Ask Allie: Staying Organized

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I noticed you have a paper calendar as well as a smartphone in your tote bag. How do you organize your to- dos (both work and home) and your appointments using both? I go back and forth between paper and digital and can't seem to find a good fit, I'd love to know how someone else does it. Thanks! (Oh, and I am a big list maker!)

Once Emerson was on the scene, Karl and I realized we needed a way to synchronize our schedules. No longer would a post-it note or text work, we had a human being who needed at least one of us 24/7. And with my day job, his freelance photography, and my blog, our life was like a game of Tetris. Once Emerson was old enough for dance classes and play dates it got insane.

Everywhere I read recommended Google Calendar for families.  So one weekend I set it up and added the times for all our classes, meetings, after-work events with my personal Gmail email and Karl’s Gmail email. I forgot that brands I work with send Google Calendar invites to my Wardrobe Oxygen email, so I had to include that one too. I then had my phone show things from both my work Outlook calendar and Google calendar. Thing is, Karl doesn't love being attached to his phone and doesn't sit at a computer all day like me so when he had appointments, he’d email them to me and I entered them. On top of that, like you I am a list maker. I often make bullets of what to discuss on a call or list of what to take for an event and I couldn’t easily access them or update them with everything on my phone. This was not saving us time or keeping us more organized.

I went back to my paper planner and was much happier. Our front door is steel, and it became Command Central, with magnets holding post-it note reminders, appointment cards, and such. I’d send Karl an email each Monday with the week’s schedule. It was not perfect, but it was easier than Google Calendar.

Wardrobe Oxygen: How We Stay Organized as a FamilyA couple months later I went to a kid’s birthday party and the family had a gigantic dry erase board calendar in their dining room. It was magnetic; they’d write down events, pin field trip permission slips and theater tickets to it, had markers of different colors to represent each family member. It wasn’t anything that would get oohs and aahs on Apartment Therapy but I found it utterly brilliant. That weekend I was at Target and saw they had magnetic dry erase calendar squares (think these may be the same ones) and purchased two and a few markers in different colors. I made one for the current month and one for the upcoming month. Pink for Emerson, orange for me, blue for Karl, black for high priority. We hung them up in the kitchen just a few steps from the front door at a height where even Emerson can access them.

I kept the paper calendar because on it I add work and blog-related events that don’t affect the family; it has a week at a glance which I use as my blog editorial/meeting calendar as well as a mini journal. I also liked how portable it was; first thing at work I lay it open on my desk. Once a week I synchronize the calendars to be sure we’re on the same page. The only things I put on my electronic calendar/Outlook are weekday things that affect just me: phone calls, concerts, after work events. The only work things I put on the paper or magnetic calendars are things that require me to get to work super early or leave unusually late or where I need to be offsite.

At work I live by Outlook. I schedule phone calls, schedule due dates, schedule all sorts of reminders. It's funny, at my last job I lived by Outlook Tasks but now I put tasks as appointments.  My day job is a lot of meetings, webinars, and calls and we schedule them by looking at coworkers' availability. By scheduling my tasks on my Outlook calendar, I schedule in time to get them done and don't end up working extra hours to catch up.

I also go paper at work.  I have a five-subject spiral that sits on the edge of my desk and goes with me to every meeting. Each day I start a new page with the date in the upper right corner and make a task list. There's something so delicious about physically crossing things off a list. I put a post-it on that page so I can easily find it; behind it I will have notes from meetings, projects, and things from that day's activities.  Each day gets a fresh page and anything not crossed off from the previous day's list goes to the top of that list.  These spirals are like a journal and since they're in chronological order I can easily go back a month or two and refer to notes.  If for some reason I don't have my spiral on me, I transfer any notes into the book behind the right date's page to keep order.

I like to doodle.  A lot.  While there's plenty of pen doodles in my spiral, I have a stack of Xerox paper and a cup cull of colored pens and fine tip markers on my desk for more elaborate doodles for long conference calls and when my brain is full and I need a break to regain my mojo.

