Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Calendaring: A Critical Skill to Master

Today I only have a few minutes due to a very crazy several weeks. . . so I'll just go over one of the most basic and important items in time management - CALENDARING! It doesn't really matter if you use a wall calendar, a pocket calendar, a phone calendar, or an online calendar. But seriously . . . if your life is even a tiny bit busy, you need to use a calendar!

"But," you may ask, "How do I use a calendar?"

To those who have been calendaring for years, this may seem like a foolish question. But honestly, when did they ever teach you how to use a calendar in school? They *had* calendars in school, but did you ever really learn the properly way to utilize a calendar to keep your life sane and on schedule? I know that I wasn't taught it in all my years of school, including obtaining a bachelor's degree in college. I learned it on my own, as I assume everyone else who knows how to use a calendar does.

As a Freshman in college I realized there was no possible way to keep track of everything I needed to do unless I had a calendar/planner. My first "real" calendar (as in, one that I actually used consistently), was a simple little notebook with 7 days across a 2-page spread like this:

Here's how I used it: I simply wrote down assignments on the day they were due. So it would say, for instance: "DUE: Read Psych Ch 1". For each class, I would take the syllabus for the entire semester and write all assignments into the planner on the day they needed to be handed in. Then I would take large projects and break them down into smaller tasks, and lists those throughout the semester so they would be done on time. These can be marked with (parentheses) so that you know they are "optionally" due that day. This way, every day I could look ahead at the whole week and make sure I was doing all the homework I needed to have done for the next few days. I could also pencil in all the social activities, work schedule, and more, that needed to be listed for that particular week. It worked out really well for me as a student.

Once I became a mother and homemaker, I found that it was critical to have a wall calendar that everyone can see in a central location. Everyone's schedules have to go on it. We've used a wall calendar for the family for over 20 years, and here's a picture of the one we are currently using: 
This is the "Big Grid 2013 Wall Calendar" from calendars.com. Click on the picture to go to the full details online. They have it on sale for less than $4 right now since it's already March. So - good time to buy!

Anyway - It doesn't really matter what kind of calendar you use, as long as there is enough space in the little boxes for what your family has going on during an average day. I like this "Big Grid" calendar because it expands over the whole fold-out instead of taking up half the space with a picture. Don't get me wrong, I love picture calendars, but the squares are WAY too small. So I may hang blank pretty calendars around the house just to see what day it is, but we only put the schedule on our main kitchen calendar. You can get this "Big Grid" calendar at THIS LINK or click on the image above. 

Ideally, with a calendar like this being used by the family, you are going to only put your SCHEDULED EVENTS on it. Don't put "to-do's" or "job charts" on it, it will get too cluttered. Just list all appointments and other scheduled things that have to be done on a certain day. So, for instance, when you get the soccer schedule, put all the games and practices on the calendar. When you have a doctor appointment, write it on the calendar. If you always have a date with your husband on a certain night, put it on the calendar (use pencil if it's an activity that could be rescheduled if needed.) When you have someone ask you to do something for them such as babysit, or bring food to an activity, write it on the calendar! If you are not by your calendar, then you have to have a notebook or some kind of task app on your phone that you are committed to recording when you get home. (If you go electronic, it's helpful to put a little reminder on the phone so it will beep you when you are at home and remind you to put it on the family calendar). Either that, or ask the person call you back when you are at home in front of your calendar before you commit! This works wonders for just keeping track of those basic things that are on the schedule that you don't want to forget.

What I do right now for my calendaring system, is two-fold: I have the wall calendar for the family items, and I use a Google calendar online that happens to also sync automatically with my phone. This way, I have my own personal basic schedule always in front of me no matter where I go. Ideally, each week I take everything that's on the family calendar and enter it into my Google calendar, and vice versa. I say ideally because it doesn't always happen. I admit it! But it still greatly simplifies my life, because it's not too big of a deal if I have to check in two places. 

Once upon a time, I thought it might work better if *everyone* in the family had a Google calendar, thinking that this would replace the wall calendar. Honestly, it was a total failure because everyone in the family was sharing one or two computers. So when that phone call came with a new schedule, who wants to run over to the computer, start it up, wait for the calendar to load, then type it in? Right now, most of my teens have their own little calendars on the phones or computers, so some of them will update their Google calendars, which are all shared with everyone else in the family. However, for the most part, the main place they have to make sure they have recorded their schedules is on the family calendar. (Remember, this is not for personal scheduled things like a routine or when all the class periods are - the family calendar is just for the events that involve someone else in the family or events when they will be gone so everyone else needs to know about it. 

I'm sure someday we'll all have a little flat screen hanging on the wall that will be connected to the internet and can be used as a family calendar that is also visible on everyone's phones. As a matter of fact, the technology is already there, but it's not quite ready as far as being affordable and practical. So, for now, it seems best to me to have a paper one on the wall for the family, and have everyone use their own personal systems, then have one day per week (I like Sunday or Monday nights) for everyone to tell everyone else what's going on and make sure everything for the coming week is recorded on the family calendar. 

This works out really well because each person can fill in other types of things on their personal calendars. For instance, I keep track of my daily and weekly routines, my work schedule, meal plans, etc. These are all on my Google calendar under different "calendars" that can be kept separate in various colors on there. It works out well for me most of the time and keeps me on track so I don't get too distracted. Although, like you probably suspect, there are time periods when I will completely forget my online calendar and just fly by the seat of my pants. This is a good break for me from the tedium of a schedule, but it always ends up getting crazy so I fall back into the tried-and-true calendaring system.

Remember the most important rule about a calendar or a schedule - it is a TOOL to help you accomplish what needs to be done and help jog your memory about everything you have committed to. Use it to help yourself be organized, but don't ever make yourself a slave to the calendar. You scheduled all those appointments and you have the personal power to cancel them as well. If it's getting too busy, you may need to simply say, "I'm not going to be able to do that!" to one of your scheduled items. Have the courage. Trust me, it will make life much better so you don't end up with a nervous breakdown!

In our family, no matter what else happens, we never EVER stop using the family wall calendar. It is right there by the kitchen where everyone can see it, and the rule is *supposed to be* that if you don't write it on the calendar, don't plan on my driving you there. I have probably been a little lax on this, so the kids have gotten a little lazy about some of their schedules. But for the most part, we are pretty consistent, so the wall calendar can be trusted 95% of the time to at least have the most important items on it. This has saved me so much hassle. And when things aren't recorded, there is inevitably a scramble at the last minute to figure out rides and etc. 

SO - new habit for you? If you don't have a family wall calendar, I highly recommend you get one! Right now is a great time because everything for 2013 will be discounted since it's already the end of March. I like to order from calendars.com because they have a large variety of choices. Just don't get too caught up in the pictures so you end up forgetting to get something that will actually be useful!

That's it for today my jumbled friends! Talk to you again real soon. . . Have a fantabulous day!

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