Family Organization when you can barely remember what day it is

Family Organization when you can barely remember what day it is

Not going to lie, we have a LOT on our plates these days and I have a feeling we have less going on than most. Between work, daycare, family and friends, school events, extracurricular activities (we currently only have one!), house projects and day-to-day life, we always seem to have an overflowing todo list. Keeping a family organized, especially when three of them can’t take much responsibility, is a daunting task.

I have gone through SO MANY different methods trying to come up with one that works for all of us. There are tons of great task management apps (some even designed for family organization), calendars, websites, you name it. What I’ve finally settled on, at least for the moment, is a mashup of some of my favorites. I’ve learned through much trial and error, anything I hope to use MUST live on my phone. If it’s paper, it will be lost or destroyed. Probably at the bottom of the diaper bag and trust me, no one wants to find that mess. It must play nice with Siri. I’m almost always driving, juggling kids or hauling too many bags at the exact moment when I need to remember something. If I don’t make the note right then and there, it’s out of my brain in .2 seconds never to be heard from again. Lastly, it must be SIMPLE! There are many, many gorgeous and complicated apps out there that will try to redesign your entire life for you. They’re amazing, but they are not for me. I need simplicity. Multiple steps just won’t get completed, I don’t have the time or the energy. Not gonna lie. I am on a quest for simplification.

Must Haves for family organization:
1. task lists must live on my phone
2. accessible via Siri for jotting down tasks/thoughts
3. simple, simple, simple

Currently, my system consists of three components: iPhone reminders/calendar, Trello and IFTTT (If This Then That That). If you haven’t heard of or used the 2nd two, fear not. I was mostly using just the first one until recently.

You can do SO much with just your native iOS reminders and calendar. Seriously. I’m pretty sure my kids know how to do it at this point because they’ve listened to me talk at my phone so often.

– Add oatmeal to my groceries list
– Remind me to pay summer camp tuition next Tuesday
– What’s the weather tomorrow?
– Remind me to turn on the oven when I get home

Endless. Possibility.

The calendar is self explanatory and I always add any pertinent date specific items in there that are necessary to keep our family organized. Create a separate calendar for each family member, work, etc. and then share them with the appropriate people. You may also want to harass them endlessly until they are also in the habit of adding every event too. No pressure or anything.

In Reminders, I simply create a list for any group of tasks we typically have. I have a grocery list, a house list, a work list, etc. Anything and everything that pops into my head and needs to be accomplished, it goes on a list. I cannot be trusted to “remember” unless I get it out of my brain. I have plenty of things I do accomplish without needing to jot it down, but this system helps me keep on top of the big stuff.

The one main thing I felt was lacking with this system was prioritization. I also wanted a way to help organize larger, long-term projects so I set out to find a better way.

A few weeks ago I finally took a leap and explored Trello in depth. My world has shifted. I was looking for a way to organize certain projects for work and stumbled across a few templates and my brain exploded. In approximately 30 seconds (okay, maybe over the course of a few days), I downloaded my brain (and my previous to-do lists) into Trello and I haven’t looked back since. I’ll explore more in depth soon, but a few things I fell in love with are:

– drap and drop cards (just move them wherever you need them to be, no need to re-write.)
– checklists (the items don’t disappear so you can uncheck when they’re needed again, think grocery lists!)
– Linking cards between boards (you might have a home improvement board and want to assign a few tasks to your current week tasks, easy!)
– Pretty backgrounds (you can “steal” these even if you don’t have a paid account, more on that another day.)

To really throw you for a loop, you can then sync this all together using IFTTT (If This Then That) which is such a cool site/app. Essentially, you can make Trello (and many, many other apps/sites) sync information to your phone and vice versa.

Ok, so family organization in a nutshell? Find a simple system that you can do easily and stick with it! Try not to get distracted by all the pretty apps and sites that promise to make it easy. If you can find something that works in a similar way to your natural inclinations, that’s the way to go.

More to come on Trello and IFTTT.

What are your biggest todo list challenges? Do you have an effective strategy for your family organization?

Conquer your Email Inbox – delete, archive and say goodbye to email chaos

Conquer your Email Inbox – delete, archive and say goodbye to email chaos

Is anyone else completely bogged down by email overload? Is your inbox thousands of emails deep and you find the you’re missing important emails or neglecting to reply? Do you crave the days of a zero inbox? That was SO ME!

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a BETTER way! You won’t believe how simple it is.

