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Calendar Planning for Moms – a system that works for me

by Sarah Powers on January 13, 2014

Happy Monday, friends! Meagan is traveling (did you catch her beautiful post yesterday from Las Vegas?), so today we’re revisiting a post I wrote last year about calendar planning. If you’re still getting into your groove after the crazy-weather-start to 2014, this might help you get a handle on the weeks ahead. Enjoy! -Sarah

Calendar Planning for Busy Moms
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.

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

fridge calendar, Avalanche Family Plan-It
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.

Avalanche Family Plan-It, magnetic fridge calendar

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

Weekly print-out iCal
Here’s the part where the two systems – online and paper – really come together. And, truth be told, this single sheet of paper is what keeps me from forgetting where I am day-to-day.

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.

This system is the one that works for me. Now, tell me how you manage your family’s calendar. Are you a techie when it comes to scheduling or a pen-and-paper devotee? If you’ve found a system that works, share it with us in the comments!

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynne February 27, 2013 at 8:15 am

I really like your article. I’m a work at home mom and it is really hard to monitor my family and work schedule at the same method. I used refrigerator calendar for the house and google calendar for work. :)

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Sarah Powers February 27, 2013 at 10:05 am

Thanks, Lynn! I know – sometimes with the work/personal stuff it’s nice to have it all in once place, and other times I like to see it separately. I feel like this method allows me to pick and choose and do both. Glad it helps! :)

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Lisa February 27, 2013 at 8:55 am

How does your GCal weekly view look so nice. Mine is a jumble of colored bubbles. A pain to read. If it looked like yours does I might just print it out more than once in a blue moon.

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Sarah Powers February 27, 2013 at 10:06 am

Lisa, you’re not crazy. The photo of the weekly print-out is actually from iCal (Mac’s calendar program). Sometimes I print from there, and sometimes from GCal itself. There is more space to write in on the iCal version – you can see how my weekly view looks in GCal in the earlier image, which is an actual screen shot. Is that how yours looks or is mine still cleaner? Curious…

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MomofTwoPreciousGirls February 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

Wahhhhhhh! Thanks for making me cry with that adorable pic of your baby girl…she is wearing jammies that my girls had! Soooo cute!

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Sarah Powers February 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

Haha, you’re welcome. Those jammies were my older daughter’s first. She’s almost FIVE (wahhhhhhh!!). :)

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MomofTwoPreciousGirls February 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Mine turned five in January! Guess we were shopping around the same time a few years ago!

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jocelyn February 27, 2013 at 10:00 am

I use the mix of online and paper calender also but have never thought to print out a weekly view. Thanks for the new idea. I am going to give it a try and see if it helps me with the last minute changes I can forget.

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Sarah Powers February 27, 2013 at 10:07 am

Jocelyn, it really helps me – hope it works for you, too! I keep mine right next to my to-do list as well, so the two kind of work together throughout the week. Good luck!

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My Constant Chaos July 30, 2013 at 11:57 am

I too use the mix, but have never thought of printing it out. Thanks!

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Tragic Sandwich February 27, 2013 at 11:38 am

I grew up using paper calendars in various formats and tried really, really hard to be diligent about my Franklin Planner in the 90s, but found that I was much more likely to leave it behind than to have it with me when I wanted it.

I’ve tried Google Calendar and iCal, and have finally settled on Cozi. It comes in web and app form, and all of us can log in to check it and update it. I do like the weekly printout, though!

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Tanya February 27, 2013 at 11:49 am

Yes,very cute baby :) Great calender! I think most people could use a little more organization in their life.

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Annie February 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Very helpful to see how someone else navigates their calendared world. Thank you! I’ve gone back and forth between digital and paper calendars, never quite happy with either. Perhaps I’ll give your system, or something like it, a try. My problem is I always seem to be running out of printer ink. :)

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StephJ February 27, 2013 at 4:29 pm

I second the Cozi. There’s an app for it so I can access it from anywhere. I also have a calender on the fridge with a quick jot about big events. I like the idea of a printout, though. Might have to try that with my Cozi. What’s great about the Cozi is that everyone can access it and each family member is colour-coded automatically. It also allows you to put in a repeating event such as preschool or an after-school activity.

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MomofTwoPreciousGirls February 27, 2013 at 8:38 pm

I love cozi too!

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Kristi February 28, 2013 at 8:07 am

I use both paper and Google Calendar, too, but I like your idea of a printout that would be easier to glance at – I think I’m going to try that. I have to figure out how to actually print it. I’ve never tried. I tried Cozi for a while, and was keeping my shopping lists in there, too, which was great until it didn’t update one time while I was at Target and I didn’t know it, and came home missing half of the stuff I needed. Maybe I should give it another shot.

