Using a Family Calendar

A family wall calendar is something that I’ve mentioned a few times. Some of my friends in the United States don’t know what they are, so I thought I’d take a moment to explain. I have come to depend on the family calendar, and don’t know how I functioned for most of my life without one.

To be honest, I’d never seen them myself until I moved to Finland. I worked for Barnes & Noble for several years, and was involved in stocking and displaying the calendars at this time of year, so I’ve seen all kinds of calendars. Most American wall calendars are the big block/grid monthly arrangements, differentiated mainly by the pictures on them. Here they’re ubiquitous. Most of the wall calendars I’ve seen here are family calendars.

What’s a Family Calendar?

Day Household Katie School Katie Business Berin Deadlines Word Count
Mon 15 2783
Tues 16 7 laundry 12 advisor 14 meeting 3214
Weds 17 8 teaching 1216
Thurs 18 18 dinner sale begins 1654
Fri 19 8 teaching 14 coffee new release 5210
Sat 20 bill due 738
Sun 21 2401

A family calendar is essentially just a giant day planner or appointment book. On the left side is a column with the day and date. To the right are five or six blank columns. You’re supposed to assign a column to each family member. Then you can put their schedule or appointments in their column, on the row for the correct day and date. This way you can see who will be where, and when there might be scheduling conflicts.

Katie and I use it to keep track of the various endeavors in our lives. As you can see in my rough example above, instead of one column for each of us I break things down by “project”. This gives us both visibility to what we’re doing.

A Column for Everything

Household is pretty broad. I note due dates for bills, doctor’s appointments, when prescriptions need to be renewed, planned outings, and so on. It’s not separated by Katie/Berin, but I note the name. I do color-code different types of events, so paying the rent is distinct from having friends over to play a game.

Katie School is anything related to her academic work. When papers are due, when she’s teaching, when she has meetings with advisers, and so on.

Katie Business is anything related to her fledgling entrepreneurial endeavors, including meetings with her mentor and her networking group.

Berin Deadlines is exactly that. I don’t break it down by project, because I never have two things due on the same day. Even if I did, I’d give one of them an early deadline to avoid overlap. This is mainly so Katie can see when I’m under deadline crunch. I get crabbier the closer I am to a deadline, so it’s really more of a warning. I do color-code projects, though, especially when there are multiple benchmarks to hit within the same month.

Word Count is where I document how much I wrote each day. This is based on the Jerry Seinfeld “don’t break the chain” method. It’s not about how many words I put down. It’s about writing every single day. The only reason I don’t just put a big red X and document that actual number is to add an extra level of accountability. What’s the least amount of words that I can write and count it? 50? 25? 3? Putting down the number creates an “oh, come on!” factor that makes me strive for a reasonable amount of productivity every day.

Using a Family Calendar

Could you do all of this with a regular wall calendar? Yes. You could jam everything that happens on the 3rd into the box for that day. What I like is that with this structure, I can glance is just what’s going on with my deadlines, or what’s happening with Katie’s academics so I can be supportive. You could use color-coding for that, but a regular calendar still tends to turn into a jumble. I find this format easier to read.

I also allows for better planning. If her business mentor wants to have a meeting, Katie can see when she’s already on campus and try to book it adjacent to that. It saves a trip. If I know we need something from the store, and I see she’s going to be downtown, I can ask her to pick it up. When there’s something we need to do, I might head down to campus with her, work from the library or a coffee shop, and we can do what we need to do afterward.

I know that all of this stuff is incredibly basic. What I’ve learned through many conversations with people who struggle with organization, though, is that what’s obvious to me isn’t obvious to everyone. Any tip, trick, or tool that I can share might be helpful to someone.

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