of shopping daily, try to think about what will be needed that week, and shop just once; this will save both time and money. Cook food in batches, and freeze meals for future use. Prepare snack bags for the week. Clean and chop fruits and vegetables for use during the week. Cook a larger portion that will last two or more days.
Ask others to help
People can be reluctant to ask for help, but the key to successfully managing life as a busy caregiver is to assertively ask for help. Whether it’s asking kids to help with meal preparation and household chores, or asking siblings to take their turn in caring for their parents, be assertive, divide up tasks, and share them out. It’s not uncommon for one family member to shoulder the burden for the majority of family caregiving tasks. This can be unfair, and overburden that person. Have a family conference, even if it’s over the phone or Internet, and identify what needs to be done, and who can do it. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. It takes a village…
Find local resources
Many people aren’t aware of the resources available to help family caregivers. Local authorities and non-profit organizations provide crucial services to assist older adults and disabled individuals. These services and programs, which are often free-of-charge include in-home care, transportation, home-delivered meals, family caregiver support groups, and social worker case management. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or Department of Disability to find out how to access wide-ranging resources.
Streamline family communications
Time can be wasted in keeping family, friends and loved ones updated when someone is dealing with a chronic condition or is hospitalized. Instead of making numerous calls, texts, and emails to multiple family members, consider setting up an online journal, where regular updates can be entered, and shared with family and friends. , who can respond on the journal page. Take a look at Caring Bridge – a non-profit organization that offers this meaningful service to help keep families connected during difficult times.
Stop putting things off
We can all be guilty of procrastination – why do today what can be put off until tomorrow – right? The fact is that pile of ironing will only get bigger, those bills will cause problems if they are not paid, and minor health issues can escalate, if they are ignored. Ten minutes today can save time and worry in the future. Take a deep breath, and do that tedious task.
The role of family caregiver can be lonely, and it can seem hard to know where to turn to find help and support. Consider finding the time to join a family caregiver support group. These are available at physical locations such as hospitals and churches, and online. In addition of getting to chat with people in similar situations, support groups can be a wealth of information and resources, tips and advice, and creative answers to common caregiving problems. Make the time to join a support group; the benefits will be worth it.
It is easy to expect too much of ourselves and those around us. Stop seeking perfection, and accept that a job done, does not have to be a job done perfectly. Do you really need to iron those underclothes and bedsheets? So your neighbor didn’t use fresh veggies in the meal she made you. Your son was thirty minutes late calling you. Stop sweating the small stuff. Be kind to yourself, and those people that are doing their best to help you, and overlook minor imperfections.
Retired and award-winning gerontologist with more than three decades of domestic and international experience in the science of aging.