Of course, determining which pursuits benefit and appeal to each family member is only half of the process. The important issue of working the activities into your family's schedule remains.


Just because someone is good at something doesn't mean it's the right choice as one of that person's enrichment activities.

You cannot be in two places at the same time. By ignoring or denying this basic fact, many families create a great deal of tension and stress. Now that you're taking control and organizing your family's schedule, you'll be able to deal with scheduling conflicts before they happen and avoid all of the resulting unpleasantness.


Planning to arrive at an event late is a way of avoiding the responsibility of making a hard choice in the first place. Being late carries with it lots of disadvantages:

  • It's impolite. It interrupts the proceedings and shows a disregard for the people who made the effort to get there on time.

  • It's a bad habit. It connotes an uncaring attitude toward your personal performance.

  • It's stressful. Even if you think you're okay with arriving late, your level of stress is probably higher than if you were on time.

  • It reduces the respect you receive. People figure if you don't care about your schedule and time, then they shouldn't have to care either.

  • It reduces your success. Athletes late to team practices and students late to class don't perform as well as those who arrive on time.

If you take the time to plan ahead, you'll find that you have plenty of options to arrange your time so that you're late only in the rare instance when circumstances beyond your control are involved. If you really stop to think about the situation, making the effort to organize your family's schedule is pointless if, in the end, you still plan to live in a frazzled way.

To do list

  • Eliminate activities with overlapping time frames

  • Schedule time for drivers and spectators, as well as participants

  • Resolve conflicts before they happen

Choosing Between Overlapping Activities

Unfortunately, for all but the dullest of people, there will always be more enticing options than there is time available. So, you can at least begin whittling down the choices by accepting the fact that you can't participate in two activities that take place at the same time. This rule applies to schedules that overlap as well. Your rewards for making a tough choice up front will be greater focus and less stress later.

If one activity meets on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the second activity meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then you need to recognize that the two of them are mutually exclusive. Rationalizing that you can skip each activity just once every other week will result in your receiving less than half the benefit of either activity. Plus, you'll constantly be faced with the almost paralyzing dilemma of which one to attend on each Wednesday.

In addition, don't forget to include travel time when determining what activities your schedule can accommodate. Two activities that run back-to-back but are in locations 30 minutes apart still require you to be in two places at the same time; you'll be traveling between the activities when you should already be at the second activity.

Scheduling Drivers, Spectators, and Other Family Participants

Make sure that you take into account everyone whose time will be involved. Hidden scheduling conflicts can exist when someone else is needed in addition to the primary participant. Especially for young children, you must remember that it's not just their time that you have to consider, because someone has to chauffeur them to and from the activity. If you have only one person in the family who can drive, then you can't let one child have sports practice on one side of town at the same time your other young child has an art class on the other side of town.

The only way around having to make a choice between the two activities is to arrange for someone else to drive one of the children, and, to keep things running smoothly, you need to do that before you sign up for both activities. You'll also want to look into carpooling options if one child's activity will require that your other children accompany you on a long drive to and from the activity because that's not a good use of their time, either.

Some activities require family involvement by their nature. Events that have an audience or spectators—music recitals, sports competitions, and so on—really need family members present to support the participant. When making the choice to become involved in these pursuits, make sure that family members have room in their schedules. If, for some reason, family support isn't possible, this information should be disclosed to the participant before signing up for the activity.

Resolving Conflicts with Other Family Events and Activities

Next, look at what already exists on your family's schedule. If the summer league playoffs for a particular sports activity will take place during the week that your family has scheduled its annual vacation, then you'll need to make some adjustments up front. Is summer league a really high priority item? Or would another activity be equally satisfying and not create a conflict? Are the dates for the family vacation unchangeable because there's no other time you can take off from work or you've made a nonrefundable deposit? Or can you shift the vacation to another week without causing any new conflict?

If adjustments can be made to accommodate everyone, then that's great. If not, then the family will have to settle on a hard decision. The most important point is that you make the decision before signing up for the activity, so the conflict is dealt with before it becomes a reality.


You've probably figured out that the more children you have who aren't old enough to drive and the more activities those children undertake, then the more time the adults in the family will spend in the car driving those children where they need to go. And, because having a smooth-running family schedule depends, in part, on making the best use of your time, it makes sense for us to take a few minutes to discuss productive ways for you to use the time you'll be spending in your car.

If you find yourself sitting in the car waiting for your kids to come out of locker rooms or lessons:

  • You might find you have enough time to pay your bills or catch up on your correspondence.

