Smart Family Scheduling
One fall when my younger daughter was a Brownie, I forgot to sign her up for the troop's annual camping trip. At the time I was using both a family wall calendar and two paper planners to keep track of three kids' schedules as well as my personal and work appointments, so it's not surprising something like this slipped through the cracks.
Wracked with guilt, I crossed my fingers that my daughter wouldn't find out what she had missed. Unfortunately, little girls love to talk. "Mom, I really wanted to go," she wailed when she learned about it. Then and there, I vowed to find a time-management system that was efficient and easy to follow so no child of mine would miss an important event ever again.
Start a system
Of course, the reason I even need a family time-management system is that my kids, like almost all kids these days, participate in activities, and someone - usually me - has to keep track of them. Whether you have one child or six, work outside the home or not, you can't rely on your memory when it comes to ballet lessons, tae kwan do tournaments, soccer matches or Girl Scout cookie booths.
So now that another school year - and jam-packed extracurricular schedule - is upon us, what's the best system for a busy parent to use? As with many things in life, what works for some won't be right for others. The important thing, experts say, is that it be accessible, portable, easy to update and pleasant to use. "Anything in life that you do repeatedly - and this includes taking children to after-school activities - requires a system," says Barbara Hemphill, a Raleigh-based, nationally known author and coach who specializes in organization and productivity. "It could be very simple, like a paper calendar on the refrigerator. It doesn't matter if it's paper or digital," as long as it accounts for everyone in the family and gets used and updated.
Although Hemphill uses a paper planner for her master calendar, she notes that many parents who already use devices such as smartphones and tablets might find that a digital system makes the most sense. And when more than one parent or caregiver is involved in kids' activities, a digital system may be the only way to go.
That's what Julie White, a Raleigh mother of three who is director of the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, realized when her two younger children - boy-girl twins who are now 7 - joined their older brother in sports and YMCA Indian Guides (and Princesses). She and her husband, along with their part-time babysitter, use the Google calendar system to know whose turn it is to drop off and pick up each child.
Before the activities even get plugged into Google's calendar - which White and her husband sync with their work calendars - the couple plots out the month's schedule, which White enters into an Excel spreadsheet. Each day, White, her husband and their babysitter consult Google calendar on their desktop computer, smartphone or other mobile device to see who's taking which kid where - and when.
White acknowledges that all of this juggling sometimes gets complicated, but she's committed to making it work. "I decided that if I was going to be a working mother, my kids would still have the same opportunities to participate in after-school activities as kids with mothers who don't work outside the home," she says.
For independent public relations consultant Elizabeth Witherspoon of Durham, the move to a digital calendar system came several years ago, when she bought a BlackBerry. "I thought I would never be able to make the leap from my Day-Timer, but once I started using a PDA I've never looked back," says Witherspoon, who now uses an Android phone calendar app synced with Outlook and Google to keep track of schedules for her 12-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
While Witherspoon's children aren't overly busy by today's standards - they're both in Scouting, her son plays baseball seasonally and her daughter plays the cello - one is in a year-round school and the other is in a traditional program. So whenever Witherspoon receives calendars from her kids' schools or notes about teacher workdays or early release schedules, she takes the time to enter the information into her phone right away to avoid scheduling disasters. Being disciplined about following her system is critical because when her husband is out of town training with the Navy reserves, she has no backup.
Sync and share
Anne Jones of Raleigh, whose husband also travels frequently, finds that the popular new online calendar-sharing program Cozi works for her family. Jones, who owns a mobile veterinary service called Homeward Bound and has a 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, uses Cozi on her iPhone to schedule the kids' after-school activities as well as client appointments.
Her husband, Dave, has Cozi on his Android phone as well, which makes things easy because when he's not out of town on business, he works from home and can help shuttle kids to tae kwan do, soccer practice and Indian Guides and Princesses meetings.
"I like the fact that Dave can put his business trips in Cozi, too, and that each family member has their own color," she says. "We also use the shopping list, which I can update while my husband is walking through the store."
The move from paper calendar to digital system - which occurred less than a year ago when Jones bought an iPhone - has been seamless, she notes. The 3:30 p.m. conversations she used to have with her husband about "who's picking up who and who's getting what from the store" are much more infrequent now that they both have access to the family schedule.
As for me, I still have my desk planner, appointment book and wall calendar tacked up in the kitchen. But having fallen in love with my recently purchased iPhone, I'm one step closer to moving my life online.
Suzanne M. Wood is a Raleigh-based freelance writer and mother of three.
Family time-management resources
Whether you're a paper devotee or looking to expand your digital options, there's no shortage of tools and resources. Some to consider:
A free online family calendar, Cozi is accessible via computer or mobile device, can be synced with Outlook and some other online calendars and is customizable. It also contains popular list-making and journaling features.
Google's free online calendar program is accessible via desktop or mobile device, can be synchronized with Outlook, is customizable and can be shared with others.
An online parenting resource for "Managing the chaos of modern motherhood," mommytracked.com features downloadable calendars and to-do lists.
A parenting resource/e-commerce site that specializes in day planners in different sizes and styles, momagenda.com has earned testimonials from fans including actresses Rachel Zoe, Felicity Huffman and Kimberly Williams Paisley.
The FlyLady "I Can Do Anything" 17-month calendar
A wall calendar/planner featuring colorful stickers to help remind you of doctor's appointments, tennis lessons, etc., this calendar is offered by the "Flylady," aka Marla Cilley, who inspires followers to live more organized, clutter-free lives.
Mary Engelbreit Moms Can Do Anything Calendar
This colorful, month-by-month wall calendar/organizer features the artist's folksy, whimsical drawings.
The choice of professional organizer/productivity expert Barbara Hemphill, this paper-based system is designed for work and family commitments. It features space for appointments, to-do lists and project planning.
- Suzanne Wood