Getting Organized: Managing Your Family Schedule with Google Calendar
Ballet, baseball, open house, science fair, conference calls, nap blanket comes home from daycare on Wednesdays, sack lunches for the field trip on Thursday, Hubby is working late on Tuesday, Spring Break… This is what my past week consisted of. There is no way that I would have been able to keep this all straight on a wall calendar in my kitchen… much less in my head.
A few years ago, my husband and I switched to Google calendar to manage our family’s ever-evolving schedule. Hearing one too many times “Didn’t I tell you about that big event for which we will need a babysitter and is happening THIS evening?” put me over the edge. “That’s it! If it’s not on the Google Calendar is it NOT happening! Done!”
It took a little work to become accustomed to posting events rather than just blurting things out as they come to mind. But over time, it has greatly limited the challenges and miscommunications around who needs to be where and when.
Here are some tips and features to use in managing your family’s schedule digitally:
Deciding What to Share
A family calendar is meant to be shared, but not all events are created equally. For instance, I don’t need to know when my husband has meetings at work, but he does need to know when I do. He maintains fairly consistent hours whereas I freelance and tend to work at odd times. It’s helpful to both of us for him to know when he needs to be home on time to help with the kids.
I add the kids’ activities to the calendar—field trips, breaks, practices, etc. as an FYI, but only “invite” my husband to the events that I would like for him to attend. Once my kids are old enough, they will be able to add their own events as a way to tell me where they will be (or rather, tell me where I need to take them…) and update me as things change.
There is an option to make your Google calendar public, but safety reasons I advise keeping your family calendar private. You can share your calendars with specific friends and family members as you wish, but you certainly don't want strangers knowing when you're home and when you're out.
When you create an event in Google Calendar, there is a section labeled “Share with specific people”. You can enter the email addresses of other Gmail users' calendars that you'd like to be able to see your events. You can choose whether they can edit the calendar, see all event details, or just see that you're busy. This is perfect for extended family or friends who might want coordinate times with you.
Each person in my family is assigned a color, so anyone can see at a glance what our day will look like. Doing this in Google Calendar, you are essentially creating separate calendars for each family member, so you can look at each person’s schedule individually. (My husband already has his own Google Calendar which is tied to his Gmail account.)
While fairly intuitive, it also makes sense to create separate calendar for each part of your life: personal, work, church, schools, etc. With that in mind, you can also invite your friends to events or have them plan around your schedule. Again, you control over who sees your calendar and to what level of detail.
Importing Other Calendars, Reminders, and Birthdays
Google Calendar has an option to automatically populate your calendar with a list of national and religious holidays, and even your favorite teams’ game schedules. Other online calendars also allow you to import events from Facebook, Eventbrite, or Meet-up.com to your calendar.
You can create recurring events on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis, which is great for remembering birthdays and anniversaries. Just add an all-day event and set it to repeat every year on that date. You can also set up reminders and alerts (pop-up or email) for things that aren’t a normal occurrence, like Fall Registration, picking up the dry cleaning, or due dates.
Keep Track of Travel Details
I use our family calendar to share my flight and hotel info with my husband whenever I leave for business trips, but it has also come in handy when we’re family vacations. It’s a clever way to wrap my head around time changes and manage flight changes on the go, even mid-air. In spite of delays, cancellations, and any number of headaches, my husband has never been late (or too early) to pick me up from the airport because I’m able to update him immediately.
Syncing with Mobile Devices and Desktop Apps
The three most popular digital calendars are Google Calendar, Apple's iCal, and Microsoft Outlook. Each one integrates fairly well with one another, as well as a number of other apps and services. They are flexible and fairly interchangeable, which grants you and your family freedom to manage your calendars how, on what, and wherever you want. Google offers tutorials on how to sync your calendar with Andorid, iOS, and other mobile browsers and how to sync your calendar with desktop applications.
Syncing up everyone’s calendars makes it easier to plan downtime on the weekends and evenings. Being on the same page about what’s coming up makes it easier to plan ahead and relax. It’s another way for my husband and I to feel connected to one another, even if we’re too busy to chat during the work day. If I’m running late in the evening, I don’t have to wonder if he can pick up the kids or if I should call my sister. I just look at the calendar.