At the top of your Gmail account, when you’re selecting an email (via check box or clicking on it), there’s an ARCHIVE button. Unlike Outlook and email programs of old…archiving does not take your email and hide it in some remote location that is impossible to find later. The emails are still just a quick search away, they just don’t appear in your inbox. Amazing! Seriously. This was life changing for me.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 8.46.53 PM

Before you start thinking about the thousands of old emails you’ll have to sort through…first do an inbox cleanup. Pick a date in the past (30 days might be a good starting point) and run this search.

older_than:30d

That will pull up all emails older than 30 days (or the number of days you choose). Click the down arrow next to the check box above the list to “select all”, then click the link at the top of your list to “Select all #### conversations” and then click the Archive button. That will leave you with a much more approachable list to sift through. If you’re still seeing a ton of unnecessary emails, run a new search for 15 days or whatever you think best.

While you’re cleaning things up, you may also want to take a good look at some of the recurring emails you get. Do you really need to have your bank emailing you every alert or would a text be more effective? Are there any ad emails you can unsubscribe to? If it all seems a little overwhelming, there’s a great app out there called Unroll.Me which also has an option for a nice summary email.

Once you’re down to just a few emails, give a little thought to how you’ll manage any new emails in future.

Here are my current rules:
1. DELETE anything that you read don’t need (ads, one-off information, junk mail etc.).
2. REPLY and ARCHIVE anything that you can easily reply to, do it! Then archive so it’s out of sight, out of mind. If the person replies, it’ll reappear back in your inbox.
3. ARCHIVE anything that you read and might want to save in case it’s needed in the future (statements, newsletters, pictures or emails from friends). Create some filters and labels that can help with this process too, automate it and make it easy on yourself!

I only leave things in my inbox if I have to reply to it or am waiting for a reply. If it sits for more than a day or two, I go back to my rules and manage it or deal with it outside of email. More often than not, I’ll set a reminder for myself, snap a picture or add it to my to-do list outside of email.

Having a clean inbox has done wonders for my productivity. Rather than getting bogged down in my email, I can handle it in a few minutes and move on to more important things.

What are your biggest email frustrations? Email me and let’s see how I can help!

PS: I have a few different email addresses I use so I make sure to organize them all in one place. Gmail works for this, but so does the native Mail app from iOS or OS X. and likely other applications too. Just make sure you’re checking your email in one place for your phone and one place for your desktop. As long as that app has the functionality to archive, you’re good to go.

How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

Ever gotten really peeved at work and managed a few cutting remarks that left you feeling vindicated? Have you had a moment when you screamed at your spouse/parent/sibling/friend/child and suddenly realized you weren’t alone in the parking lot? Had that awful feeling in your gut a few hours later as you replayed the scene in your head? Did you spend the night squirming in embarrassment wondering how you could show your face in public ever again?

Well, there’s nothing quite like having your worst moments acted out for you, out loud and in person…by your four-year-old.

There are few things I’ve experienced that are quite so humbling as having children. Not only do you deal with the awe, the joy, the humiliations and the frustrations that make being a first-time parent incredibly overwhelming. You also experience the gut-wrenching shame spiral that ensues when you witness your darling child trying on all your snippy remarks and exhaustion fueled set-downs.

We all try to be good role models and decent human beings, sure. But in the privacy of your own home, you know you’re far from the pillar of humankind that you encourage your children to be. Sometimes, they are better role models than we could ever be. You can admit it, this is a safe zone. No judgements here.

We’ve been dealing with some adjustment problems with our two-year-old (since the addition of baby #3) and have been spending a lot of time trying to keep our little chaos bubble from spinning out of control. Once we manage one hurdle, another gauntlet is thrown into¬†our paths and we lug our exhausted bodies out of the ditch and trudge ever onward. There’s nothing quite like having notes sent home about your toddler’s behavior in daycare week after week. We’ve moved from shoving other kids, to tackling them, to punching them in the nose (self confessed), to screaming “NO!” all. the. time. Our darling girl?! Never…

That’s not to say she’s not sweet and loving and everything nice. Just don’t stand in her way, she’s got strong opinions and is not afraid to show them. I know I’ll appreciate her strength and conviction one day, when she’s 30. Maybe.

The crux of the matter is that we’re all learning, as individuals, as a family unit and as a community. It’s painful, it’s frustrating as all get out and it’s incredibly humbling. In the moment, it feels agonizing. With a little perspective, it starts to resemble growth and gosh darnit, maybe even feels a little rewarding.

It’s empowering to know that we are a work in progress. We are NOT perfect role models. We are not finished. We are aspiring to be something better, we are inspiring these little minds (though not always in the best ways, if we’re honest), and we are growing with each and every awkward, imperfect step.

Failure is not an option, it’s an inevitability. It may not be pretty or Pinterest worthy, but it’s life and it has meaning and it helps us to be better people. Own it.

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The joy and awe of having a newborn is immense, and overwhelming. This is especially the case when you have two other kids running around with the same needs they’ve had for the past 2 and 4 years. As with any new addition to a family, sleep is highly coveted commodity and chaos is only a hairsbreadth away.

