Tips To Organize Caregiving Tasks and Documents
If one of your caregiving goals is to get organized, I’m here to help. Becoming a caregiver is overwhelming, and in most cases, you don’t have a lot of time to prepare. You see a need with your aging parent – or they get injured or ill – and you roll up your sleeves and jump right in.
Managing the care of your aging parent is filled with both big and little tasks. Whether your aging parent needs full-time care or is struggling to independently manage his or her own household, you’ve just added many new tasks to your to do list.
Step By Step Guide to Caregiver Organization
Step 1 – Preparation:
The first step in getting yourself organized is setting aside time and gathering your materials. Set aside a few hours either on a weekday or a weekend day when you don’t already have plans. Put it on your calendar so that you don’t schedule anything else.
Ideally, give yourself a few days to prepare for your big organization session. Set aside a folder or box to drop paperwork, business cards and any information you want to read or keep so that you have everything in one place.
You should also set aside a bit of time to write down what your organization goal is and any information you want to research or supplies you need.
Step 2 – Gather Supplies:
Once you know what your goal is, you can decide what supplies you need. Do you want to keep all of your mom’s medical details in one place? Consider purchasing a binder, blank notepaper (or small notebook) and hole punch to put all of her records in one place. If you are sharing care with a sibling, you might want to make two binders – one for your house and one for your parent’s house.
If you prefer to keep everything digital, you may need to purchase a scanner to scan paper records. You can also use your phone to take pictures of medical paperwork. You’ll also need to decide where you want to keep the organized information.
You can keep your aging parent’s medical information on your computer hard drive, however, you won’t have the information available when you need it. I recommend setting up a Google account and using Google docs. This makes it easier to access when you’re at the doctor’s office and can easily be shared with others.
Step 3 – Keep Your Appointment:
Now that you’ve gathered your supplies and documents, keep your appointment. Don’t flake on yourself. If you have a hard time working at home, take your paperwork and supplies to a public library or coffee shop. I personally prefer the public library since it is free and most libraries have wifi connections. They also have nice sized tables so that you can spread out a bit.
Step 4 – Organizing Your Caregiving Tasks:
Organization can be very personal. Whatever system you use needs to work for you. However, no matter what system you implement, there are some common tactics that anyone who has a good organization system utilizes.
- Create Categories: Throwing all of your documents into a binder or digital file will drive you crazy when you need to find a document. Create simple categories that will help you narrow your search. One caveat – don’t over-categorize or you’ll hate to file your information. Common categories caregivers may use include: Contacts, Medical Records, Prescriptions, Conditions/Symptoms, Service Providers, Tools/Products and Appointments (or appointment notes).
- Purge: If you are keeping paper records, get rid of duplicate records. For example, every time I need a referral, my doctor’s office gives me the same handout with a list of specialist phone numbers. I only keep one in my binder. Additionally, if you have little scraps of notes in multiple places, transfer the info to the appropriate section of your binder (or put it in your notebook) or online records and toss the scraps. Moving forward, try to keep your notes in one place. If you are the person taking mom to the doctor, bring your binder or notebook with you and make notes directly in the binder or transfer the info to your files immediately. Papers pile up quickly and before you know it, you’ll be drowning in paperwork.
- Create a To Do List: If you have a million ideas on ways to improve your parent’s well-being at home or make their home safer or treatment options you’ve heard of, you need to put them on a list to take the strain off your brain. Create a digital or paper (my preferred format) list of things to do, learn or research so that you know what to do when you have a minute to breathe. You’re never going to be able to knock everything off your list in one day so create an ongoing master list that you can tackle whenever you have time.
- Create a Calendar or Schedule: If you are relying on your brain to remember appointments, you’re adding too much stress to your life. Buy a calendar, planner or set up a digital calendar immediately to keep track of appointments. Doing this will also help you plan when you can tackle some of your to dos.
- Be Consistent: You aren’t done with organizing once you’ve set up your system. You’ll need to maintain your organization system in order to make it useful. Decide how frequently you need to update your system and put it on your calendar. If your parent goes to frequent medical appointments or requires frequent care, you probably want to update your file weekly. If you aren’t getting a ton of paperwork or your caregiving role is fairly low maintenance, you can get away with updating your system monthly or even quarterly. It doesn’t matter how frequently you do it, as long as you do it.
Adding a caregiver hat to the many hats you already wear can be overwhelming. If you are just acting without planning or tracking what you do, you may be adding more work to your day. For example, if your mom is experiencing new symptoms that you want to discuss with her doctor, it is helpful to know when they started or to know if she has experienced them before. If you’re not keeping track, you won’t be able to provide specific information, which could help her doctor pinpoint a cause.
Trust me, I know. I am guilty of not tracking when I start a medication or when a side effect begins. I now track everything in a notebook and keep my records and referral information in a binder to keep myself organized. My organization preference is always paper. What do you prefer?
Roundup of Caregiver Organization Tools
If you don’t know where to start, or don’t have time to get to the store, here are some products I’ve used that have helped with my organization.