Balancing family life with work is never easy. The guilt many working parents feel when juggling childcare and had to choose one over the other is something many of us have experienced.
With two kids at school in different towns, a husband who typically travels 60% of the month and social and enrichment engagements that mirror those of many busy families, having a way to communicate daily commitments is critical. A few years ago I asked friends what works for their family and heard all sorts of ideas from various mobile apps to traditional wall calendars and colourful stickers as well as Google calendars and using PC.
As two working parents, both on Outlook from morning until night, my husband and I not only use Outlook to manage our numerous work meetings, but also the day-to-day for our family. Having everything in one consistent place helps me to avoid double booking and allows me to keep track of it all. There are lots of tips and courses available on how to use Outlook to manage work and meetings, but I would like to share some tips which personally work for me and my family and may help you too.
Here are my top tips:
- Coordinate Schedules Regularly. My husband and I coordinate our calendars every Sunday night and then adjust throughout the week as needed.
- Show As: Busy, Free, Tentative, Out of Office. Before saving a new item to the calendar, be sure to pick the correct status. Outlook typically defaults to a “busy” status which means if anyone tries to book a meeting at the same time, it will appear as an unavailable time. Since I often have reminders for things like “the Pyjama Day” on my calendar (where I’m not actually “busy”), it’s important to double check this.
- Recurring Items. I can’t explain why it’s happened, but on occasion things like birthdays will suddenly appear as a two day appointment. So when I enter in a birthday in the subject line, I will type “Charlie Dow (15/2/2007)” – this way I know how old he is and what the exact DOB is in case things get scrambled.
- Set Appropriate Reminders. For things like birthdays, I set a reminder one week ahead in order, to give me time to mail out a birthday card. For Pyjama Day, I set the reminder for 7:15 a.m. in order to give myself just a few minutes before the kids get dressed. For all my work meetings, I stick with the typical 15 minute reminder.
- Track Breaks in Routine. When my husband isn’t traveling, he drops off my son in the morning and I pick him up. If work dictates a change in this routine (outside of travel when he’s clearly gone), one of us will send a calendar reminder that says something like “Mary drop-off Will”. This way we can plan the rest of the day accordingly without having to remember every variation in the normal routine.
- Include the Details. Just like you probably do for work meetings, include any important details in the body of the calendar invite. When my husband travels, this includes detailing out whether or not he’ll be home in time for dinner, which nights he’ll be sleeping at home, flight information and hotel information. For family vacations we’ll include information on who’s watching the dog or what the payment schedule is.
- Doctor’s Appointments. My husband and I share the responsibility of taking the kids to doctor’s appointments, haircuts, etc., so in the subject line we’ll include the name of the parent responsible for the appointment (i.e. “Will’s 5 year check-up with Dr. Bodor – Mary”).
- Outlook is Not Totally Confidential. At the end of the day, my husband and I realize Outlook is the property of our companies. This means anything put in there is ultimately not confidential, but beyond work commitments, we’re only using it to schedule our daily lives, not to track anything too personal. It’s always a good thing to keep in mind though.
- Outlook May Not be Enough. Outlook is great for my husband and I, but not so great for the kids so in addition to Outlook, we have a wall calendar with the bare minimum on it for the kids. It typically includes the days dad will be gone and birthday or weekend commitments they like to keep track of.
However, sometimes it’s also about being flexible and improvising as life can be totally unpredictable and things happen that no calendar can ‘predict’.
Written by Mary, Bright Horizons employee