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Janet Dubac February 28, 2013 at 9:48 am

These are great tips! I really like it. I am also a busy mom and sometimes I forget that I have other things to do rather than taking care of my husband and my kids. This is an amazing idea to take care of that. Thanks for sharing this! :)

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Alison February 28, 2013 at 11:50 am

I have completely switched to my online calendar though it is both through my iPhone and google calendar. That’s the only confusing part because I use the phone, iPad, and laptop to enter info and the iPad and google calendar aren’t always sinked up. So I do double check regularly. One major benefit to using everything electronically is my husband has his own calendars which I have access to so we are always on the same page. It just wouldn’t work for us to have a paper calendar. I’m happy with it our system and honestly don’t have room for any at-a-glance wall one and things in the frig I stop noticing soon after I put it up.

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Sarah Powers February 28, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I hear you on the shared calendars with the husband – super important in our family too!

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Erica @ Expatria, Baby February 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Ok, this is going to sound totally ridiculous, but until now, it had never occurred to me to combine both online and offline organizational methods. I really like to write daily to-dos in my calendar, but also liked keeping things in iCal and setting reminders but how to combine the two???? Ahhhhhh I can never figure out this terrible riddle so I will just give up and be disorganized forever. Wah.
I am being totally serious, ps.
So now, light bulb moment, etc., onwards, origination!!!

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Sarah Powers February 28, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Hooray for light bulbs! :) I am actually totally paper-based with my to-do list, after trying to use Evernote and other systems I just go back to the legal pad. So maybe that’s why the weekly print-out works for me – it kind of lives side-by-side with my paper to-do list. :)

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Meagan Francis March 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Great system, Sarah! From working with Sarah for a few months now I can verify that she is extremely organized and great at coming up with color-coded systems! :)

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Jennifer June 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Great idea with the digital calendar printout…I don’t like checking my phone constantly to look at my calendar. Where do you write/keep track of your to do lists, shopping lists, Etc?

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Melody July 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm

This is like a revelation to me! I have struggled to go all-digital and felt guilty about needing paper lists. We have a wall calendar for family members and “big” stuff, but the week-to-week always felt scattered for me personally, even with Google cal updated frequently. I am going to try a similar hybrid approach and see if it helps–I think it will! One question, though, about your Google cal to iCal sync: I color code things in my Google cal, and have color categories in my iCal, but everything imported from Google comes up as its own single color. Do you have a work-around for this besides just reassigning each item before you print out the week? I do love my color-coding and hate to lose it.

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Sarah Powers August 6, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Hi Melody! You’re right – color coding in GCal does not come over to iCal, but usually when I get to the weekly print-out I’m not quite as reliant on the colors (as might be, say, with a month-at-a-glance view). One thing iCal does color code is different calendars from Google. So if you have a “sub-calendar” within your Google Calendar, iCal will put it in a different color. Does that make sense?

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heather August 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I do something very similar. Only I use cozi. I print out the week at a time. then on the bottom I put all my to dos. I love it b/c I can write on things like which mom is picking up/dropping off which kid and where! and I can write my grocery list on the back or my shopping list. I sometimes use mighty grocery but sometimes it so much faster to write it and have it. I often print out two copies of the week. One for my kids to see and one for me to have! My hubbys schedule is simple. If he’s awake, he’s working! but he can check in on it too and see where we might be!
Il ove writing all the things on the bottom that have to get done sometime, like which appts to make, what to do for work, what emails to work on, and then next week I just rewrite them over again and hope to get to them!
Once I even made a list for dish duty for my kids and somehow snipped things and put it ON my cozi weekly printout. But that’s WAY too organized!

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Sarah Powers August 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Yes! This sounds very similar to how I use the weekly print-out (and I hear great things about Cozi). I usually keep a separate (pen-and-paper) to do list, but like you, I make handwritten notes when some of those to-dos really need to get done on a certain day. I also write lists on the back, too! :)

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Katie @ The Surly Housewife January 14, 2014 at 8:19 am

I am mostly a paper/sharpie/pen kind of gal. The only thing I have electronically is our bills. I have found it’s less clutter on my day to day calendar. Like you, I also plan in weeks and I found the perfect planner that let’s me plan out each week. With 2 little ones it’s harder to plan much further in advance than that!

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sevlaznog May 31, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Im a working mom with 5 kids and 3 caregivers. We use multiple shared Google calendars and a monthly printed calendar. Each month I transfer non routine appointments and events to the printed calendar on the fridge. Everyone else knows to check their calendars online. I have my personal calendar, a family calendar shared with my husband and a caregiver calendar shared with each of them plus my husband. All of this is visible on my phone and computer. The different calendars are color coded so it’s easy to keep track of. The kids are all 5 and under but I would imagine setting it up this way will work when they are all old enough.

The family schedule is where I enter the kids appointments for doctors and classes.

We enter the caregivers school schedule in their calendar so we can see who is available if we need extra babysitting. Their regular babysitting schedule is also there so there’s no confusion.

We use evernote to share notes. This is useful for packing lists, house projects, and planning birthday parties! We also use it for gift lists, noting what gift we gave someone, gift ideas and thank you note lists.

I tried cozi too but decided evernote plus Google calendar worked out better for us.

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