Wardrobe Oxygen: How We Stay Organized as a FamilyAfter a couple months with the magnetic calendars we were in love… and we wanted more. One month in advance wasn’t enough, so I went back to Target and bought what I thought were two more of the same tiles. They were not the same. Different size, and while the first two are Sunday through Saturday, these were set up Monday through Sunday. We put them up under the ones seen and they were too low; when we tried to remove the ones we currently have up our wall paint started peeling. And having calendars with different week setups was a quick way to go insane.  We also found the colored markers weren't necessary and decided to stick to just black and two boards. We kept the front door as Command Central; it’s visible and just a few steps from the calendar so the combination works for us.

If I could go back, I’d buy four all at once or consider three and a fourth to be a cork or magnetic board the same size. Especially with a kid, we often have to plan far in advance and I often wish I could keep the previous month up for at least a week.  The reason the paint was peeling from the wall is because these boards come with thin and cheap mounting tape squares so we added 3M Command strips to keep them up.  The Command strips work great but did not want to cooperate and leave the walls nicely.  So two it is for now.

It’s nice to have your dry erase markers as fine tipped as possible, and attached to your calendars. We found some that hung from a magnet by a chain, but they were too thick of tips. Each of our boards has a pen clip on top where we keep a marker; there’s a few calendar boards that have ledges for pens and erasers but again consider your space (for us a ledge would likely cause a lot of bruises in our narrow kitchen).

For magnets I highly recommend these which I found on Amazon. They’re small, can be used for color coding people or activities, and are uber strong. And we don’t have an eraser; a finger or the edge of a dish towel works for small edits and at the end of the month I clean the board with a bit of white vinegar and an old rag.

Everyone’s life is different, and while I love technology Karl doesn’t. Going ‘old school’ with our calendars makes the most sense for us. I love having the paper planner for lists, for a blog editorial calendar, and as a bit of a journal (I keep all my old planners like some keep diaries). Sure, there’s some work to ensure we’re synchronized, but I actually like that because it forces us to communicate, review, and be aware.

How do you keep your household calendar? Do share your ways in the comments as your tips may be the exact thing a fellow reader needs in her life!

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  1. My husband and I use Google Calendar, Google Docs, and the new(ish) Google Keep. We both have Google phones, so it makes sense for use the same platform across apps. He and I are both on the same page tech-wise for the most part, so coordinating in this way works for us.

    Mostly we collaborate on Google Calendar right now, since he is stationed at Fort Knox, KY (Army service-member) while I’m in Bethesda, MD. But we share calendars so we know what the other has scheduled and to schedule visits to see each other. We plan trips, parties, keep track of shared accounts, etc. via shared Google Docs. I do most of the day-to-day money stuff, so I make a monthly budget for the household on shared Google Sheets and I work on it around the 1st and 15th of each month, paying bills and moving cash from our joint account to our individual accounts, updating the budget sheet as I go to reflect what is still pending. When we actually live together (or are going to be in the same place) we make a weekly menu together on Google Docs and transfer the grocery list to a shared Google Keep list. This lets us each cross things off the list in real time when we shop together. We each do the same thing for ourselves the rest of the time. We don’t have kids, so the things we have to schedule and plan are fairly limited – mostly just travel, money, and food.

    That said, I find Keep to be the most handy for use via phone or computer. The interface is simple enough that it isn’t a pain to use on one’s phone like docs can be. Also, it functions both online and offline, so it can be great for taking notes on an airplane or in the metro. However, the convenience of Keep doesn’t stop me from carrying a slim moleskin notebook in my purse at all times. Sometimes it just looks rude to be on your phone, even if it’s to take notes 😉

    At work I use a combo of paper and tech. I put networking events, meetings, and deadlines on my personal google calendar and the office calendar, but for tasks I keep a hard copy list. About every other week I update a Word doc task list that I then print out and make notes on (and cross off!!) as the next two weeks go by. I also have a memo pad that I use to take notes on incoming and actvie assignments. When I’m taking notes while working on something I put the date and client name at the top of the page. I bill the vast majority of my time, so I always have an easy reference for what I was doing on a given day, but sometimes I lose track of my actual notes on a matter which is crazy frustrating.

