This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Mom contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger at Powers of Mine.
If there’s one thing that busy moms cling to for dear life, it’s our calendars. Whether you swear by a datebook you carry in your purse, a dry-erase board hung on the wall, or an electronic calendar that lives in the cloud and syncs to half a dozen devices, I’m guessing you’ve got some kind of a system for keeping your family’s calendar.
And as Meagan points out in this post, what works for one mom may not work for another – you’ve got to find the system that works for you. Today I thought I’d share the way I manage our family’s calendar – a simple, 3-part system that combines digital and paper-based planning.
(By the way, I realize that nearly-March is a funny time to be talking about calendar planning, but I’ve been a little busy lately. Newborns have a way of throwing your whole calendar out the window anyway, and since this one arrived in January, I’m just now getting my head around the fact that it’s 2013.
What day is it again? Oh right. Back to calendar planning.)
Paper or Digital? Why I use both.
So much of life – including family life and home management – lives online these days, but when it comes to calendar planning, it seems like for many of us there’s still a pull toward the old familiar paper-and-pen method. One of the biggest drawbacks to an electronic calendar, in my opinion, is that you have to consciously check it – by clicking an app, or bringing up a program or browser window on your computer. A paper calendar – especially of the refrigerator or wall variety – is right there in front of you, and somehow those neat little color-coded entries seem less easily forgotten because you see them a dozen times a day (and because simply the physical act of writing the down commits them to memory a bit more).
On the other hand, I’m a big fan of technology when it makes my life easier. I manage the editorial calendars for two blogs and my husband has a complicated (and constantly changing) travel schedule that I like to be able to access at any time. When the wonder of the internet allows me to see all these things – blog post schedules and Bryan’s flight departure times – on my phone and my computer all in one place (without a ton of tedious data entry), I’m all for it.
These pros and cons of digital vs. paper-based calendar planning are what led me to the system I use now. It works in 3 parts and combines the best of the online and pen-and-paper worlds.
Part 1: Google Calendar
I use Google Calendar for both my personal and professional schedules. My computer and my smartphone both pull data from the Google Calendar, which lives in “the cloud,” so any changes automatically sync to whatever device accesses the information. I have my calendar set up so that I can view information for my editorial jobs, check my husband’s work calendar and travel schedule, and see my personal appointments and our family commitments all in one place.
Using recurring appointments, which only need to be set up once, I enter the kids’ regular schedules into Google Calendar. Even though I’m not likely to forget that my 4-year-old has preschool on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I like to have those standing appointments entered so I can view our week at a glance and know what it looks like. I also enter any one-off appointments as they come up – say, a doctor’s appointment or work meeting – and often I enter those on my phone because I can do it right when it gets scheduled and I don’t have to remember to write it down later.
Google Calendar serves as the “motherboard” of my system; if I had to go one place to get the most accurate information, this is where it is. But the information doesn’t stay in the cloud, where I’m likely to forget to check it until it’s too late. This is where the paper system comes in.
Part 2: Monthly Refrigerator Calendar
A few years ago on a whim I picked up Avalanche’s Family Plan-It calendar on clearance, and it’s been my go-to ever since. It’s magnetic, so ours lives on the fridge, and it has a line for each member of the family.
As a new month approaches, I sit down with my computer or smartphone and write our family’s commitments on the fridge calendar. I don’t bother with my own work stuff for the fridge calendar, but I do write down my husband’s travel details (if only so I can answer the question “when is daddy coming home?” with a quick glance at the refrigerator).
The separate line for each family member keeps the calendar looking super clean, and I admit that it’s pretty satisfying to sit down with a set of fine-point Sharpie markers – one color for each member of the family – and write in our schedule for the month.
Once I transfer the information from the online calendar to the fridge calendar, I don’t do too much updating to the latter. If a playdate comes up mid-week, for example, I don’t break out the Sharpie and add it in. I do, however, keep track of things like that on my weekly print-out, which brings me to Part 3…
Part 3: Weekly Print-Out
Every Sunday I print a week-at-a-glance view of my Google Calendar. It includes information from both editorial calendars I manage, from my husband’s travel schedule, and from our personal family calendar. This simple piece of paper becomes the live, dynamic picture of my week, including things that come up – or get canceled – at the last minute.
Since my Google Calendar is kept up-to-date, the printed week view comes out pretty accurate. But because life happens, I use a trusty ballpoint pen to make changes as the week progresses. I also add in things from my to-do list that aren’t necessarily scheduled appointments, but that need to fit in on a certain day (if I know I’m going to be running errands on Wednesday morning, for example, I might hand-write in a note to pick up a birthday present for a party on the upcoming weekend).
The weekly print-out works for me because I tend to “think in weeks.” Having a visual of the week ahead, with all my scheduled commitments as well as “white space” for the days and times where the kids and I have time to play, just makes sense to my brain. It lets me be super-organized on the weeks where I feel so inclined (I have been known, though not recently, to do my menu-planning on this sheet of paper by writing in my planned dinner menu toward the bottom section of each day) – and on the weeks where I’m just getting by, I at least have the basics of our schedule in front of me.
The best part about the weekly print-out is that it combines the power of the internet – with all my various identities and schedules – with the irreplaceable functionality of pen-and-paper. It’s the best of both worlds.