Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shared calendars are one part of an organized family

by Douglas E. Welch, techiq@welchwrite.com
206-338-5832 Reader/Listener Line


As a parent with a school-age child, I often hear other parents bemoaning their disorganized existence. Along with the busy schedules of two working parents you might have art classes, karate classes, Little League, soccer and more. Add in more than one kid and organizing your life can quickly become a nightmare.

This is exactly why one of my most important organizing devices is a shared calendar that reflects all the activities and events for everyone in the household...and I do mean everything. If someone -- is required to be somewhere -- at sometime, it goes into the calendar. If we are given a calendar that reflects all the events for a particular activity (say, Little League), all these events immediately go into the calendar, along with notations on whether we are providing the team snack, working in the snack bar, etc. Even events that occur anytime during the day, like family birthdays, and other reminders are also included.

Here is a screen shot of my calendar for January. As you can see, I also make extensive use of color coding to tell me, at a glance, who is involved in an activity or what type of activity it is.

Welch Entourage Calendar Screenshot
Now, even as technology happy as I am, I will be the first to admit that maintaining a calendar like this doesn't take a computer, but it certainly makes it much easier. First, in my setup, events and appointments can be entered from either my computer, my wife's or even directly into my Handspring Treo PDA or cell phone and those events will appear, eventually, on all those devices in turn. For example, when I am at the dentist or doctor's office and we schedule my next appointment, I immediately enter that into my Treo. When I return home and eventually synchronize the Treo with my computer, that appointment also flows over to the other computers. It also works in the reverse direction.

Next, using a computer-based or Internet-based calendar allows you to easily add repeating and recurring events, days months and years into the future. This is what I use for family birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Imagine only having to enter these dates once and use them for years to come. For fun, I even enter birthdays of certain ancestors, like the grandfather my son is named after, to keep that bit of history alive.

The Available Tools

There are countless tools you can use to get your calendar in order. In my personal case, I am using Microsoft Entourage, part of Microsoft Office, which also provides email, to-do lists and more. It also has a built-in sharing system, using its Projects feature that allows me to share the calendar and other items with the other computers in my office. Similar calendar applications include Apple iCal, Now-Up-To-Date & Contact, Microsoft Outlook and others.

You don't have to use a program on your computer, though. There are a number of online calendars that can provide you even more flexibility. These calendars are accessed using your web browser, which allows you to update it from anywhere you have an internet connection, possibly even your cell phone. This type of calendar includes Google Calendar, , and a host of others, usually provided in association with other web services.

Google Calender Screenshot

Google Calender Screenshot


Some of these programs and web-based calendars will also allow you to automatically include event calendars and the calendars of family and friends within your own calendar.

No matter how you build your shared family calendar, do build it – and then use it. This single tool will help to keep you and your family on-track and less stressful.

Links:

Google Calendar
Yahoo Calendar
Microsoft Office and Outlook
Apple iCal

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