Author and business guru Stephen Covey coined the phrase “first things first” to remind people to not focus on the daily “fires” that arise (drama, issues, mini-emergencies) but to reorder the day and take care of the things that really matter first. Easier said than done. Most caregivers spend the majority of their time doing the myriad of chores, errands, calls, and personal care their loved ones need. It’s tough to remember what’s truly important when an adult diaper needs changing or a whole bottle of very expensive pills just fell into a sink full of dishwater.
That’s why starting your day is so important. A few minutes of calm thought and preparation can affect every aspect of your day.
Creating Order to Your Caregiving Day:
- Don’t rush out of your bedroom in the morning. Spend a few minutes in prayer, thought, and reflection.
- Don’t allow your feet to hit the floor without noting three things to be grateful for.
- Keep a journal, the Bible, a book of poetry, or other inspirational material next to your bed. Words of encouragement can soothe you in times of worry and grief.
- Use that paper and pen to plan out your day. Your caregiver brain is frazzled, so keep a pen and paper with you at all times. It’s your brain outside your brain—let it keep track of things for you.
- Do some deep breathing and stretches before you turn the bedroom doorknob. Feel your body. Be grateful for every muscle and bone you have.
- Get dressed—shoes and all. It tells the world you mean business. And brush your hair. (I can’t tell you how many days I forgot to do that when I was caring for my mom!)
- Remind yourself that you are choosing to care-give. You believe in it. Choice is power.
- Remember that list in your pocket? You were probably a tad too optimistic. Pick the three most important items (first things first) and make sure those get done early in the day. Even one item checked off is a victory.
- Take care of yourself first. Train your spouse, elder parent, and kids to get up after you—and to know that if they interrupt your first half hour or so, they’re on their own. You’re not on duty yet. (No one gets so much as a nod good morning until I’ve had my coffee, prayer, and journal time.)
- Remember Covey’s other wise words: Think efficiency with things, effectiveness with people. Greet your loved ones in the morning like they matter—because they do. Ask them what their plans are for the day—they might not have thought of a plan yet, so you’re helping them get a jumpstart to their day.
- Get those chores and to-do’s done fast. Zip through that monotonous list and let your day know you mean business. No whining or dragging—just do it. (Nike chose a good slogan!)
- Make sure you’ve got a little fun tucked in every day. If you’re running errands, stop by DQ and get a small-dip cone. If you’re walking the dog, take the ball and let him play (and you, too). If you’re going to the doctor’s office, slip that steamy romance novel into your purse and read a couple of paragraphs before getting your teeth cleaned. Life’s little pleasures make the tough stuff tolerable.
Not every caregiving day is great. You’re not always at your perky best. I do know that when you put first things first—with purpose and passion—that eventually it will become your new norm. You’ll find yourself halfway through your morning and much to your surprise, you’re zipping right along. Habit becomes the backbone of your day and gives you a sense of calm and trust.
The very “first” thing to remember about caregiving is why you’re caregiving in the first place—because someone you love needs you.