Dear Lifehacker, I consider myself a pretty organised person. The rest of my family? Not so much. It’s not that we’re totally out of control or anything, but with three kids, there are lots of activities, messes abound, and schoolwork is always a hassle. What can I do to get us all more organised and in sync with each other? Sincerely, Organised One
Dear Organised One,
It’s tough enough to get yourself organised, even when you’re motivated to do so. Getting other people organised to work better together must be a real challenge, especially if the rest of your family isn’t as motivated as you. Here are a few ideas.
Get Them Motivated
For some people, being organised is motivation in itself. For others, you need to show them what motivation gets them. That may be something as simple as being able to find your stuff. Here are some concrete ways you might motivate the other members of your household:
- You’ll save time. If your things are organised, it’s easier to find them. You’ve got better things to do than looking for lost stuff. Your possessions are also less likely to get damaged if they are where they belong.
- You’ll spend less money. If you know what you have and where it is, you’re less likely to buy extra things you may already have. You have better things to do with that money.
- You’ll spend more time doing fun things. If you have your tasks planned well, it’s easier to see what time you have available to go out with friends or do other fun things.
- You’ll get better grades. Knowing when assignments are due and planning appropriate time to work on them directly translates to better grades.
- You’ll be better rewarded at work. Taking care of work instead of worrying about the chaos at home (and the people dealing with that chaos) takes away a lot of stress.
- You’ll save more money. Organising your family finances means you’ll be saving more money for the long term. You’ll also be able to buy things that you really want rather than the unplanned incidental purchases you often splurge on. And please don’t be afraid to get your children involved in the family’s finances. If they feel more a part of things, they will take it all more seriously. It’s also an opportunity to pass along some much-needed skills.
Create Your Mission Control Centre
Once you’ve got the troops motivated, you’re going to need a base of operations from which to launch your organizational offensive. Your Mission Control Center needn’t be anything fancy, unless of course you want it to be. If at all possible, consider setting up a desk with a computer that is devoted to family planning. If you can’t do that, you might consider a kitchen computer . We’ve shown you a few cool ways to make that happen. Or, just keep a container with the necessary files that you can easily carry to the dining room table for spreading out.
However you do it, at the heart of your control center will be a shared calendar and task list. You could make this as simple as a paper calendar and task list you hang up in the kitchen or a weekly planner. Or, since you’ll be juggling a family full of people who are always on the go (and since we are Lifehacker, after all), digital may be the way to go. There are all kinds of ways to approach a shared digital calendar and task list.
As usual, Google has pretty good offerings. Google Calendar is dead simple to set up and it works on every platform out there. Set up a separate calendar for each person and one for the entire family as well. The last one is for group events like vacations. You can turn calendars on and off individually, so it’s easy to see an uncluttered view with just what you need. And of course, each person can access their own calendars on the go.
Google Tasks is unfortunately pretty bare bones, but there are all kinds of good shared task planners out there, including such offerings as Wunderlist and ToDoist. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, you might want to take a look at Cozi, which is designed to be a family organiser. And if Cozi doesn’t suit your needs, we’ve covered a number of team-oriented planning tools that might flip your switch, such as Asana and Trello. We even rounded up your five favourites.
Making this all work, of course, requires building up in everyone the habit of checking the calendar and task list regularly. That takes time and practice. Work slowly up to the organisational level you want to achieve. Forgive mistakes along the way and try your best to have everyone learn from them.
Hold Regular Family Meetings
Even you, oh Organised One, might roll your eyes at the thought of holding regular family meetings. The truth is there is no better tool for getting a family organised than the humble family meeting. Run them the same way you wish more business meetings were run:
- Keep them short. The truth is you can get just as much done in a well-run short meeting as a longer one. For a family meeting, consider about 15 minutes. Don’t be afraid to have fewer, shorter meetings.
- Give them a concrete purpose. Meetings should have a single purpose. That’s one way to get away with shorter meetings. Instead of scheduling a weekly general family meeting, schedule a 15-minute meeting to go over the budget, another to help the kids plan their homework schedules, another to talk about divvying up chores. Obviously, you don’t want to schedule so many meetings that people go into meeting overload, so you don’t need to meet about every subject every week. Feel out what’s right for your family.
- Create actionable take-aways. When a meeting ends, everyone in attendance should come away knowing the next step they need to take. Plan meetings with this in mind.
The Art of Manliness has this to say on the subject of family meetings:
I want my kids to feel like they’re part of a team that has their back no matter what. I also want to instill in them values and skills that will serve them well and help them develop into contributing members of society.
But that sort of stuff doesn’t just happen. If you want to foster a successful family, you have to father with intentionality.
While a family mission statement can provide the big-picture vision for your family, regular family meetings are how you take that vision and turn it into action. It’s where the rubber meets the road.
And while you’re at it, be sure to ask the three most important questions at any family meeting.
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