Wrangling a family of six is not what I would call a walk in the park. In fact, if we were in said park, Graham and I would be chasing children in four separate directions. These are wild years, friends. If corralling our kids is difficult on any given day, aligning our schedules is even more challenging. Thankfully, we have spent the last 18 months unraveling busy, but I’ve noticed our commitments have started piling up again, and in an effort to share what I’ve learned with you, I am writing today about a scheduling system that works for us. And just so you don’t assume we’ve got it all figured out, this doesn’t happen perfectly from week to week. We struggle. We forget events and meetings. We run late. I cuss a little about that. But at the end of the day, we’re a lot further down the road than we used to be using these tips and tricks.
1. Take an evening to sketch out the week ahead. Not a half hour. An evening. I go to a nearby Panera on Sunday nights to do this. For the $2.63 it costs for my refillable bev, I plan our schedules, consolidate our errands, choose our meals, make a grocery list, budget additional purchases, pay bills, and do any other tasks I’ve been putting off. Things like registering my kids for summer camp, sending an email to a volunteer committee, or signing up for a class at the gym. I don’t do anything personal on this night (social media, blog posts, phone calls, etc). It’s all business and my week is better for it.
2. Find a system that works and stick with it! When our lives were far more harried—before we learned to say no—we synced our schedules using an app called Cozi. I highly recommend it. I could add something to the schedule (or the grocery list for that matter) and Graham could see it in real time and even get notifications. When we were going in a zillion directions, it was a lifesaver. Now that our pace has slowed—something I also HIGHLY recommend—we write all the important stuff on a large, family calendar in the kitchen. The kids follow along and find some assurance in knowing what the week ahead looks like. That calendar has only so much space, so once things stop fitting in the little squares, we know something has to go. Finally, I keep my Emily Ley Simplified Planner for the blog as well as weekly and monthly events. There’s just something about a planner. . .I can never fully go digital. Whatever it is for you, stick with it!
3. Decide who’s “it.” If it all goes down. If the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, which parent will step in to help? Graham knows that Mondays are non-negotiable for me. I have a day of meetings in the office, so if somebody gets sick on Sunday night, he’s “it” the next day. Similarly, his work is flexible, but if it’s the end of the week and he needs to finish a project or clock more hours, I’m “it” even if it means doing several tasks solo. The understanding is mutual and there is no resentment when we talk about who’s “it” beforehand.
4. Commit to planning ahead. In our marriage, my husband doesn’t need to know the nitty gritty of scheduling beyond what’s on the kitchen calendar (I fill that role), but once a month, we sit down and sketch out some things. Work trips. Trainings. Date nights. Community events. Home projects. A few months ago, we began taking turns having 1-on-1 time with each of our kids, so we plan that out, too. And if there is a large purchase around the bend or we are trying to decide on a summer vacation, we may pull back the lens even further and look at the next several months. This isn’t done in a half hour. Carve out the time to discuss these things with your partner and keep your commitment.
5. Decide where you can say no. Earlier this week my kids were sick, and though Graham was going to be home that evening, I decided my babies needed both of us, so and I backed out of a weekly commitment in order to take care of the little people in my life. Graham just said yes to being a bilingual tutor for a refugee—a program organized by International Neighbors. This new commitment meant that he had to say no to something else he’s been doing for a while. Don’t add to the calendar without removing something. It’s such an important rule. Saying no to unmanageable schedules means saying yes to our families, our margins, and our peace.