Monday, January 19, 2009

Family Organization

My friend Rachel says:
"Ooh! Ooh! Teach me how! Each time I "do the calendar" it takes me one hour to sit down and work out all the logistics of my schedule, Jeff's work, Alex's school functions, Ethan's preschool, not to mention meals... it's my least favorite thing to do. Next to trimming the dog's toenails. In fact, I still have yet to go grocery shopping this weekend, or plan meals... (But we have tomorrow off...) I could use the help. Lots of organizational help."
You have come to the right blog, Rachel!! (Click "the right blog" for my last post about Gcal).

Google Calendar is amazing, because you can set up an million different calendars, and you can share them. Each member of my household has his or her own Gcal, in addition to those four, I have one called "Bills," one for "Work," one for "Family Travel and Events," one for "Meal Planning." I can toggle them on and off to see different peoples' schedules for the week, or toggle them all on to see everything.

I've discovered several keys to maintaining a calendar, over the years, which I shall share with you in the form of Commandments.

1 - Thou shalt have no other calendars before Gcal.

If you try to have multiple calendars, you will get them screwed up and miss something. You must have only one calendar - if you need to, you can print out the Gcal and keep it in your purse, but no getting some cute calendar with puppies on it or something, and then having two, because that will ruin you. The nice thing about Gcal is that you can see it from anywhere and everywhere. I can even access mine from my phone. You can share it with your husband, so he can see it too. You don't need any other calendars.

2 - Thou shalt put events on thy calendar immediately.

School is constantly sending home notes and reminders and whatnot, especially around the holidays. The moment I get home, I put them on top of my computer. The very next time I open up my computer, I put them on my calendar. Then I throw them away. If I wait, I forget. If I make a doctor's appointment, same thing, it goes on the calendar immediately. Plans? On the calendar. If I'm on the phone with Mom and she says she's going to Florida from the 15th to the 30th - on the calendar (Family Travel and Events - which also holds birthdays and anniversaries of relatives and friends). I even have a calendar where I keep my Dad's work schedule (when he remembers to give it to me).

3 - Thou shalt plan thine meals

This is where my Google calendar really rocks, because the hardest part of being responsible for 3 meals and 2 snacks a day for 4 people, for me, is planning the meals. I have a separate calendar (called Meal Planning) where I put in dinner (lunch is easier for me, don't know why... Lower expectations, maybe?). In the "WHAT" field, I put, for example, "French onion soup, salad." Then in the WHEN field, I set it up to repeat yearly, and BJ can deal... In the DESCRIPTION field, I put the recipe... usually copied and pasted from Then, when I'm ready to hit the store, I just copy the recipe to a Google Documents file, delete the things I already have, and arrange them by section of the store (so I don't forget anything, produce with produce, etc.)

If I have a coupon, I put a big C after the item on the list, so I don't forget to use the coupon.

Once I have the meals for 4 or 5 days on the calendar, and then move them onto my grocery list, all I have to do is fill in the other stuff for other meals (bagels, bread, cereal, milk, fruit for breakfast, cheese for grilled cheese, soup, and a lot of leftovers for lunch) and go to the store. Then when the calendar says, "French onion soup, salad," I know I have all the stuff I need.

Next year, when everything is already loaded up and ready to go, I'll just copy the list over to my grocery list and I won't have to worry about, "Gee, what sounds good this week?" or "I wonder if I have a recipe for French onion soup," because it's already there! And if I try a meal and we hated it, I can delete it and fill in with something else next year.

I've got the Google Documents grocery list set up to share with BJ, so that if he has a random thought in the middle of the day, like, "Gee, I need deodorant," he can add it and it will be there next time I go to the store. It's also good for things we run out of mid-week, that I may not remember during my trip to the store, like ketchup - staples that I assume we have.

Gcal is searchable, too, so if you're in the mood for soup, and you don't remember when you had that one onion soup, but you liked it, you can tell it to find "onion soup" and it'll bring up your French onion soup recipe from last month, as well as any meatloaf recipes and whatnot that have "onion soup" mix in them.

Next year I'm going to put my Christmas cookies in on the days that I make them, so that I can easily find the recipes for the ones we like (the ones I make year after year) the following year.

4 - Thou shalt not enable thine family to abuse you.

As the kids get older, I'm going to make them more responsible for maintaining their own calendars. If Mary Grace plays the cello in 5th grade, she can put her own lessons on the calendar and share them with me. BJ maintains his own calendar, and shares it with me, so I know what's going on in his work world. He also uses Outlook, but that's just because he's weird and stubborn. I don't care, so long as he's onboard with the Gcal, too. There are programs that will sync your calendars between Google and Outlook, but I don't love any of them.

Since the kids are little and I am in charge, right now, I do it for them. They also profoundly suck at typing at this age. I put their doctors appointments, their activities, and so on on the calendar. I used to put when MG got a new tooth or something, but now I have the blog to record all that foolishness (as if I'll care, in 20 years, that she got her 14th tooth on a Wednesday...).
I think what I'm really saying, by "thou shalt not be abused," is that you need to get your husband on board with this plan and get him to use and maintain (and share) his own Gcal with you. That will eliminate 25% of your stress, right, if he keeps track of his own stuff?

5 - Thou shalt not remember.

