Long hours and busy schedules can leave caregivers feeling mentally stressed and physically exhausted, with little spare time in the day to complete all the tasks and responsibilities that need attention, in addition to personal life and family commitments.
There are only 24 hours in a day, and there are always more tasks than can be accomplished within this time limit. However, caregivers can take control of the pressures and stresses of caregiving – avoiding burnout in the long term – and lead balanced, happy lives.
The answer lies in time management.
What is time management?
Time management is how we organize our time to maximize productivity and achieve our goals. Good time management skills are proven to help lower stress levels and increase job performance and overall life satisfaction.
The good news is that while time management can be challenging for caregivers, it involves skills that can be learned and practiced, and it results in getting more done in less time. Every caregiver can develop these skills – and your home care agency can help them.
Here are 12 tips to help your caregivers manage their time more effectively, reduce stress, and gain a sense of control.
Effective time management for caregivers
1. Create a time audit
The main focus of time management is not to change time but to change behaviors. The best way to do this is first to know how we are spending our time and see our behavioral patterns throughout the day.
Encourage your caregivers to create a time audit to help them with this, either written or using a time tracking app (many companies offer free versions). There is often a discrepancy between what we think is taking up our time and what actually is. For example, one hour a day of distraction on social media might seem harmless. However, over a year, those individual hours add up to approximately 336 hours – the equivalent of 42 eight-hour workdays (or holidays!).
Tracking daily activities for a week will help your caregivers accurately picture how much time they spend on various daily activities. With this data, they will have a realistic view of what they spend their days doing and what is genuinely taking up their time. They can then see if they need to adopt certain behaviors to better use and manage their time or if they simply have too much to do in the time available.
2. Use the 80-20 rule
The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, observes that just 20% of our activities account for 80% of our results. Applying this knowledge, your caregivers can find out which of their daily tasks make up that 20% – and prioritize these.
For example, as a home care agency looking for clients, you may spend 20 minutes a day emailing potential clients and two hours maintaining and updating your social media accounts. If the results show that only one client was referred to you by social media, whereas six clients were gained through email activity, you can start devoting more time to emailing to maximize your client pipeline.
Caregivers can use the 80-20 rule to find out where to best spend their time. If your caregivers are unsure which activities are in their 20%, a time tracking tool or time audit will clearly indicate which activities have the most significant impact and which activities take up a lot of time for poor return.
3. Planning and goal setting
When caregivers are already limited for time, taking time out to plan and set goals may feel like an added stressor. However, regular planning and goal setting are shown to reduce stress and wasted time significantly and prevent caregivers from feeling like they are in an endless loop of crisis management.
Where possible, perhaps as part of a mentoring program, coaching session or training day, help your caregivers to plan for the bigger picture first and then break this down into smaller, achievable goals. These should include other life areas, such as personal and family goals, as well as career.
Whatever goals they choose, they also need to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
4. Write a daily to-do list
It’s important that your caregivers start each day with a ‘to do’ list. They should not rely on a list in their head. It’s essential to write the list down in a notebook that they keep with them or in a mobile app.
To-do lists should be simple and flexible, factoring in time for unexpected events or sudden changes, as well as break times and time for personal errands, family commitments, etc.
One great benefit of a daily list is checking things off the list as the day progresses – giving a sense of achievement, a feeling of being in control and maintaining a clear focus.
For those who are not natural-born list makers, there are tools that can help, including apps that synchronize lists across mobile devices. Options include Wunderlist, Errands, Todoist, and Toodledo. Remind your caregivers to avoid making lists in multiple places, as this defeats the purpose.
For caregivers working as part of a team, it will be essential to synchronize lists to avoid duplication of tasks. This can be one of the biggest time wasters, so make sure all caregiving team members are clear about their specific duties. This also avoids the problem of mix-ups where no one thinks a task is theirs, and it doesn’t get done at all (eventually wasting even more time!).
5. Prioritize daily tasks
Having a daily to-do list helps caregivers stay organized and productive, but a too-long list can quickly become overwhelming, especially in the ever-changing world of caregiving.
The solution is to start each day by prioritizing tasks and setting personal performance benchmarks. Caregivers can prioritize tasks using the 4Ds method:
They can then focus on completing the essential tasks, working across the columns if they have time afterward. Any tasks that aren’t completed can be transferred to the following day’s list.
Caregivers should experiment to find a system for prioritizing what works best for them.
6. Setting time limits for tasks
It is well known that tasks will expand to fill the time they have been given (Parkinson’s Law). If caregivers allocate two hours to a task rather than one, the amount of work needed to accomplish that task will simply expand to fill the entire two hours!
