Organize Your Family Calendar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Choose the Right Calendar: Cozi
Basic Set-Up A calendar for each family member, plus one for the whole clan
Assign each family member their own color
Appears in all but month view
Day, week, and month views
View all or just one family member's calendar at once
Reminder Options Any family member can receive via push notifications or e-mail
Subscribe to any online calendar (i.e. Google calendar, Outlook, your kid's school)
Cozi.com plus free smartphone and tablet app
E-mail unique URLs for read-only, up-to- date info
Share events or whole family calendar
Automatic daily agenda emails can be sent to any family members
Family journal feature keeps track of special moments
Recipe box and meal planner
Best For Parents Who prefer to organize one shared calendar by person and want total mobile access
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"
Assign each calendar its own color
Appears in all views
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
Subscribe to ical, Google, and Outlook calendars; edits stay in PlumLife only
Export to another calendar; edits stay in that calendar
m.plumlife.com for full mobile access
Coming soon: tablet and smartphone apps
E-mail private URLs for read-only, up-to- date info
Share events or whole calendars
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
Basic Set-Up A calendar for each family member, plus additional categories
Assign each person and event type its own color
Appears in all views
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
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
Invite people to sign up to view calendar(s)
Embed a specific calendar on a website or blog
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.