Organizing in the New Decade

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by brenda maas

Ever since my days in high school and college, I have operated with a color-coded calendar. Biology was blue; writing assignments were green and Very Important Matters were red. Now my oldest son is blue; second is red and third is green. Mom, of course, is in pink ink. Family matters are purple. For the past few years, our family has moved from the nursery into the elementary school, has become increasing more mobile on a daily basis, and The Great Paper Shuffle has grown. I’ve played with the idea of re-vamping our scheduling system. However, I am the same person who puttered along happily with Windows 98 until editors told me that they could no longer read my files—it was time to upgrade (dreaded words). But trading in the old Chevy that still works is painful.

So, I decided to do a bit of reconnaissance on how parents schedule their families and what tools fit which person. Here’s what Billings moms in the know taught me- a mom who wants to know: (continued...)

Paper Chase

Elizabeth Potter, registered nurse, wife and mother of two school-aged children, swears by her paper DayPlanner ™ for family events. “It sits in a central location in our house where my husband can access it,” she notes. “I write down everything from the garbage and recycling days to appointments to grocery lists—by the week. About once a week, I go through the bills, the mail and other paperwork to transfer things to the calendar.” Potter estimates she spends 30-45 minutes each week with this method and notes that “To Do” lists are kept separately.

Amy Petsch, a mother of four boys, also uses a paper calendar that she posts on the refrigerator. While her oldest son, a freshman, uses the calendar in his phone for his personal schedule, “He’s really good about managing his events and adds things to the family calendar as needed,” she says.

Petsch also notes that her husband, David, uses a computer-based calendar for his work schedule and when he needs to remember a family activity, he calls his work voice mail and then transfers the dates to his electronic calendar in his office. Petsch manages the rest of the family’s schedule herself and laughs about her system, saying, “There’s plenty of room for improvement.”


Low cost, once a year - what’s a calendar? About $20?

Very visual - organizer and entire family can see it.

Decision-maker - If the event is not printed there in ink, it’s a no-go.


Easy for calendar and entries to get lost in the Great Paper Shuffle.

Can be a burden to carry around & difficult to consult when not at home.

Single-user format, unless others coordinate with it.

The Electronic Age

Kori DeVries, a clinic manager, started using Outlook—a Windows-based email, calendar and task management program—at work about four years ago. She has since merged her family’s events into the program also.

“Literally everything I get, basketball schedules, baseball sign-ups, anything is entered and then I throw the paper away (unless my husband needs to enter it, too). I sync my calendar to my phone every night before I leave work and from my phone to Outlook at work every morning. The reminders let me know where I need to be, when.” Now DeVries is essentially paperless in both her professional and personal life.


Can sync to PDA, Blackberry or other compatible phone.

Can program “reminders” to self or others of an upcoming event.

Ability to “invite attendees” to an event without an interrupting phone call. For example, I can “invite” my husband to our sons’ piano recital; he then “accepts” or “rejects” the invitation and incorporates it into his Outlook calendar.

The Great Paper Shuffle is greatly diminished.


Cost - nearly $200 to purchase Outlook (as part of MS Office) or similar program.

A one-person show…unless you decide to share by “inviting attendees.”

Cumbersome to carry PC (AKA: your calendar) away from home if you are “herding” kids.

Not immediately visible to every family member and it can be time-consuming to turn it on just to peek at family’s schedule for the day.

Lots of beeps and rings throughout the day, which can be annoying and distracting, while a paper calendar doesn’t talk.

A bit of a learning curve, especially for those not accustomed to particular software.

Toddlers & preschoolers like to “play” on mommy & daddy’s computer.

The Latest and Greatest

Lately I’ve noticed Blackberrys ™ (and their many counterparts) taking parents by storm - and I’m not talking only about the working, professional parents. It seems that anyone and everyone getting a new phone these days buys not just a device to call or text others, but a calendar, calculator and personal digital assistant all in one. Email on the run - got it. Contact list from computer - yup. Internet access - you betcha!

According to Joe Larimer, operations manager of Cellular Plus in Billings, “Everyone is using the calendar in their phone—they have come to expect it as one of the options.” In fact, Larimer estimates that at least 60 percent of customers want a phone for more than talking or texting and that number is growing rapidly.

For DeVries, the all-in-one option synced to her electronic calendar is the only way to go. “If someone hands me a sticky note, I lose it within an hour,” she laughs. “But it’s difficult to lose a computer and my Blackberry ™ is always with me. I don’t miss appointments that way.”

In contrast, Potter turns to her all-in-one phone for work while keeping the family’s schedule separate because that’s how she manages work & family.


It is Portable. Phones fit in your purse, your pocket or your diaper bag.

It is an extension of the office. Always on, always available for whatever you need.

It’s an all-in-one communication, organization device. All else is extraneous.

May work best if coordinating tweens & teens who, as we all know, are born with their fingers on the tract ball.


If it crashes, everything is gone and you need emergency IT service asap!

Hard to look at your calendar while driving - do not try this in your car!

Difficult to schedule something while simultaneously talking on the phone.

Cost - considerably more than a paper calendar; varies greatly by phone, plan and service but expect about $200, especially if synching with a computer calendar and there are on-going monthly fees.

A bit of a learning curve, especially if merging with computer calendar.

Can be an electronic leash, distracting you from the very people you are trying to organize.

So, although my system is certainly not broken, it may be at least time for a check-up. And, while this old dog may have a hard time learning new tricks, it’s never too late to try. Who knows…maybe this will be the year of the dog! SFM

Brenda Maas lives south of Billings with her husband and three elementary-aged sons, where she’s constantly trying to be more organized with The Great Paper Shuffle.