Using their time audit to identify daily activities that took longer than expected, caregivers can begin to set time constraints on specific tasks. This will improve their focus so that they can work more quickly and efficiently.
A good example is when reading and answering emails. If allowed, this can consume an entire day! Instead, caregivers can set a limit of one hour a day for this task and stick to it. (The best way to do this is to assign a block of time to the activity rather than answering individual emails on demand.)
If your caregivers still find themselves going beyond the time limits set, they may need to examine workflows and determine if they need to assign more time to those tasks in the future. Or if they have too much on their plates and need to delegate some tasks to others.
7. Schedule time for well-being
Your caregivers’ health may not seem like an obvious time management tip, but it is arguably the most important.
Life can be hectic for caregivers, and they can quickly start to ignore their own needs, ending up running on empty. Encourage them to schedule time for themselves so their well-being does not get lost in the shuffle of caring for others. No one is productive when physically, mentally or emotionally depleted – they can only be quality caregivers if they are healthy.
Scheduling a break every 90 minutes (at least) can help caregivers maintain focus, keep productivity high throughout the day, stay healthy and boost energy levels – without burning themselves out. They need to allow themselves time to eat, exercise, make personal phone calls/emails, and step away from the job. So start making regular breaks a priority.
To take great care of others, your caregivers must first take great care of themselves.
8. Declutter and get organized
A cluttered, messy work environment causes stress and makes it hard to keep on top of things. A lot of time can be wasted trying to find paperwork that isn’t correctly filed or equipment that isn’t returned to allocated areas.
Decluttering and creating an organized work environment ensures more will be achieved throughout the day. It’s essential to clean, throw out clutter, and find a place for everything – in a home office space, work car, computer, and workplace. Once everything is organized and properly filed, taking 20–30 minutes at the end of each day to return everything to its place enables your caregivers to start each day afresh.
Decluttering the mind is also an important factor. Encourage your caregivers to take walks during their breaks, practice deep breathing, find a yoga class, etc. It’s vital to actively declutter the mind to handle the stress of caregiving. Your home care agency can help make this a priority for your caregivers by arranging weekly/monthly relaxation/mindfulness classes or adding self-care packages to your rewards/benefits programs.
9. Ask for help
By creating a positive, open company culture, your home care agency can ensure your caregivers know they can ask for help when they need it.
Sometimes they can’t do it all on their own, no matter how hard they might try. Support your caregivers in being realistic about their time limitations and clearly communicating them with you. Knowing their limits and knowing when to say no will reduce their stress levels and ensure their visits with clients/patients are more enjoyable and effective. In the long term, this open communication benefits your agency, your clients, and your caregivers.
As a home care agency, it is also essential to be aware of those caregivers who find it difficult to ask for help. When you know someone is struggling, find ways to give them the gift of a little extra time. Even if it’s just one hour off (paid), that’s one hour they can use to complete another task, take a walk, or indulge in a self-care activity.
10. Utilize time-saving technology
Your home care agency can significantly impact your caregivers’ time management by utilizing time-saving technologies.
With Smartcare software, your caregivers will spend 64% less time on administrative tasks and completing paper or telephone logging of care. Less time on administrative tasks leaves more time for them to provide better care and achieve higher outcomes.
Using the right technology, your home care agency can save caregivers valuable time, providing access to the details they need anywhere, anytime, on any device. Easy-to-use, time-saving features Smartcare software can offer your caregivers include:
11. Manage expectations
When learning time management skills, your caregivers must have realistic expectations of what they can achieve in a day/week. For example, if they have 18 tasks allocated for a given day, how many of them do they genuinely need to accomplish?
No matter how well anyone plans, unexpected tasks will always crop up during the day, and emergencies will happen. Taking the perspective that this is an inevitable part of life and factoring in some time in the daily schedule will help. Time management skills ensure your caregivers plan for and handle the unexpected with less stress – and get back on track faster.
12. Be mindful
With mobiles in our pockets constantly notifying us of calls, texts and incoming emails, it is very easy to be constantly distracted throughout the day.
Where possible and safe, caregivers should turn off or silence their mobiles while working on a specific task and focus entirely on that task. For example, if they are with a client, they should be fully present with them. Equally, if they are on a break, they should be fully focused on themselves and their well-being.
When their minds are jumping between what they’re currently doing and all the other tasks still to complete (and being distracted by mobile notifications), caregivers will be slower, less effective, and feel more stressed. Learning to be mindful and present for each task will hugely benefit your caregivers, clients and agency as a whole.
Every caregiver can develop excellent time management skills. It is in your home care agency’s best interest to help them achieve this. Not only will it ensure your caregivers remain healthy and performing at their best – providing better care to your clients/patients – it also guarantees greater job satisfaction, positively impacting caregiver retention.