older adult female using ipad with young woman

Organizing Your Schedule, for Caregivers

November is National Family Caregiver Month. 

In a multi-person household, keeping track of everyone’s needs and schedules is rarely easy. When one or more family members have disabilities, things get even more complicated. Besides generating expenses, appointments, and paperwork that “typical” families don’t have, disability often means that other household members are doing double duty as breadwinners and caregivers.

Unless you have the memory and organization skills of a NASA computer, storing everything in your head just won’t work. Even writing things down means trusting that someone won’t leave a reminder in the wrong place or forget it entirely—and written schedules leave limited space to note changes should an emergency interrupt well-laid plans. Fortunately, today we have digital apps that make organizing and editing far easier. A few consistent organizing habits provide additional assistance.

Our Best Schedule-Organizing Tips

  1. Synchronize everyone’s devices. You can save a lot of time and complication by connecting everyone’s e-calendar to a central database that sends updates to all phones/tablets/computers simultaneously.
  2. Don’t get so fond of “organizing” that you never get around to “carrying out.” Many people spend hours on list-making, file categorizing, and downloading—and never seem to get beyond that to doing much. Organizer apps are intended to make your whole life more effective. If you’re really stuck on which apps to choose or how to best use them, consult a Digital Navigator.
  3. When filling out your e-calendar, include time for yourself and time to nurture personal relationships. Making space to relax and enjoy yourself is not neglecting your caregiving duties: “down time” is in fact essential to preserve your health and effectiveness. Living in perpetual “service” mode will eventually push you to a breaking point and leave everyone worse off than ever.
  4. Don’t be ashamed to delegate caregiving work, whether that means hiring a professional or asking a friend to fill in during your down time. No one was created to manage challenging situations solo. Besides, your loved one will likely appreciate some expanded human interaction.
  5. Let the care recipient help out, too. Even people with severe disability can enjoy folding laundry, or brainstorming ideas for making your routine tasks easier. Whether you’re caring for a preschooler born with Down syndrome or a long-active grandparent now aging in place, it’s an affront to their humanity to regard them as helpless and incompetent.
  6. If someone is on the autism spectrum, understand their need for extra structure and order. Autism comes with natural fear of uncertainty. While you can’t make life 100 percent predictable, you can make it more manageable through established routines and rituals: serving breakfast in favorite dishes each morning, choosing tomorrow’s clothes the night before, sharing a song and story before bedtime. In the process, you’ll also find that your schedule becomes more manageable.
  7. “Rush” is a four-letter word. Moving fast isn’t wrong in itself—if you stay mindfully in the moment. The problem arises when you mix speed with multitasking and anxiety, letting your conscious mind become cluttered with fears of being late or other tasks you have to get to next. Rush is doubly toxic when caring for someone with mobility or distraction issues: your impatience will show, and hurt both the person and your relationship. Instead, practice going at the other party’s speed and focusing on them rather than your perceived “have tos.”
  8. Don’t be a tidsoptimist. You’ll be less prone to rush your loved one or yourself if you keep your schedule free of nonessential items. Most of us suffer from some level of “tidsoptimism” (from the English “optimism” and the Swedish/Danish word for “time”), a tendency to add things to the to-do list because they feel important and we hope they’ll fit into the available time. Tidsoptimism inevitably leads to frustration, impatience, and a mad-at-the-world attitude; so before saying yes to anything, consider whether it’s truly worthwhile when set against your caretaking duties, your work duties, and everyone’s true goals and passions. Even after paring your list to essentials, give each item a calendar slot of at least 20 percent more time than you expect to need. (If you’re a newbie at this, allow double the expected time.)
  9. Clear out physical clutter. It’s not only to-do lists that get too full for anyone’s good. Extra “stuff” cluttering floors and closets trips people up, generates regular delay finding what you really need, and creates visual overstimulation/stress just by being there. If you can’t make yourself undertake a major decluttering, a professional organizer’s services are worth the investment. (Clear out that offsite storage unit, too. Even if it’s not causing immediate problems, it’s consuming rental money you could be investing in your family.)
  10. Accept and embrace life’s trade-offs. Finally, never describe your caretaking role as a “burden.” It comes with unique challenges, yes; but so does every individual life. Internalize this truth: Your loved one is a blessing, disability and all. And the disability itself is a blessing, if you look for the special gifts it brings: an innocent, loving personality; openings to develop talents that might have gone unnoticed amidst the demands of “typical” abilities; a special knack for organization. Practice a daily attitude of gratitude for your loved one and every other blessing in your life!

See also: BridgingApps “organizing” recommendations.

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