Unclutter Your Calendar
Real Simple|September 2018

If Your Family Schedule Looks A Little Too Much Like A Battle Plan, You’Re Not Alone. Use These Strategies To Find Space.

Leslie Goldman

WHEN MOST OF US HEAR the term “professional organizer,” we picture a decluttering maven who can alphabetize a pantry and color-code a closet in no time flat. But Sarah Giller Nelson, owner of Less Is More, an organizing service based in Miami and Chicago, says that lately, more and more parents are seeking her out for help organizing something arguably scarier than their chaotic basements: their crammed schedules. “Parents’ calendars are packed with school activities, birthday parties, sports events—plus they’re juggling their own personal and professional duties and trying to keep track of their partner’s,” she says.

The first question Nelson asks these clients is “Do you feel like you’re always busy but never get anything done?” If the answer is yes (it’s usually yes), she explains, “it’s time to streamline, improve communication within the family, and carve out space to breathe and just enjoy one another.”

More reason to strive for a happy calendar: Some research shows that planning ahead may be a more effective stress reliever for some people than deep breathing and meditation. So instill some order in your schedule and maximize your time with these expert-vetted tips.

Sign up for a shared email address.

Globally, 269 billion emails were sent last year. It might have felt like all of them came from your kids’ school. Often just one parent is on the receiving end, putting the onus on a single person to keep everyone on schedule.

For Becky and Daniel Diffen, parents of two elementary-school students in Austin, Texas, the situation was leading to schedule snafus and annoyances for both parents. “Becky is a full-time attorney, and I stay home with the kids,” says Daniel. “When they were in preschool, I’d receive 90 percent of the emails and then forward things to Becky.” But updates and cancellations would come suddenly, challenging even the most avid email checker. In 2016, a last-minute change to the pre-K Mother’s Day program slipped through the cracks, forcing Becky to miss out.

Last year, a parenting message board gave Becky the idea to create a shared email address. “We use it for anything related to school, scouts, summer camp, and sports, plus party RSVPs,” she says. “Now we can both see everything, check our calendars, and chat quickly about whether we can make new events work.”

Daniel adds that a joint email account comes in handy when, say, one parent shows up with the kids for a soccer game only to find the field empty. Now either can log in and see that—surprise!—the field has been changed from 5A to 6B.

When your kids grow older, the shared account can be loaded onto their phones or laptops so you’re all in the loop.

Hold a Sunday family meeting.

This is prime time for coordinating the week ahead. Are there school events coming up? Does someone need to be home on Wednesday afternoon to let in the plumber? Parents who travel for work: If Party A is headed to Phoenix and Party B will be in Cleveland, who is watching the kids, and what’s the contingency plan if your flights are delayed? “You can get the kids involved by asking if there are any activities they’d like to schedule,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. She adds that if you’re a planner but your partner semi loathes it, include fun stuff, like date nights and vacations, so the whole meeting isn’t just “Who’s driving Parker to the orthodontist?”–type logistics.

Add “Do nothing” to your schedule.

Calendar cluttered with hip-hop lessons, choir, ice hockey, and more? Put a big red x through one day—and watch your over scheduled children flourish.

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