Soccer Practice. T-ball practice. PE days (don’t forget those tennis shoes!). Classroom assignments. Spelling tests. The Kindergarten snack bucket schedule. PTA meetings. Saturday morning group runs. Holiday concerts. Snack and drink schedules for soccer. Business trips. Babysitter schedules. Date nights. Tae Kwon Do practice. LEGO League practice. Meetings. Parent-teacher conferences.
My head spins just thinking about it all.
We still have relatively young children. My oldest is only in second grade, there’s one in kindergarten, and my youngest is 2. This year, as I started to manage the schedules of two school children, I started to also think about how much harder this will be when all three of them are in school and involved in activities. Combine their schedules with the busy life of an elementary school principal, throw in a working mother who tends to commit to WAY more than she probably should, and I could tell this was just the start of what could potentially become a very big nightmare…
I realized that I desperately needed a system to try and manage the chaos of a busy family of five.
I already had a shared Google Calendar that we use as a family calendar. My husband and I both can open it on our smartphones, and I use it to keep track of appointments and other “schedule-related things” that both my husband and I need to see. It helps if I put the boys’ sporting events and practices on there, because then he is able to see when they have stuff going on. It’s already saved me a few times when he has called and said “don’t we have XYZ tonight?” (when I had totally forgotten!)
I love our Google calendar. But while this system works well for appointments and practices, and other “calendar” entries (those with a start and end time on a specific date), it didn’t seem to be helping me to manage the details. It seemed like all the little things that needed attention were slipping through the cracks. This began the search for another system.
I started the school year using a white board in the kitchen. I mapped out a week, drew a grid, and wrote in the schedule for each of the family members. Each Sunday evening, I would update the weekly grid with the schedule and important events for the week. It seemed to work – at first.
A few weeks into the trial, after a huge almost-failure in just the first month of school, when we came dangerously close to missing a class project deadline, I realized that planning out just a week ahead was not quite good enough. The class project information had come home weeks before, and because it was not coming up in the “next week,” I had not put it on the white board. The paper that the teacher had sent home explaining the assignment had disappeared, and there was no trigger to remind us that it was due.
It was obvious I needed something a little more proactive, a little more forward-looking.
I ordered a paper planner. I pulled out my colored pens, my highlighters. I planned to use a different color for each family member, a recommendation that I read online in a “how to get organized” article. I put in a few upcoming appointments and dates. The paper planner lasted about a week. Well, if I’m honest, this idea didn’t really even get off the ground.
In theory, I like the idea of a paper planner. It seems like a one-stop place to have all those appointments, reminders, and to-do lists would be great. But the layout of the planner I bought wasn’t working for me (curse of the deal-a-day website). And, I realized I don’t really have room in my small purse to carry around a planner. So if I couldn’t carry it, it was never going to be with me when I needed to update it. And finding the time to sit down every night to write everything down and keep it updated? Right. Like that’s going to happen. (I can hardly get a blog post ready in time with three weeks’ notice!) I couldn’t see how I’d find the time and energy to keep it up to date. I really wasn’t going to be able to make it work.
My husband reminded me that we already have a Google Calendar that we use as a family calendar. I use it to keep track of appointments and other “schedule things” that both he and I need to see. He asked, why couldn’t I just use it for everything?
So, after trying a few new methods and failing a few times, I’m back to the Google Calendar. I sync it with my iPhone, so it’s always with me. I keep the family appointments and schedules up to date on our family calendar. I’ve even created a separate one with my running and training schedule.
I still struggle with how I can best manage reminders and tasks in this calendar format. Things like school reminders, which days the boys need PE shoes, and special homework assignments, don’t really seem to fit into a calendar format. I haven’t yet figured out how I can get everything into a Google Calendar. My goal is to have one place to keep all our family schedules, reminders and tasks. Online tools seem to be the best solution – then I can share it with my husband and update it from multiple locations (smartphone, computer, etc).
Because I have to remember that any system, no matter how well-designed, is only as good as the information the user is putting in (which means me!). So whatever system I end up choosing, I have to be willing to make the time and keep it updated. And I have to use it – no matter how many reminders I write down, if I don’t check them regularly I am bound to miss something.
I’m not there yet. I don’t have the answer. In fact, I don’t think I’m any better off that I was that week in September when we scrambled to finish that school project the night before it was due. It’s definitely a work in progress.
Here’s where you come in. How do you organize your family schedule and “to do” items? Have you found a solution that works for you? If so, please share! You just might save this mom’s sanity!