A system for tracking personal care hours

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

One clerical duty that I have, being a person who uses personal care attendants (PCAs), is keeping up with the hours worked so that I can verify that the timesheets we submit to my counselor are correct. For a long time, I didn’t keep my own records, but every now and then, there’s a reason to go back and see who worked when and my system lets me do that fairly simply. In this post, I’m going to explain how I track my PCA hours and why I track them this way.

Tradeoffs

I’ll save you some time reading this post by telling you what my system isn’t good for. If you like spreadsheets and want to perform math-based magic tricks on your data, my system is not for you. However, if you are lazy like I am and want to minimize the amount of time you spend entering data, read on.

Goals

I’ve tried and failed in the past at keeping my PCA hours in a spreadsheet. In the end, it was just too cumbersome and I was too lazy. No matter how good a system is, if the user doesn’t use it, it won’t work. With that in mind, here were my goals in developing a lazy-friendly tracking system:

  • Simple archiving of PCA shifts
  • Minimal data entry
  • Fast
  • Synced between computer and phone

The tools

At the core of my system is the fact that it is just plain text format. If you aren’t much for computers, you could just as easily use a notebook (but then there wouldn’t be much of a point to reading this post!). Considering the goals above, the software I used was important. It had to be fast. Really fast. It would also need support for syncing so I could have my notes on my Mac and my iPhone.

For the Mac, I settled on Notational Velocity. Plain text notes, Dropbox sync, fast as lightning. That’s really all you need to know.

For the iPhone, I chose WriteRoom. Again, plain text notes and Dropbox sync. Fast.

On both iPhone and Mac, I use TextExpander. That lets me use abbreviations that automatically type themselves out into longer words and phrases. For example:

pcabb

becomes:

Bob Barker

This keeps me from having to type out a long name. Important for the first goal of minimal data entry.

The format

Having solved the issue of how to keep notes from my phone and computer synced nicely, it’s time to see the format. I create a note titled:

PCA Records / June 2013 / 1

which shows the year, month, and pay period to which the note applies (my PCAs get paid twice a month, so there are two pay periods each month—one note per pay period).

An entry might look something like this:

4 Day

Bob Barker

This tells me that Bob Barker worked the normal day shift on June 4, 2013. This format applies to the normal night shift as well:

4-5 Night

Lionel Richie

This tells me that Lionel Richie came in on the 4th at the normal time and left on the 5th (all night long).

Since the pay works a little differently when my brother is with me and my PCA is working with both of us, I need my records to show this:

4 Day *

Bob Barker

The simple addition of an asterisk is all I need.

But what if a PCA works a shift that isn’t the standard day or night shift. Then, and only then, I write out the time:

4 Day (8:00am-11:00am)

Bob Barker

The fact that I am keeping the word “Day” in there is redundant given that the time is explicitly stated, but it helps my eyes when scanning a note.

I simply put a blank line in between entries:

4 Day

Bob Barker

4-5 Night
Lionel Richie

5 Day
Bob Barker

5-6 Night
Lionel Richie

When I get to the end of the pay period, I simply create a new note and start all over again.

Limitations

The fact that the system is just plain text means that there isn’t an easy way to extract information like how many hours a PCA worked or whether or not I inadvertently used more than my allotted number of hours in a week. A spreadsheet or database would be better for that. Same goes for the ability to sort by a particular field. For example, I can’t just see all of Bob Barker’s shifts together.

Pros

On the flip side, it takes only a few seconds to open one of these lightweight apps and write down the simple entry. The notes are easy to browse and scan. They achieve the primary goal of serving as a simple archive of PCA shifts.

Ideas for improvement

I’ve already written a JavaScript tool that takes my simple notes and spits them out in the overly complicated format required by the state. In the future, I’ll probably expand the tool to also give me some information like total hours used, etc. The general principle is to keep the data entry to a minimum and do more complex functions with the JS program.

It’s not perfect, but it works for me. How do you track your PCA hours?