When the kids are sick, I put their medicine on the calendar after I've given it to them, so I don't give them overdoses. For example, sometimes our doctor will have us give Tylenol, then 3 hours later give Ibuprofen, then 3 hours later give Tylenol, and so on. I think we've done that for ear infections... Well, with two kids and only half a brain, like I have, it can get pretty confusing (and Tylenol is easy to OD on) so I'll put it on the calendar - 7:30 am, Tylenol. 8 am, antibiotic. 10:30 am, Ibuprofen. That way, after nap when I can't remember what I gave to whom, when, I can go back and look and say, "Oh, ok, time for Tylenol." And put, "3 pm, Tylenol" on the calendar. I can also immediately see if I've missed a dose, which is particularly handy for antibiotics where they want you to finish the entire prescription, and you get to the end of 10 days and you still have half a bottle, you can call the doctor and say, "You said 10 days of this, but I haven't missed a dose and I still have half a bottle, what's up with that?"

Similarly, I have to do the payroll taxes monthly at work, and I almost always wake up on the morning of the 17th or 18th going "Oh shit, did I do the taxes?" (they're due on the 15th, and the government gets really pissy if you're late...). So, when I do the payroll taxes at work, I put a note on my Work calendar for that day saying, "Did payroll taxes," and then I can go back to sleep, knowing that they're done because Gcal said so and Gcal knows ALL.
See how Gcal is totally my brain? I don't have to remember all this trivial crap, because Google remembers it for me.

Do you forget birthdays? Put them in a week before the birthday (under WHAT put "Mom's birthday - 1 week") so you remember to get a card in the mail on time. Gcal will take away all of your excuses.

We have contracts at work with due dates for reports that are important because BJ needs to write the report and once it's submitted, I need to send the government a bill. So, when we get the contract, the first thing I do (going back to the immediacy issue I discussed, above) is put all the due dates into my "WORK" calendar and his regular calendar.

I have even been known to put my own symptoms and illnesses in Gcal. If I have a migraine on the 10th, the 15th, and the 21st, and then decide, "Gee, I've had a lot of migraines lately, I'd better see the doctor..." I can tell him exactly when I had each migraine. If I'm Taking Charge of (My) Fertility, I can keep track of that with Gcal, too. The opportunities are really limitless. Read a lot? Put the books you've read on Gcal (WHAT: Finished Book: The Time Traveler's Wife, DESCRIPTION: write a brief review, or where you sent it next, "Loaned to Megan," for example).

You don't have to ever remember anything again. If you want to know when you had migraines, you can search "migraine" and Google will tell you. If you want to know what books you've read this year, search "BOOK" and Google will tell you.

Set things up with searches in mind. Maybe put "DOSE" in for medicines so they're easily searchable. "TAXES" is searchable. See how this works?

6 - Thou shalt realize that the hardest part is starting it up.

If you spend a couple hours this week getting everything going, you'll be tired of Gcal. You'll be like, "Wow, this is a pain in the butt, why don't I just go back to using my old planner like I did in college?" Don't do that. You have to give it a chance to get running. Once you've been using it for a while (I just looked back, and it looks like I've been using mine since 2006!) it really runs itself.

Take advantage of the "repeat" function. It'll save you a ton of data entry.

7 - Thou shalt keep track of thy bills.

I am ashamed to admit that we used to be terrible about paying bills on time. There was really no excuse - we'd just forget. BJ set up a Gcal for "bills" (back when he was in charge of bills) that listed all the due dates (repeat = monthly) for all of our recurring expenses. On payday, I can look ahead for two weeks, pay all the bills that are going to come due in that time, and know exactly how much is leftover. I haven't paid a late fee in a long, long time with this system. Of course, I also pay all my bills online, now, and if your bank has that capability I highly recommend it, mainly because of all the stamps you'll save, but that's another post.

8 - Thou shalt be involved in thy community.

Have you ever been looking for something to do on a Sunday and realized, "Oh, heck, Popcorn fest was yesterday, and I totally meant to take the kids, but I completely forgot!" I put community events (half price day at the zoo, story time at the library, etc.) that I only have half an intention of maybe going to if there's nothing else happening on the "Family, Travel, and Events" calendar. So, if I'm sitting around on a Friday night thinking, "Gee, what are we going to do this weekend?" I can toggle that on and see, "Hey! Cool! Popcorn fest is this weekend!" or the fair or whatever... As soon as I hear about things, I put them in the Gcal, so that it remembers for me. There's a newsletter in my town called "Just Kidding" which lists all the events for kids in this area. When I used to get it (really need to resubscribe, although I can also pick it up at the library...) I would go through it the day I got it and put anything I was remotely interested in doing on the calendar. This is mainly for the summer months, when there's a lot going on. Open gym at the gymnastics place goes on the calendar, even if we're not completely committed to going. No one's charging by the item - Gcal is free! - so you might as well use it.

9 - Thou shalt use the "Guests" and "Share Calendar" functions liberally.

My mom and I were talking today, and I mentioned that I'm making chicken and wild rice chowder for dinner in a couple nights. She said it sounded good. I said I'd send her the recipe. I just sent it to her out of Gcal. In fact, if you want, I can share my entire meal planning calendar with you, and then you can just eat what we eat (which BJ will think is REALLY sad!). I invite BJ to stuff that he already knows about, as a reminder. Inviting is a powerful tool. Use it often.

10 - Thou shalt run out of commandments at #9.

Ok, I can't think of anything else. Questions? Sock 'em to me in the comments, and I'll put "answer Gcal questions" on my calendar for tomorrow. Hahhaa...


Anonymous said...

Okay... here I go! Wish me luck!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that last post was from me... computer illiterate Rachael. Again, wish me lots of luck.