  • You have plenty of work to do right in the car. The dashboard and the inside of the windows frequently need dusting or cleaning. If you keep a package of premoistened wipes in your glove compartment, you can use a few spare moments to spiff up your car's interior. If you keep a small plastic bag handy—either recycled from shopping or a zip-closure bag—you can de-clutter your glove box and gather and seal up the trash from around the inside of your car. Younger children really enjoy helping with these tasks, so you can keep them from becoming bored and restless by letting them help. Or let them do the cleanup on their own while you pay the bills.

You can even use the time you're on the road productively:

  • You can absorb a lot of information about what's going on in the world by keeping your radio tuned to a National Public Radio station. Your kids will learn some current events, too. You may find that you no longer have to watch news on TV, which is largely teasers and commercials and can waste a lot of your time. You may be able to cut down on your newspaper and news magazine time (and expenses), too.

  • Your car is one of the few places where you can have a totally private conversation with the other people you're with. You can take this opportunity to have some real heart-to-heart conversations with your captive audience. Just be careful not to get involved in emotional discussions that may distract the driver too much and lead to unsafe driving.

  • If you're transporting both your children and some of their friends, take the chance to listen to some of their conversations. You may find you can pick up a lot more information about what's going on in their lives at school than you can by asking them directly and receiving the legendary “nothing” answer.

Please be aware that you'll miss out on a lot of these benefits if you rely heavily on cell phones and DVDs to keep your children occupied.

And always remember to put safety and health first. This means the driver should not

  • Talk on a handheld cell phone. More and more municipalities are making this dangerous activity illegal. If the driver also has children in the car, talking on the phone may well be one distraction too many.

  • Finish her personal grooming. People who comb their hair, polish their nails, or apply makeup while driving can't have their hands or attention where they need to be in order to drive safely.

  • Eat. Not only is eating while driving a distraction, it's bad for digestion. If you don't have time to stop for 15 minutes to eat, then you've packed your schedule too tightly.

As your family continues to work toward an ever more organized schedule, consider following these steps whenever potential scheduling conflicts come up:

Make sure all known events are listed in the family planner (for example, birthday celebrations, sports competitions, piano recitals, business trips).

Remember that events posted in the planner always have priority over unposted events if a solution or compromise can't be reached.

Discuss a potential conflict as soon as it arises.

Look for a way to eliminate the conflict.

Practice good negotiating skills if the conflict can't be eliminated and look for a solution that will provide a win-win situation for everyone. (Example: In exchange for moving your daughter's party to a day other than her birthday so the family can attend her brother's tuba recital, you'll allow her to let her two best friends sleep over on her birthday.)

Be aware of—and resigned to—the need for compromise if you cannot find a win-win situation for everyone involved. In other words, don't create the conflict and figure you'll resolve it later. (Example: Because your son's track meet is at the same time as your daughter's piano recital, they know well in advance that they have to settle for the fact that their father will attend the recital and their mother will attend the track meet.)


You'll have noticed that selecting enrichment activities for each member of your family needs a lot of coordination—and sometimes negotiation—among everyone in the family. Sometimes this coordination requires the family to get together to discuss the plans. And sometimes, to convey the importance of the discussion, someone in the family—usually one of the parents—calls for a family meeting.

Finding a time in the family's schedule to hold a meeting can be a scheduling problem all its own. So, your best bet may be to plan to have the meeting whenever you can get the whole family assembled—and you can get creative in finding that occasion:

  • When your family eats dinner together—which you may find you're more able to do the more you organize and coordinate your family's schedule

  • If you offer to take everyone out for ice cream

  • In the car on the way to a baseball game

Don't try to have a meeting when people may be hungry, sluggish, or in a hurry to go somewhere else.

Before you get everyone together, make sure that you're prepared with the information you need to resolve your scheduling issues. Maybe you'll need to have other family members get information and thoughts together in advance as well.

In the business world, there is an ever-growing recognition that companies should hold as few meetings with as few people as possible. You would be wise to adopt this same philosophy at home. The occasional meeting that really accomplishes something will hold everyone's interest. A meeting held on a weekly or monthly basis, whether needed or not, will quickly have family members giving little priority to attending or paying attention. Call for a meeting only if there is truly a need for an exchange of ideas with discussion. And involve only the people in your family who can contribute important questions, ideas, and solutions related to the meeting's purpose. For example, your eight year old doesn't need to attend a meeting to decide who will drive your five year old to ballet class, and your teenager doesn't need to attend a meeting to decide whether your eight year old should play soccer or baseball.

Always aim for effective family meetings that produce exciting ideas and solutions.

To do list

  • Create a to do list for each activity

  • Estimate the amount of time each item will take

  • Decide who needs to be involved in each task

  • Schedule each item into the participant's personal schedule and the family's planner

  • Store each activity's equipment in a portable container

  • Check periodically to make sure your family hasn't signed up for more activities than it can handle

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