Different organization and home management authors call it different things: Home Management Binder, Control Journal, Household Notebook. But its essence is an all-in-one place for the information we need to smoothly run our homes. Whatever is helpful to you on a day-to-day basis, or whatever information you need but often lose, it belongs in your organization portfolio. Lovely ladies galore share their various beautiful paper iterations online, but can this basic tool move to the twenty-teens? Can it be done with an iPad? Can it be done with a Netbook? A smartphone? An iPod Touch?
It won’t be scrapbooky, but it will be handy and less messy.
Series to Date
Google Calendar is a great online tool. Of course there is the obvious use for calendars, but they can also be used for journals, menu plans, blog planning, birthday reminders, and even school calendars or schedules. I like to set up each of these as separate calendars so that they show up in different colors and they are easy to toggle on and off individually. You can get iCal to sync with Google Calendar, and the syncing is pretty smooth.
I keep my calendar default to a 2-week view, so I can see the whole week and next week. Then there’s enough room to see it all listed and keep tabs on what’s coming up. On iCal on the iPad, I am usually glancing to keep up more with the current day or next day, so I keep it in daily mode.
Appointments, etc.: Now, as for the calendars themselves, my Activities calendar is the basic, typical calendar items: appointments, visits, and activities. A GTD strategy I implement here is that strictly time-bound activities go here, true appointments at certain times. So, if I just need to see what time is actually tied up and not just planned for, I can view only this calendar. My husband can also see this calendar on his Google Calendar, which he uses at work, so he knows the plan, too. But he doesn’t want to see the menu plan or my school calendar or my schedule dreams. All that can quickly become calendar clutter, even for myself. This is the basic calendar only.
For families with multiple children in multiple activities it also makes sense to have different calendars in different colors for each person. We aren’t there yet, but I know several people set things out that way. Google Calendar is very flexible, and you can set up as many calendars as you want.
Menu Plan: My Menu Plan calendar usually has all three meals planned out, although lately I’ve been trying new lunch strategies and haven’t entered it yet. The great thing about using an online calendar for menu planning is that I don’t have to type out “oatmeal” a zillion times, because I can set it as a repeating event. But it does help just to see that the meal is planned, so I don’t have to think it through over and over again. Menu planning on the calendar has had a couple unforeseen advantages: When I buy something that has to be used within a certain amount of time, I just put it on the menu before that time. I bought two extra extra-cheap turkeys at Thanksgiving time and spaced out on my calendar when I would cook them. Then, when the after-Thanksgiving recipes started coming out, I chose one per turkey as a big-freezer-batch plan, and added that to the calendar after the turkey day and subsequent turkey-broth-soup day. My favorite feature of the online calendar for menu planning, though, is the ability to drag and drop dinners. So life happened and I served a short-cut, plan-B meal instead of the plan? Just drag that meal to tomorrow or next week! Tonight’s dinner had a bunch of leftovers? Just move tomorrow’s dinner plan to the next day or next week! Forgot to soak the beans? Just start them now and swap tonight’s meal with tomorrow’s! This large image here shows my menu and activity calendar, so you can get an idea for what I’m talking about:
And I would be remiss if I did not here mention my latest project: Simplified Dinners, which makes planning and preparing dinners a breeze. It has become my fallback now that I seem to have fewer available braincells for planning, shopping, and cooking.
Birthdays, etc.: Birthdays and anniversaries is a separate calendar so that it gets its own color, and all the events are repeating so I only enter them all once and it’s perpetual. I also subscribe to the US Holidays calendar, so things like Easter automatically show up on the right day.
School: I just added the School category last year. At the beginning of the year I schedule in which weeks are school weeks and which are break weeks (we school year-round), because that makes it easier to look ahead and plan play dates and appointments such. I also now schedule school in on the calendar, Tuesday-Friday, 8:30-11:30, just because I found myself in the evenings looking at my calendar and thinking, “Oh, we’re not doing anything tomorrow! Great!” Then I’d wake up in the morning thinking, “And I have the whole day! Nothing is going on today!” Then during breakfast or while changing a diaper I’d realize, “Oh, yeah, well, we will have to do school today. It’s not really a “free” day after all.” Then I’d be a little huffy about it. Dedicating a chunk of prime-energy time to school is still not automatic for me; I am making the transition mentally from the young years mode to elementary school mode. I need the extra reminder that my time is spoken for, so now my calendar helps me keep that in view.
If you need to track attendance for your homeschool, Google Calendar might be an easy way to do that. And, if you aren’t homeschooling, having school schedules and holidays and activities a separate color might still be useful.
Master Schedule: I did try for a time entering my ideal schedule into Google Calendar, but it was too much. I think my ideal would be to have a day outside the calendar, on the sidebar, where I could enter a schedule and see both today’s view and the master schedule view. But, for now, I try to keep idealistic aspirations off the calendar.
However, when I have something that I want to work on as a new habit associated with a particular time, I do have a separate calendar-color on which I note that I want to walk on the treadmill regularly at 2:30 or remember to do my housecleaning hour at 3:30 or whatever it is I want to make more automatic at a certain time of day.
Reminders: Another handy thing about the online calendar and having a computer or device nearby is that you can set reminders. So, if I’m going to walk at 2:30, then I can set a little pop-up to remind me at 2:15 that I need to get off the computer. Setting reminders, if used judiciously (overuse can cause you to quickly start ignoring them), can be a great help in learning new habits. You could even set your meal plan event to send you a reminder an hour before that it’s time to start cooking! :)
One thing that you want to have handy is your contacts. I don’t know how many times I’ve lost our church directory when I needed a phone number. And with the internet, I haven’t used the phone book in ages. Who wants to keep a phone book around, anyway? I am now a Mac person, and if there’s one thing Mac does well (and there are loads more ways than one), it’s Contacts. The program is just so pretty, so useable, and so integrated. So, if you have an Apple computer or tablet or phone, then there is nothing better than Contacts. If you have a pc or Android, then you’re on your own for finding a solution for contacts. Google Contacts, unfortunately, stinks. If you have something you use, please share it in the comments!
Your goal should be to get all your various contact information into that one central program. Church directories, business cards, team rosters — if it has a name and number or address or email you might want, just enter it straight into your program and toss the papers. Not only do you now know where all your contact information is, but a desktop search will pull up results from your contacts!
These days it is not unusual for a family to have three or phone numbers: home, plus each adult’s cell. In my Contacts, I set new phone categories “husband” and “wife” so it was clear whose cell number was whose. Now that my husband has a Mac, too, I can share my “book” with him and he has all that contact information as well. And if a friend asks for someone’s phone number, it’s easy to click “Share” and email them the contact “card.”
Another use for your contact information is to keep notes about people in it. The family’s kids’ names are an obvious one, as is each person’s occupation or company they work for. Including known food allergies so you can be considerate when offering them food is also a good idea. If there’s something about a family you want to remember, but will likely escape you, the notes section of their contact card is the ideal place to write it down.
The most obvious advantage to keeping your contacts digitally is that when numbers and addresses change, making that change is quick, simple, and clean — no more messy notes. And, with a portable device like an iPod Touch or Smartphone, you have your own customized phone book right in your pocket or purse, without added bulk.
As we talk about setting up home management systems electronically, please remember to back up your data regularly. The great thing is, restoring from a backup is much easier than remaking a lost or ruined binder.