Yes, I know we are a month into the year. I will have you know this is a replacement planner. (Sidenote: Don’t store your kids wet bathing suits in the same bag as the paperwork you brought to do at their lessons). A new planner means I have the Herculean task of recopying all the information out of the soggy decomposing book into this shiny new one. My hand is cramping just thinking about it.
Why, you may ask, are you wasting your time handwriting all that information? Isn’t there an app for that? Are you somehow trapped in a 1997 time-bubble?
All good questions, dear reader. In fact, I am somehow in possession of no fewer than four separate calendar applications on my phone and computer. These are all basic apps that came bundled with other work-related productivity software, not the specialized family schedule apps that are available now. I’m an active user of digital time-chasers, too. But the fact is that coordinating the lives of four human beings with converging and diverging responsibilities and desires requires my full focus. I’m Gen X: we made the world intangible. One of the side effects of that digital revolution is that those of us who watched it from the barricades need to be able to touch and feel information to really believe it exists. To fully wrap my head around our family’s life, I need to write it out in colored pens.
This is one of those parenting realities that was not highlighted in the brochure. Your children will have lives, and until they reach the age of self-sufficiency, you are their full-time manager. I spend more hours each month focused on organizing the logistics of running this small family than I do on my personal appearance. (Ask me again why I look so tired – I’ll provide you with a graph of conflicting birthday party invitations and ski club meetings.) I filled out more forms for the children’s preschool entry than I did for my college applications. The crush of daily life is in the infinite details.
How many agendas do you need to coordinate?
In this new planner, I will keep track of:
my work schedule, my partner’s work and travel schedule, my children’s school schedule, the kiddos’ individual after school sports schedules, kiddo homework assignments, my writing assignments, our family social activities, my partner’s volunteering schedule, my volunteering schedule, the kiddos’ individual social activities, family meal planning, my partner’s sports schedule, my exercise schedule, our family medical, dental, and hair appointments, our car maintenance, household bill payment, family birthdays, and miscellaneous special events.
I am sure there are other pieces I am forgetting. I am also sure that your family schedule is just as complex and has just as many moving parts. I am not a beautiful or unique snowflake. Every family has to figure out how to balance all those demands, desires and imperatives.
So how do you do it?
No seriously, I am asking. Contrary to what productivity coaches may be selling, I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution. My new planner, which was chosen because it has a weekly grid breaking down each day into 30 minute time slots from 6 AM – 10 PM, also offers me some cheerful motivational quotations and very nice mind-mapping tools to help me find my passion. I just want to find my socks.
How do you do it all? You don’t. This week I am devoting my energy to figuring out how to keep track of it all, so I can cheerfully wave to the deadlines as they fly out the window. This gives me a chance to tweak my systems. So for what it is worth, here’s my approach to keeping the circus spinning:
Old School Kitchen Calendar
Mine currently has Edward Gorey pictures on it, so even when I am jotting down multiple dental appointments, I still smile a little. I keep a collection of colorful fine point Sharpies attached to it so I can color code different activities. This kitchen calendar is a classic for a reason – centrally located, you have to look at it at least once a day. People who don’t have networked calendar apps (for example, five year olds) can see if we have plans. I also give the kiddos pretty calendars for their rooms, and this year I ended up with an extra so I just put it up in the bathroom. Too many calendars? History will decide.
(My New) Paper Planner
The handwritten planner gives me a place to make extra notes and to-do lists that are connected to the daily grind. I like one that has a full daily breakdown so I can visually block off the time, and doodle about how much I hate car appointments. Another bonus to the paper planner – when you are sitting in public making detailed notes in a planner, people assume you are a busy and important person. When you frown seriously at your smartphone, people assume you are very bad at Candy Crush.
(Okay, of course) Digital Calendars
I joke because I am addicted to my phone and depend on it for everything except food and oxygen. I have calendars on all my devices linked together through the magic internet. I use Google Calendar, but there are other options available. I build separate “calendars” for different members of my family, and view them all at once. I also have different calendars for individual groups I am involved with (example: I have all my Girl Scout meetings in one calendar). The biggest advantage of the digital calendars is the ability to set notifications. I try to use that function judiciously – too many notifications and I will just ignore them all – but occasionally there are very important events that are likely to slip your mind, and an unexpected beeping can keep you on track.
Regular Review and Updating
This is the maintenance aspect that can be the sticking point. Having tools is pointless if you do not use them. You need to look at each of your calendars and constantly update them. Some people do this in the evening before bed. Some people prefer the morning. I think this is a question of personal preference. Me, I look at the kitchen calendar when I turn off the kitchen light before bed, and then grab my paper planner in the morning with that critical first coffee. I update the digital calendar after my morning email. I look at all three calendars at least once a day. It seems like overkill when I write it down like that, but I know it’s the level of focus I personally need to keep juggling all those balls.
I still protest the fact that advanced project manager training was not included as a chapter in “What To Expect When You Are Expecting”. But taming the beast of the family schedule is something everyone has to achieve, and I wish you well on your personal timetable odyssey.