    I have to say, I am really liking your system of dating and tabbing the initial page with your to-do list for that day and adding task-specific notes to subsequent pages. Totally brilliant! I will definitely borrow that technique!

  2. I like a physical calendar. I hold mental maps of my time and I find that I remember what’s happening and can “see it” with better results if I have physically written it out on a surface. I use Outlook at work, but often I view that in the month view, which puts all those days up on my screen just like a paper calendar.

  3. We use both Google Calendar and a paper calendar on our fridge. Like you, I’ve tried just paper, then just digital, and found that a mix of the two works best. Since I went back to work a year ago, this has been really helpful. I put my work schedule on both calendars, and my husband works his office hours around my mornings off.

    Everyone in the family has their own color (blue, pink, green, and orange) in GC and we use corresponding pens on the paper calendar. If it involves the whole family, we use black. I found a twelve pack of Cello pens at Wal-Mart last fall, and they are now our favorite pens (I’m left handed, and they are the first roller ball pens I’ve had that don’t bug me). The reminder function on the GC app has saved my butt so many times. Thankfully we live in a pretty compact city, so if I forget about something and the app reminds me 30 minutes before we can usually make it there on time.

  4. We use Cozi. My kids all have devices, and it works similarly on all of them, and it sends out a weekly email on Sundays so that everyone can review their schedule and make any changes. It’s also color coded. It also includes a shopping list function, and I like that it has a space for separate lists to Target or Costco or Trader Joes. My kids know that I go to Target on Mondays and Trader Joe’s on Tuesdays and if they don’t put it in Cozi before that day, I don’t buy it. It also has a place for me to include the meal plan for the week, which helps with the “What are we having for dinner?” questions. We’re a pretty tech-y bunch, so it works for us. I am also a doodler, and carry around a small spiral bound notebook–the ones I love I actually get for free from our Office of Diversity here on campus. They even have a zippered pouch on the front for me to stash pens so they don’t get lost in my bag. I make notes of thoughts when I have them, and it helps me remember silly stuff at weird times. My husband also uses Evernote, and shares those with me…he uses it for everything, but mostly shares memories and virtual keepsakes with me..receipts for memorable dates, menus for favorite meals etc.

  5. We use google calendar for scheduling. I think it is an easy way to stay in sync and, because my husband does not always check it as often as I hope, I invite him to events I need him at and he puts those on his work calendar as well (if they are during the work day). We have thought about paper, but for us that would be really hard to make work because if it were at home, then when we are out and about, we aren’t sure when we are free unless we also each have personal calendars and then that’s a lot of copying between calendars.

    1. I posted too soon. I also use a paper planner for my to-dos. I think todoist is a great electronic option, but I am trying to be less “on my phone” all the time, so I have switched to paper bullet journaling for my tasks. I really like the flexibility. Mine isn’t pretty like the pinterest ones, but I don’t forget things and am very organized. I don’t think paper really gives me anything todoist didn’t give me other than not getting constantly sucked into checking off one task and then checking 82 other things on my phone.

      1. That’s a big thing for me too – getting sucked into the phone. I’m already on it too much with all the blog things I need to do for social media, when my schedule and to-do lists were on the phone I never left. And with a spouse who only uses his phone to make phone calls, occasionally text, listen to music, and occasionally deal with emails it really made me feel like I was turning into a robot. And Sundays we get coffee, let Emerson watch TV and we synchronize our schedules, plan out the grocery list, sign permission slips, and get our ducks in a row. It’s a nice ritual to start/end the week! I do love how how there’s so many options available that there’s something pretty perfect for most anyone.

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