A health care crisis can hit without warning, leaving you both nursing the patient and mired in seemingly endless bureaucracy. In this article, Kathy Iberle shares with us her experience dealing with an elderly uncle who suffered a stroke and how agile methods, like using a visual planning board, can help one prepare and be ready when disaster strikes.
A health care crisis can hit without warning, leaving you both nursing the patient and mired in seemingly endless bureaucracy. When my elderly uncle suffered a stroke and could not return to his previous home, a long series of complications ensued, including assisted living, rehab, a nursing home, and Medicaid. This was further complicated by the shaky state of his finances and my unfamiliarity with them.
I started by writing a to-do list in a spiral-bound notebook dedicated to my uncle’s needs. Within two weeks, this method had failed miserably. A few tasks had proliferated into dozens of items with rapidly shifting priorities. Every stone I turned had half a dozen stones beneath it, often crawling with unpleasant life forms. Keeping track of what I should do next felt impossible.
I turned to a method that I had been using in my lean consulting business: the visual planning board.
Visual Planning Board to the Rescue
Figure 1. To-do List
First, I wrote each task from my to-do list on a sticky note (figure 1). Then I laid out all the sticky notes on a large piece of cardboard. I drew one column for each week. Then I put each task into the column for the week in which that task needed to be finished. All the tasks that didn’t need to be finished in the first month went into a box called Later. (figure 2).
Figure 2. Tasks from Week to Week
Now I had a better picture of what needed to be done and by when. Each week, I could work on the tasks for that week only. The job didn’t seem quite so overwhelming. However, this picture wasn’t entirely reliable because some tasks would take longer than a week. Those needed to be started earlier, but how much earlier?
Figure 3. Splitting a Big Task into Smaller Tasks
To simplify the tracking, I looked over the first few weeks and found the tasks that would take longer than a week. I split each big task into a set of smaller tasks of a week long or less. For example, “Find a permanent home” was split into the likely steps for finding a home (figure 3). The final task was placed in the week when it needed to finish, and the earlier ones were distributed over the weeks leading up to it. (I didn’t bother to split up the big tasks that were farther out than four weeks because they were likely to change before I got to them.)
At this point, the sticky notes for the current week were a pretty good picture of what needed to be done that week. This helped me avoid starting more than I could realistically finish. I could also see where the plan was simply not feasible (indicated by a huge pile of sticky notes in a single week) and decide how to adjust it.