Productive aging

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By Marianne Delorey

Marianne Delorey
Marianne Delorey

The younger generation has a distinct advantage over the rest of us – they are growing up in a world in which all they have to do is go online to learn any new skill. YouTube and Google are game changers. Never again will someone have to ask a family member how to get stains out of their clothes, change their oil, or admit to someone else they need help with a skin growth that they can’t identify.

Recently, with a little help from Google, and several hours of reading self-help books and streaming productivity blogs on YouTube, I developed a system to keep myself better organized.  I noticed, however, that all the books, blogs and videos are geared toward the young. It is as if they think we stop being productive as we age. I thought it would be helpful to let our elders know about habit trackers as a way to help them stay on top of life’s tasks.

A habit tracker is a spreadsheet that has the days of the month running across the top and a list of items to track going down the side. Maybe, like me, you needed the help to remember the last time you watered the plants so you didn’t overwater them. But I found I needed to track more tasks, and for different reasons.

Here are some items that older people might want to track:

  • Paid bills
  • Finished to-do list
  • Watered plants
  • Picked up around house
  • Had quiet time (Read, meditated, or prayed)
  • Did something creative (knit, write, sing, etc.)
  • Called family
  • Time with friends
  • Took pet for a walk
  • Took medications, vitamins
  • Drank at least four cups of water
  • Logged food
  • Ate at least four servings fruit and vegetables
  • Avoided junk food
  • Took blood pressure/sugar
  • Logged weight
  • Exercised

One of the interesting things I learned about myself when starting this tracker was that sometimes the daily tasks I tracked were not supporting bigger goals. Now, I’m spending time figuring out why some tasks are easy for me and how I can make other tasks easier so they get done without a struggle. Learning from both successes and failures is an important process in developing a usable system.

Tracking also helps in emergency situations. For instance, if you log when you are taking your meds and you miss a day, you might figure out more quickly why you are feeling ill. And, if your family or EMTs find you and you can’t speak for yourself, seeing your habit tracker might help them figure out why you are ill (maybe you are diabetic and they can tell you did not eat recently, for instance).

Tracking also helps establish new habits. Many of us feel very satisfied with ourselves when we get to check something off, so having a checkbox ready to go makes it easier for us to get some self-praise.

I am writing this because finding a system of tracking repetitive tasks was a game changer for me. I am learning about myself. I am keeping my goals front and center. And having my checklist I look at every day has given me peace of mind that I enjoy and am surprised by. And I can say for the first time that I am organized. Not completely, of course, but I am getting there, one checkbox at a time.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or [email protected] and www.colonyretirementhomes.com.