calm-organized2Being a care partner challenges one to the very core. It involves a commitment at both a physical and emotional level. It is often a full-time position, with lousy pay, much like having a job. There is no vacation. There are no days off. Your business is caring for an ailing, and oftentimes, dependent family member. It's not fun, and it definitely has its share of challenges. Despite the physical and emotional drain associated with being a care partner, good organizational skills can help you cope and make the job of care partnering seem less overwhelming. The benefits of good organizational skills are huge and can help reduce your stress and increase your efficiency in the caregiving tasks at hand. Being organized includes a variety of different skills, including, but not limited to, physical organization, mental organization and time management. How do these skills impact you?

Physical Organization

Clutter is often the culprit when it comes to disorganization. It can be stressful, resulting in feelings of anxiety. It can create a sense of claustrophobia. During a long illness, there are lots of papers, forms, invoices, bills, medical reports, etc., to deal with. It's essential to organize that physical clutter to avoid madness. Buy some file folders. Label them as needed: unpaid bills, pharmaceutical receipts, over-the-counter medications, paid bills, health insurance papers and bills, medical supplies, health-related transportation costs, diagnostic reports, etc. On a regular basis, perhaps weekly, clear out or shred unneeded papers and file necessary documents in the appropriate folder. This will alleviate lots of paper clutter and will provide an extra bonus of readiness as you prepare for your end-of-year tax filing related to health expense costs.

binderWhen my son was very sick over an 8-month period, I kept a notebook in which I documented every out-of-pocket expense as it occurred. I labeled the pages with headings and even made section dividers out of freezer labels for each section. I allowed 3-4 pages per section. The headings I used were: prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, hospital bills, doctor co-pays, medical supplies/equipment, health-related mileage, health-related transportation costs, integrative healthcare bills (massage therapy and acupuncture) and health insurance premiums. Once the expense was entered into the notebook, I put a check on the receipt or invoice and filed it in the appropriately labeled file folder. This helped me stay organized and in control of the physical clutter. And at any given moment I was able to see which bills had been paid, stay on top of out-of-pocket expenses, and easily find any paper I needed. I also taped every doctor's card into the notebook, so all the contact information was neatly and easily accessible whenever needed. I used this notebook for documenting other important information that I might need to easily refer back to, such as relevant communications with the patient's health insurance carrier, Medicare, pharmacies, physical therapists, dates of special tests and treatments, etc.

Medical supplies and equipment can also be a source of clutter. I used plastic shoe boxes and other such containers for the storage of these items. This kept them neat and tidy. I labeled the containers for organization and easy access. Each medical item had an assigned location, and I made sure to put it back where it belonged after each use. You will find that the more organized you are, the less overwhelmed you will be all the way around.

Mental Organization

calm-organizedThe stress of being a care partner can cause many symptoms, including forgetfulness, short-term memory loss, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Keeping your mind focused and organized can be a challenge when you are juggling the varied demands of caring for a sick family member. It's important to prioritize tasks and to make to-do lists to keep yourself on track. Understand your personal boundaries, weaknesses and strengths. Focus on your strengths. Not everyone is cut out to be an accomplished multi-tasker, especially when under stress. Don't beat yourself up if you find yourself unable to handle the many challenging responsibilities of being a care partner. We all do the best we can. You might concentrate on focusing on one task at a time, rather than balancing multiple tasks. Write yourself notes of things that need to get done. Write goals each day for the tasks at hand. Prioritize them by deciding their order of importance. Keep a journal or calendar of things-to do. Engage others to give you a hand in or a break from your care partnering tasks.

Time Management

Time management is a critical component of a successful caregiving workday. Good organizational skills are about making the best use of your time. Have you ever said, “I don’t have enough time? Or, where is the time going?” I know you have. Almost everyone says it until they really master time management. Good organizational skills save time by keeping valuable information easily accessible and goals in focus. Being organized reduces the amount of time you need to dig around looking for important papers, doctor appointments, unpaid bills, etc. Understand where your time goes. For example, if you check your personal email every five minutes, you might want to create a twice-a-day email schedule to more effectively handle your time spent in such activities. Delegate certain duties to others, so you can focus your time on the things you are good at. Maintain a calendar, so you never miss an appointment and can schedule your own personal activities around your family members' appointments and other obligations. Make lists of things that need to be done for the day and include what time that task should take place and how much time you expect it to take. Be sure to include rest periods for both you and the person you are care partnering with. Prioritize the most important tasks for the best time of the day for the patient and yourself. For example, if the patient likes to bathe at night, don't routinely schedule that activity for the morning. If you're not a morning person, schedule doctor appointments for mid- afternoon.

Poor organization leads to frustration and stress that can negatively impact the care you are able to give to your ailing family member. Care partners who have good organizational skills are efficient at covering the demands of the job at hand. PLEASE SHARE YOUR OWN ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGIES WITH OUR CARE PARTNER COMMUNITY IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW. We can all become empowered through the journey of others.

Make every day an organized and empowered day!

Lorrie Klemons, RN, MSN
Care Partner Advocate and Guest Blogger, Patient Power
Co-Founder, PatientAction.com
Patient Advocate/Speaker/Educator/Consultant/Author/Poet

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.