Make Your Family Calendar Work For You

colored pencils

It’s back-to-school time again, and there’s no shortage of ideas out there on how to get the family calendar organized as you head into the new year.

Here are some tips I shared a few years back to make sure the system you choose works best for YOU. I hope they help!

1. Set an intention for the school year

Think about the words you’d like to use to describe your fall. Do you thrive on a burst of frenetic energy at the beginning of the year, or are you better off easing into the hustle? If you’re at home during the day, how do you want your days to go when the kids are at school? Will you participate in fundraisers? (don’t feel guilty if the answer is ‘no’.) If you want to read to your child’s classroom or visit the classroom, when will you do it? Will you exercise? Just envisioning how you’d like your fall to look can help you make plans fall into place.

2. Check in with reality

Now that you’ve thought about how you’d like the fall to go, make sure your plans are all going to fit. Check your calendar against the school year calendar, and make sure your schedule is realistic. Remember, nobody can – or should – do everything. That includes your joiner 13-year-old who wants to be in five clubs and two sports all at the same time.

Make Your Family Calendar Work For You

3. Create a time management system that works for you, and plug in the details

No matter how cool that jumbo organizing system with eighteen different compartments, a zip-out change purse and a built-in calculator might seem, it’s utterly worthless if you won’t actually use it. Ditto that amazing new app into which you keep forgetting to plug your appointments.

It took me years to realize that I’m actually not a hopelessly disorganized, scatterbrained mess – I simply wasn’t using the right tools for my work style and personality type. After a lot of trial and error I realized a few key things about myself:

  • Any planner held closed with a zipper simply never gets opened
  • Ditto purse-sized calendars
  • While smartphone technology is great for on-the-go scheduling, I need to write appointments and to-do lists down -with an actual pencil or pen, and sometimes more than once – for them to really “stick”
  • I need one place to keep track of scheduled deadlines and appointments and a separate place for brainstorming and list-making – and it’s best when those dates and lists are hanging where I can see them many times throughout the day

I used these self-discoveries to create a planning system tailor-made to the way I work best:

  1. The first piece of the puzzle is my wall calendar, where I keep track of recurring deadlines and family-oriented dates – things that involve more people in the house besides just myself, or things that I really need to be reminded of with a quick glance.
  2. I also have two white boards – a large one that I use as a “master task list” to keep track of ideas and one-day goals rattling around in my brain, and one that offers a week’s worth of spaces for planning out the coming week.
  3. Then I tie all the components together with a notebook-sized month-at-a-glance calendar. 

Even though it’s got a lot of moving parts, once I really figured out what I need in an organizing system, mine was a snap to create (and I had one of those “Duh, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!” moments once it was all in place.)

My personal system is great for me because it really helps me quiet the noise in my distraction-prone brain. Each different “type” of information has its own place, giving me space to separate long-term goal-setting from short-term to-dos. If I have a deadline coming up next week, I can fill in a day to work on the project on my weekly whiteboard (and move it easily if I need to.) If I have a few minutes available and can’t think of something to do, I can quickly glance up at my master list to grab an idea of something I’d like to be working on. If I need to check whether a deadline conflicts with a family event, I can easily cross-reference the family calendar with the planner. And I can take the weekly/monthly planner with me when I work at the library or coffee shop. 

But that doesn’t mean you should copy my system wholesale, unless of course you totally identify with the way my brain works! Maybe you are the person who likes to keep it simple with a single planner or wall calendar. Maybe you need wall-to-wall whiteboards for doodling and brainstorming. Maybe you really are the person who can keep track of everything on a smartphone.

When it comes to organization systems, we all have unique needs. I love technology, but I’m a pen-and-paper girl at heart. I’m a “if it’s not in front of me I’ll forget” person. I’m a “the less possibility of me misplacing a calendar the better” person.

How about you? What calendar systems make the school year easier in your family?

Lead Image: Horia Varlan, via Flickr Creative Commons

About The Author


  1. Liz
  2. Jennifer R