If there's one thing that every parent wishes for, it's more time. Whether I'm halfway around the world for the foundation or getting coffee downtown with a friend, this is something that comes up in almost every conversation I have.
Sometimes, our phones make the battle for time even harder. But technology can help, too—streamlining to-do lists, organizing information, and helping us engage more deeply with the people and places around us.
Here are some of the apps I use today—and a couple more I wish I'd had when my three kids were younger.
I've found that when I take a few minutes to meditate in the morning, it helps me get more done during the rest of the day—and makes me happier while I'm doing it.
Headspace offers guided meditation lessons that make it easy to get started. Then, once you're feeling a little more confident, there are less structured exercises you can explore. There's even an S.O.S. function for when you're feeling especially overwhelmed. No matter where I am in the world or what's going on around me, this app helps me focus and relax.
Our family is big on books and movies. Bill and I pass books back and forth to each other, and I try to read what my kids are reading so I can talk to them about what's on their mind. And ever since the days when our Friday nights started at a Blockbuster, we've loved staying in and watching a movie—even though it can be a challenge to find one that appeals to everyone from 14-year-old Phoebe to 61-year-old Bill.
Common Sense Media gives you a quick look at the content of almost any movie, game, show, site, or book. If you're watching or reading together, the app will suggest a few conversation starters. And the reviews—crowdsourced from parents and kids alike—make choosing faster and more reliable than it used to be.
To be perfectly honest, I haven't tried this one yet. For now, I still live by my Outlook calendar—but one of the things on that calendar is a reminder to try EasilyDo.
What intrigues me is that EasilyDo pulls almost everything you need to get done in a day into a single app. There are lots of time-saving features built in: prompts for emails you need to respond to, maps to steer clear of traffic jams, alerts for tracking your packages, and reminders when it's someone's birthday. My friends who are already using it love that it makes a busy day easier.
We all know it takes a village to raise a child. But reflecting on the experience Bill and I had in those early years, I remember that it's actually pretty daunting to find your village. Parenthoods helps you connect to families with kids at a similar age. You can ask questions, swap stories, share advice, and if you're nearby, even arrange a playdate.
Whether the community you join is digital or down the street, parenting is so much better when you're not alone.
When I was a kid, one of my family's favorite things to do was get in the car and drive to a national park. Then and now, family vacations are one of the highlights of my year. (That throwback photo, above, is from a family trip to the Grand Canyon.)
Peek would have been great to have when my kids were younger—because even if you're somewhere unfamiliar, it helps you set up an itinerary. It learns what your family likes, then serves up a tailored set of activities. And if something goes south when you're on the road (not that that ever happens when you're traveling with kids!), a backup plan is just a few taps away.
Technology can be a huge time-saver, but one of the very best things you can do for your schedule is start a really candid conversation with your family about who's doing what at home and whether that's working for everyone.
The reality is that in most families, women tend to take on most of the caretaking, cleaning, and other tasks that we call "invisible work"—and that steal hours from their day, every day.
In a lot of households, the division of chores probably won't end up being exactly equal, and that's okay. The important thing is that it's something you decide on as a family.
Melinda Gates is a businesswoman and philanthropist. She is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.