After the first week or two of adjustment, the older kids quickly realize they can exploit this new bundle of joy. They will get up to all sorts of antics knowing mom is trapped in a chair feeding their newest sibling and so, can escape any and all repercussions. Enter the month of yelling. Deprived of any other recourse, Mom quickly devolves into a hoarse mess as she attempts to keep all the tiny humans alive and relatively well taken care of. Socks may not match and baths a thing of the past, but they’re fed and rested aren’t they?! Meanwhile, the tiny humans are rejoicing in their freedom and flaunting their newfound power as they blithely go about any activity they find amusing. Needless to say, nothing that Mom wants accomplished is on their to-do list.

As the days chug along with excruciating slowness, the new babe gradually begins to fall into the rhythm of the household. During waking hours, Mom can at least count on an hour or so of slumber from the little one, provided the babe is constantly snugged up against a boob or tucked under an arm. Allotted this modicum of freedom, she can now rampage around the house and one-handed, attempt to rectify the fracturing discipline she has managed to hold onto. Understanding that yelling is never the answer (though that was never in doubt), she gamely attempts to re-establish the love and trust that once reigned supreme. Enter the age of the tantrums.

While a semblance of order has begun to creep back into existence, the toddler and pre-school variety of tiny humans have entered a new phase of rebellion. Gone are the days of outright, smiling smugness and enter the age of tears, buckets and buckets or tears. The toddler now employs epic tantrums at the slightest of provocation, or just because. The preschooler responds to the re-establishment of tyranny by dissolving into tears and whining before she even hears more than one word uttered from a parent’s mouth.

Not all hope is lost. As the weeks go by, the babe reaches the magical age of 7 weeks and a monumental shift is about to transpire. The babe will sit or lay, awake or asleep…alone! Gone are the days of Mom’s one-armed failings. Slowly, but surely the minuscule footholds that were being put into place will begin to hold and order will gradually return. Mom will begin to remember she isn’t caring for three well-mannered demons, but instead the three darling children she loves so very much. No doubt the future holds many more challenges, but she can rest assured that there is a light…somewhere down the deep, dark tunnel.

Musical Beds: Unexpected visitors and siblings sharing a bedroom

Musical Beds: Unexpected visitors and siblings sharing a bedroom

Story time.

Finally able to read books together without the little one running off!

We have made a transition and our two girls, now aged 4 and 19 months are sharing a bedroom. Other than the occasional early wake-up call, it’s gone pretty seamlessly. Our youngest (for the next 6 weeks at least) is still in a crib and the elder is in a twin bed. They both like their rest so once they’re asleep, we’ve been in the clear.

The only major transition was the nighttime ritual. Previously, we had been taking them up around the same time and using the divide and conquer method. My husband would read to one while I got the other settled and topped off with a small bottle. Going to bed at the same time was out of the question as our two little chatterboxes would keep each other up if we let them.

To help with the transition, I started taking up our younger daughter at the normal bedtime and getting her settled. She drifts off into dreamland fairly quickly, so with a delay of 15 minutes or so, our older daughter quickly follows. However, she’s been known to enjoy a good book or ten. At bedtime, we’ve already read to her and then allowed her to take one book to bed to “read” as she falls asleep. At times, this has led to “reading aloud” and singing in bed for a time before she finally goes to sleep. To combat waking the babe, we’ve taken to putting our eldest to sleep in our bed and then moving her when we go up to bed. All in all, this has solved any nighttime woes (and dealt with any bed wetting problems as we make her take a trip to the potty as we move her to her bed).

This was the case last night as I went up and moved her to her room. Yet, when my husband came up a short while later, he found a small form curled up next to me in our bed. Being only six weeks from D-day with our third child, I had clearly fallen asleep and was none the wiser! Considering the stumbling and grumbling that I had to endure on the potty run, I’m amazed that she managed to wake up again. I don’t think she opened her eyes once!

On the flip side, our youngest was up pretty early this morning and started talking and singing almost immediately. When we went in to release her from crib prison…our eldest was curled up in her blankets and still fast sleep! Apparently, the noise wasn’t going to keep her from getting her rest.

Our advice for transitioning kids into sharing a room:
1. Talk it up! Get them excited about the idea.
2. Be prepared for some early mornings…it’s inevitable, but they do get better at sleeping later.
3. Make noise! Even before you make the transition, don’t keep a silent house. We live in an old house so they were well used to hearing each other long before they started sharing a space.
4. Be consistent. Like any change, they may rebel at first. But keep on keeping on and things will usually iron themselves out…eventually.
5. Don’t be afraid to make small changes to their routine. Small changes over time quickly become just part of their normal routine. Especially with older kids, just explain the changes and usually they can adapt fairly well once they know what to expect.

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