How to Manage Your Time as a Caregiver

Do you know how to manage your time as a caregiver? Are you feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Or, is your to-do list too big? What about prioritizing what’s most important?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep reading to learn about a quick tool you can use to organize and prioritize your time.

How did life get so busy?

Maybe you were nearing retirement, but not quite there yet. Without warning, your loved one had a health crisis and you became a primary caregiver. Now, you arrange and attend doctor appointments, cook, and clean. You also maintain the house and cars and still work full-time.

Or maybe you recently retired and had plans like traveling, exercising, and volunteering. But now, those plans have been put on the back burner. Caring for your loved has become another full-time job.

So, what happens to those things you enjoy doing? Or the things you used to do for your own self-care? For many caregivers, those activities go to the bottom of the to-do list. Your loved one and their needs are your priority. But the constant giving of oneself, overwhelm, and stress will lead to caregiver burnout. So, it’s important to know how to manage your time as a caregiver.

Time Management Matrix

One way to help that feeling of overwhelm is to use a time management matrix. I like Steve Covey’s Time Management matrix. Covey was a businessman, so his time management wisdom often focused on how to be more productive at work. But I find his ideas can be applied to many stages of life, including caregivers who are overwhelmed.

In this matrix, Covey created 4 quadrants in which we can put each of our daily or weekly activities.

Time Management matrix that helps caregivers manage their time better.

Quadrant 1: In this box, list activities that are both important and must be done now. For example, a deadline at work, a crying infant, or a chemotherapy appointment. These things are non-negotiable and demand your attention or time.

Quadrant 2: These are activities that are important but have no deadline. They may not be important this very day. But in the long run, these things are important to your future. For instance, exercising for good health or fostering healthy and supportive relationships. Also, reading a book to help you with your personal or professional growth or planning your future are important.

Quadrant 3: Quadrant 3 includes activities that are not important to you but feel urgent. Emails, texts, phone calls, or tidying the house often feel urgent, but usually are not vital.

Quadrant 4: Finally, Quadrant 4 activities are those things that we do to unwind. For example, binge watching a television show or spending time on social media. If we spend too much time in this quadrant, these activities can quickly become time wasters.

Now, take your activities for the week and put them into the matrix. When you are done, ask yourself the following questions about how you spend your time:

  • In which quadrant(s) are you spending most of your time?
  • Are you happy with where you are spending most of your time?
  • If not, in which quadrant would you like to spend more time?
  • What change(s) can you make to spend more time in your desired quadrant?

If you aren’t sure how to answer these questions, then let’s take our exercise in time management one step further.

Prioritizing

The Priority Matrix is similar in look to the Time Management Matrix. But, the Priority Matrix can give you more clarity on those activities that are most important and least important. Let’s look at the priority matrix below.

Priority matrix that can help caregivers manage their time better.

Remember those activities in Quadrant 1 that were both important and urgent? Those are the activities or items that you need to tend to first. If you are experiencing a health crisis, like cancer, that’s a Quadrant 1 item. So too are some daily activities when managing a chronic illness day after day. For instance, a doctor’s appointment. In these examples, addressing the physical health of your loved one is a priority. If your job has a major deadline coming up, that’s a priority too.

Does it surprise you which quadrant you should focus on next? You might have guessed Quadrant 3 because the things you have listed there feel urgent. But are they important to YOU? Do you check your emails because it’s important to you? Or is it a habit you have developed? The truth is, most of my emails aren’t important and I don’t need to check them as often as I do. Quadrant 3 activities often feel important, but they may not be in reality.

Instead, consider spending more time in Quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 activities nurture your soul, in physical ways and nonphysical ways. Some examples include exercising more or looking up healthy recipes that benefit your physical health. Praying, sitting in a quiet place for 10 minutes, or journaling can help your mental health. Calling a friend or grandchild or writing a thank-you note can improve your social health and relationships.

Finally, Quadrant 4 activities are your time wasters and things you want to avoid. Binge-watching a television show is usually a time waster. In a similar way, checking social media often doesn’t really do anything for us. How many times have you jumped onto social media only to look up 45 minutes later and wonder where the time went?

Managing Time and Setting Priorities

So, how do you put all this together to manage your time better as a caregiver? Try these 3 steps.

  • Use the Time Management Matrix to list your most frequent activities in one of the 4 quadrants. When you are done, you will see which of your daily activities feel important or urgent, and which ones don’t.
  • Then, fill in the Priority Matrix. This will give you clarity on which activities you value or prioritize above others. And it will help make clear which activities are least important.
  • Adjust your Priority Matrix so that it reflects what is important to you and will help you live as well as possible. Let some of the activities in Quadrants 3 and 4 go. Take an hour of television watching and journal instead. Skip the mid-day social media check and go for a 20-minute walk. Instead of taking 30 minutes to tidy the house, read an uplifting book.

As a primary caregiver, you don’t have extra time. Therefore, how to manage your time as a caregiver becomes even more important. Managing your time helps you focus on those things that are most important. With this clarity, you can make each day work better for you. And you can live as well as possible when your priorities and values are leading the way.

To read more articles like this, sign up for my weekly email newsletter. And stay tuned for next week’s blog where I talk about the concept of the Hour of Power for caregivers.

Disclaimer: This blog is a resource through which you may obtain information regarding your health and wellness.  Information is intended for the general reader and is not a substitute for medical advice.  The content in this blog is intended to be informational only and not interpreted as specific advice for you.  There may be delays, omissions, or inaccuracies in information contained in this blog. You should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional who is familiar with your health and past medical history before making any changes you may read about in this blog.

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