This post is the fourth and final post in a series describing the four key types of tools that I recommended to caregivers at a retreat earlier this summer.
Just to recap, the key tools I recommended included a journal/notebook, a portable and up-to-date medication list, an organizer to keep copies of medical results (also known as a “personal health record”), and last but not least, a personal or family task organizer.
In this post, I’ll explain why I believe most caregivers can benefit from using some kind of task organizer in order to keep track of the to-dos related to an older person’s medical care. I’ve also tried some of the task management tools that are available, and will write about a few that caregivers may want to try.
Why I recommend task organizers to caregivers
Most people have lots of things to do and take care of. And many people, even before they become caregivers or come to the doctor, have worked out a way to keep track of these to-dos.
For some, it’s writing little lists of what they need to do that day. For others, it’s using a paper planner, or the calendar on their smartphone. For a few, it’s using a task management app.
And for many, it’s mostly keeping track of things in their heads, with the occasional jotted notes somewhere.
Obviously, how to keep track of one’s to-dos is largely a personal issue. You may even think that it’s none of my business, how the caregivers of my patients keep track of things.
But I do consider it my business, because my business is to help keep an older person as well as possible. And that usually means helping caregivers do these things:
- Know what health tasks need to be done (Ex: what symptoms to watch for, or which lifestyle changes to try implementing);
- Find ways to execute those tasks regularly (and also to let me know if it’s not possible to do the tasks, so we can work out an alternative approach);
- Not get too stressed out or overwhelmed.
Now, in my experience, investing a little time and effort into organizing oneself usually means less stress down the line. Even when we think we can keep track of things in our head, research has shown that having those to-dos knocking around in there can cause subconscious anxiety, and drains one’s energy a bit. Plus, we’re more prone to forget things, especially if we get busy or don’t sleep well.
So when I work with caregivers and families, I always want to know how they are keeping track of what needs to be done. If they seem stressed, or are struggling with the to-dos, then I recommend they try one of the following approaches to task management.
Tools that Caregivers Can Use to Keep Track of Tasks
When considering a tool, here are some things I suggest that caregivers consider:
- How easy is it to enter your to-dos, and to update them?
- Can you share the task list with your relatives, or other people in the care circle?
- Do you need a tool that will help you remember to do the task?
And here are some options that caregivers can consider:
- Paper journal or notebook. For some caregivers, writing a list of daily or weekly healthcare to-dos in a notebook works well.
- Doesn’t get lost or misplaced as easily as jotting to-dos on a post-it or single piece of paper.
- Notebook can be brought to doctors’ visits, and to-dos can be reviewed with doctor.
- Caregiver may need to rewrite list as tasks get added or removed.
- Not easily shared with other family members or caregivers.
- Digital journal or notebook. Some caregivers list tasks in a Word or Excel document, and then print a copy for the home. One can also use a program such as Evernote for this purpose.
- Can be easier to read than handwriting; can be printed in extra-large text if needed.
- Can be backed up online, or even shared with family online if something like Google Drive is used.
- Cloud-connected programs such as Google Drive and Evernote allow notes/lists to be viewed and even edited with a smartphone.
- Data is usually not encrypted.
- Unless a smartphone is used, not always easy to see task list through the day.
- General purpose task management app. For those caregivers who are comfortable with smartphones or tablets, general task management apps can make it easy to enter, view, organize, and even share tasks. I myself am currently using TickTick and Todoist to stay on top of family and work to-dos.
- Designed specifically to help people organize to-dos.
- Some apps allow groups to share a to-do list, or to assign a task to another person.
- Most apps can link an alarm or reminder to a task, which means the phone pings when it’s time to address a task.
- Many apps offer browser access to the task list, which can make it easier to enter and organize tasks.
- Some may find it burdensome to enter tasks into the list.
- Usually takes some time to learn to use app effectively.
- Caregiver-support app. Some apps have been designed specifically to support family caregivers and families. I’ve tried CareZone in the past, but it was discontinued (bought by Walmart in 2020 and retired by Walmart in 2023).
- Designed to allow easy sharing of information among a care circle.
- Usually allow tasks to be delegated or sent to someone in care circle.
- Often has fewer helpful features than an app specifically designed for task management, such as adding a due date or making a task repeatable.
- My experience has been that companies seem to have trouble sustaining apps for family caregivers.
My top recommendations for keeping track of to-dos
Here are my current top recommendations:
For those who really prefer a low-tech approach, and/or don’t want to depend on a smartphone, I recommend a notebook, mainly because many people find that jotting things by hand is easier than typing into a computer.
But for those who have a smartphone, I recommend they consider a task management app. I personally prefer apps that work on either iPhone or Android, allow some form of web browser access, and also support recurring tasks.
You can find recent round-up reviews of popular task management apps by searching for “best to-do list managers” on Google.
If you’re a caregiver, what have you found helps keep you organized, and helps you keep track of everything you need to do for an older person’s health?