If you care for an elderly parent and fall into the generation sandwich gap that also has to contend with young children, then time is something which you dream of, much like winning the lottery. Throw in the pressures of a full-time job and your life is an overwhelm of running on a hamster wheel going nowhere and trying to keep up. You live in a frantic swirl of rushing around, trying to remember what must be done, whilst your list of obligations is getting longer all the time, like a surreal nightmare. Stop. And take a breath.
By looking to executive tools for time management, you can apply some techniques to your insanely hectic life to maintain control and to get more done so that you can effectively care for your parents without losing your sanity. I know this from first-hand experience and these are my tips.
Most people can only focus on a limited number of things at one time. Holding many tasks and thoughts in our head is where stress and overload can begin to happen and important things get overlooked. Therefore, by emptying our mind, yet retaining this information, on a regular basis, we free mental space to use more efficiently on the tasks at hand.
Considered one of the best time management systems, Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen, is based on five principles:
As outlined above, having a filing system will reduce chaos and bring order to your life. Dedicate an area of a shelf or cupboard space or an entire office like me and create separate files for everything you have to contend with, sectioned into groups: utility bills, appliance manuals, school reports, requests for school events, legal documents, etc.
Do the same in your parent’s house, or keep files at your house for their utility bills, medical appointments, legal documents for their house and financial affairs etc.
Have an A4 wallet for easy transport that contains all current items you need to hand such as upcoming medical appointments and lists of medications. Or, you can keep a copy of all notes on your phone by taking photographs, so that you have a record with you at all times. #TopTip
Carry a small notepad, or use a notepad or list making App (e.g. Trello) on your phone to write down thoughts and tasks as they come to mind so that you can continually empty your mind as things come up. This will ensure that you don’t forget anything and will help to keep mental space free for you to focus on what you are doing currently, without niggling distractions. This one task reduces any stress immeasurably.
Another master of time management, Tony Robbins, defines a process called ‘chunking‘. By taking all our tasks and looking for commonality we can then effectively structure tasks into groups. For example, work related, children related, parents related, time for yourself or friends and husband.
Organise your diary around the key areas in your life and ensure that you make time for each area on a weekly (or monthly) basis. By removing the feeling of not missing out on important things, such as maintaining friendships, you then begin to feel much more balanced whilst still attending to all the essential things.
When you are in each ‘chunk’, focus on that area without distraction so that you can accomplish more in a concentrated time. Don’t even try to multi-task.
Getting organised ahead of time will make a vast difference to your feelings of anxiety about coping, especially if an emergency happens. Contact utility companies to become an authorised person on your parent’s account will mean that you can quickly sort out any problems with their bills if you need to. Contact your parent’s bank to become a co-signatory on their accounts, so that you can pay bills on their behalf or manage their financial affairs. If your parent is in mental decline, organise a power of attorney so that you are in a position to make decisions quickly without having to wade through red tape in an emergency situation.
Compile a list of emergency numbers for trusted plumbers, electricians, gardeners and neighbours who can be called on at short notice. This reduces time and stress in an emergency, such as if pipes should burst or the cooker isn’t working.
Having the number of a trusted taxi driver that you can call to take your parent to a medical appointment, or in an emergency, will also help if you can’t be there.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Delegate anything that you can. For example, use a home delivery shopping service, have a gardener to mow the lawn and use a cleaner.
If you have siblings, make sure that everyone is doing their fair share. Define roles and ask each of them to take on specific tasks in caring for your parents. One person can take care of house repairs, another can organise bills and another can take care of medical appointments.
Use a care service to give yourself both peace of mind and respite, thus creating some time to yourself which will help to avoid becoming resentful or exhausted.
The extra time created will be far more valuable than the expense, by freeing your time to focus on spending quality time with your parent or family and ensuring that you can get everything done without becoming a frazzled mess.
Have a whiteboard installed in your parent’s kitchen and use it daily/weekly to write down a copy of your diary and schedules of when you visit and when you are not available. This will reduce the stress of non-essential, interrupting phone calls when you are focused on work or in meetings and your parents will know where you are at all times in case of emergency.
Include a space for your parent to write down what they wanted to speak to you about or anything that they need. If they are forgetful or in early-stage dementia this will help you both to know why they called or what they need.
You can’t be a superwoman or superman. Everyone has their limits of what can be achieved and by setting a bar too high, you will burn out and overload your stress levels. Aim for what is realistic and good enough. You want to focus on sustained, rather than short bursts, and manage your diary according to what is realistic to accomplish and not believing that you can get through twenty-five hours in every day. Think 80%, not 110%.
Saying no is just as important as saying yes. Whenever anyone asks you to do something, consider if you really need to do it. Is it essential or necessary? Will it benefit your life or will it add more stress? Keep your to-do lists focused on what is a priority and important: your parents, your family, your friends, and yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first.
The safety announcement on a plane always tells you to put your oxygen mask on before you assist someone else (such as a child). If you pass out through lack of oxygen, then you can’t help anyone else put their mask on.
Structure time into your schedule for yourself, every day. Five minutes deep breathing, fifteen minutes meditation, twenty-five minutes to walk the dog. This time is essential for you to decompress and keep stress reduced so that you can be there for your parents and your family whilst working and keeping all the plates spinning.
Get in touch with your local Radfield Home Care office today and find out more about the support we offer and the difference we can make.