Organize Your Family Calendar

Say good-bye to missed appointments and forgotten play dates! Our guide will help you get the most out of your digital calendar so you can finally streamline your family's busy schedule.

Everything in this slideshow

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Peter Ardito

Streamline Your Family Schedule

When you make your kid's doctor's appointment do you type it into the calendar on your computer, punch it into the one on your cell phone, text your spouse so he can add it to his, then e-mail yourself a reminder to paste it onto the wall calendar in the kitchen? And you still fear that on the day of the appointment you'll check the one calendar you forgot to update ... and miss it?

If you are nodding along, you're so not alone. Thankfully, there are smart scheduling assistants out there that can do the work for you, so you can stop spending time organizing the technology that's supposed to keep you, ahem, organized. Our guide to digital calendars will help you finally make peace with your planner and help you focus on experiencing life's events instead of constantly trying to remember when and where they're happening.

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5 Things to Look For: Auto Updates

These digital calendar features don't always come standard, but we consider them absolute must-haves!

"A calendar that updates in real time is essential," says Jodie Watson, organizational expert and founder of supreme organization.com. If your daughter's after-school program is cancelled, your spouse or sitter needs to see the change of plans before school's out.

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Peter Ardito

5 Things to Look For: Color Coding

Besides providing info at a quick glance, color-coding your calendar will allow you to spend less time typing in events. "You won't need to enter Sam's Soccer Game, you'll just write Soccer Game (and assign it blue) because you know Sam's events are blue," says Watson.

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Home Organization: Schoolwork, Artwork, and Keepsakes

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5 Things to Look For: Easy Access

"Your digital calendar should work on all of your devices and be easily accessed from anywhere," says organizational expert Peter Walsh, of Los Angeles. Programs that offer mobile apps are ideal since they don't require you to log on to the Web.

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Fancy Photography/ Veer

5 Things to Look For: Multiple Users

Moms often want a service that is designed for more than one person to have access to the calendar, says Ellen Faye, certified organizer coach, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. When another adult or older kids can log in to view and edit events, it's no longer up to one person to oversee everything for everybody.

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5 Things to Look For: Simple Sharing

Find a program that can e-mail friends or family a private, read-only link to a particular calendar or event rather than one that requires people to sign up. A URL that automatically updates info is also preferred: If it's clicked on days later, it will reflect any recent changes.

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Peter Ardito

Choose the Right Calendar

We know that it can be totally overwhelming to find a digital calendar that best suits your family's needs. That's why we tested a few popular online planners -- so you don't have to!

Go to the next page to check out our cheat sheet and decide which online planner has the features you want.

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Courtesy of Cozi

Choose the Right Calendar: Cozi

Price Free

Basic Set-Up A calendar for each family member, plus one for the whole clan

Color-Coding Options
Assign each family member their own color
Appears in all but month view

Display Options
Day, week, and month views
View all or just one family member's calendar at once

Reminder Options Any family member can receive via text or e-mail

Syncing Options
Sync with Outlook; edit in both directions
Subscribe to any online calendar (i.e., your kid's school)

Access Options
m.cozi.com for full mobile access
Free smartphone and tablet app

Sharing Options
E-mail unique URLs for read-only, up-to- date info
Share events or whole family calendar

Bonus Features
View on desktop as widget or screensaver (Windows users only)
Color-code to-do and shopping lists
Family journal feature keeps track of special moments

Best For Parents Who prefer to organize one shared calendar by person, need to sync with Outlook, and want total mobile access

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Courtesy of Jibidee

Choose the Right Calendar: Jibidee

Price Free

Basic Set-Up A calendar for each category (can be a person or event type)

Color-Coding Options
Assign each person or event type its own color
Appears in all views

Display Options
Today, day, week, and month views
View all or any mix of calendars at once

Reminder Options Only account user can receive via e-mail and/or text

Syncing Options Coming soon: Sync with Outlook or a native calendar, like ical, on your smartphone

Access Options Jibidee.com/mobile for view-only mobile access

Sharing Options Coming soon: Invite people to sign up to view calendar(s)

Bonus Features
Create up to 100 "sticky" notes and lists
Personalize homepage design
Send and receive paperless faxes ($30 upgrade per year for 60 pages)

Best For Parents Who want an easy-to-use interface but are okay with a single-user platform and limited on-the-go access

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Courtesy of PlumLife

Choose the Right Calendar: PlumLife

Price $10 per month or $99 per year

Basic Set-Up A calendar for each family member, plus additional "projects"

Color-Coding Options
Assign each calendar its own color
Appears in all views

Display Options
Today, day, week, month, next 7 days, and next 4 weeks views
View all or any mix of calendars at once

