Scheduling Chaos

I have three kids and I never seem to have a firm grip on where any of us need to be at any given time. It stresses me out, but I still haven't figured out the best way to manage my family's schedule. Help! — Ann, Montpelier, Vermont

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore (once stressed-out professional moms) are real women on a mission to help busy people get organized.After... Read more

With agendas overflowing the way they are for today's families, keeping track of everybody's schedule in one central location is essential. You can establish a physical schedule station like a whiteboard or paper calendar in the kitchen, or a virtual schedule station like a shared Google calendar. If you go with a virtual calendar, make sure family members sync their personal calendars to it every day—otherwise you don't have a schedule station!

Here are three steps for creating a calendar system that works:

Make Two Calendars

We find that it's most effective to post both a weekly and monthly calendar. The weekly calendar shows all of the routine activities (and most likely will require only seasonal changes). The monthly calendar keeps track of changes or additions to the usual routine, like doctor's appointments and birthday parties.

The family schedule should have eight columns—one for a family member's name and one for each day of the week. Every person over the age of 10 should be responsible for filling in their own schedule. Ideally, use different colors for different family members. We find that the combination of these two tools makes for a family calendar that is relatively easy to maintain but has all the details about where everyone needs to be and when.

Schedule "Calendar Time"

A calendar is of no use unless it's up to date. Schedule a regular time each week to sit down with your family (after dinner on Sunday?) to discuss everyone's plans for the week. Use that time to identify scheduling conflicts, coordinate rides for your kids and figure out when you can all have dinner together. And don't forget to make time for special events—plan a movie date or a fun family outing.

Train the Troops

Once you have a master schedule, it's time to set and enforce the rules.

Rule number one: Family members check the schedule before coming to you with questions like what time is the game on Tuesday or can I have a sleepover on Saturday?

Rule number two: Each family member over the age of 10 is responsible for noting any schedule changes on the calendar and communicating them to the rest of the family (ideally with a two-day warning).

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore are real women on a mission to help busy people get sanely organized. They co-founded Buttoned Up Inc. and have written two books about getting imperfectly organized: Everything (Almost) In Its Place and Pretty Neat.

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