Reminder Options Only account user can receive via e-mail and/or text

Syncing Options
Subscribe to ical, Google, and Outlook calendars; edits stay in PlumLife only
Export to another calendar; edits stay in that calendar

Access Options
m.plumlife.com for full mobile access
Coming soon: tablet and smartphone apps

Sharing Options
E-mail private URLs for read-only, up-to- date info
Share events or whole calendars

Bonus Features
Search all events
Color-code, set due dates, and send notifications for tasks
Select/invite a sitter or driver via e-mail when adding events

Best For Parents Who don't mind paying a price for a single-user platform that has solid syncing, display, and access options

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Courtesy of homelife

HomeLife

Price Free

Basic Set-Up A calendar for each family member, plus additional categories

Color-Coding Options
Assign each person and event type its own color
Appears in all views

Display Options
Day, week, month, and agenda view
View all or any mix of calendars at once

Reminder Options Any family member can receive via e-mail, text, and/or pop-up

Syncing Options
Sync with Outlook; edit in both directions
Import .csv or .ics calendar files or Google Calendar
Subscribe to read- only iCal calendar

Access Options homelife.daytimer.com for full mobile access

Sharing Options
Invite people to sign up to view calendar(s)
Embed a specific calendar on a website or blog

Bonus Features
Tag events for easy sorting and searching
Color-code and set reminders for to-dos
Create a family blog and share photos
Invite a driver when adding events

Best For Parents Who crave a well-designed, multi-user calendar that has lots of organization and syncing options

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Still Scheduling Stumped? Part 1

Try these simple fixes for some common family calendar problems.

Q I like my digital calendar a lot, but it doesn't have a mobile app. Can I still access my schedule if I'm on the go?

A Even if there isn't an app today there might very well be one soon, so it's important to stick with a system that you enjoy working with, says Jodie Watson. While you're waiting for your chosen digital calendar to catch up, log on to the website using your mobile browser and create a shortcut or bookmark it on your home screen. By doing this, you can simply click on the shortcut instead of manually entering the URL and logging in every time. Most digital calendars have full on-the-go editing capabilities and some of them even offer a read-only version that gives you access to your events and lists when you're offline or temporarily out of service.

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Still Scheduling Stumped? Part 2

Q If my daughter's piano lesson is cancelled in the middle of the day, how can I make sure my spouse and sitter get the memo?

A Many calendar programs can be set to automatically send users an alert when an event has been added, edited or cancelled. This will save you tons of unnecessary phone calls or texts back and forth, says Watson. Cozi and HomeLife send alerts based on each family member's preference (which is chosen during the set-up process), but if you're using a calendar that isn't built for multiple users, like PlumLife or Jibidee, you cannot send an update from within the calendar.

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Courtesy of Cozi

Still Scheduling Stumped? Part 3

Q What can I do to keep things like "buy Jessie's birthday gift" and "pick up dry cleaning" from cluttering my calendar?

A To-do lists and task managers are bonus features within calendar services that have many of the same great organizational features as events, like reminders and color coding, but don't necessarily need to be assigned a specific day and time. You can keep track of one-time to-dos like "back-to- school shopping" and "bake for class party" on your to-do list and cross them off when they're complete. For more regular occurrences without time-specific due dates (think: house projects or bill payments) consider creating a calendar or a category for them within your program that you can turn on and off as desired.

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Still Scheduling Stumped? Part 4

Q How can I get my work calendar and my home calendar to talk to each other so I don't have to keep adding events twice?

A The good news is that many sites, like Cozi and HomeLife, are hard at work developing easier ways for digital calendars to communicate with one another. First, try to select a service that's compatible with your work calendar on some level. Many calendar programs allow you to sync with other calendars so that you can edit an event in one and the changes are reflected in the other, no matter where the event was first created. (Cozi and HomeLife do this with Outlook.) If that's not an option, subscribe to your work calendar within your home calendar and vice versa. This will essentially be a live feed of events that, depending on the program, are either view-only or can be edited and are continuously streamed into the calendar. Finally, some services have the ability to import work or outside calendars as well as export your home calendar. You'll need to repeat the steps frequently to ensure that the events you're viewing are accurate since it's a one-time thing, but it's definitely better than nothing!

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Super Useful Facebook Trick

Looking for a fast and simple way to communicate quickly with the parents in your kid's class or sports team? Consider setting up a private group on Facebook. You can post schedules and cancellations, send invites for upcoming events, upload documents and photos, and even hold group chats. Getting it set up is easy:

1. From your home page, click on "Create Group..." in the left-hand rail and follow the instructions.

2. Select "open" as the privacy setting. That way, potential members can find the group by searching Facebook.

3. Send an e-mail to your desired members with the group name and invite them to join. Happy planning!

Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine. Updated in 2012.

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