Fine-tuning Your Family's Schedule and Planner System : Troubleshooting Your New System

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If the Planner Isn't Working

Problem: The planner doesn't provide enough room for all of the information you need to include.


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  • Consider switching to a planner with a more expanded format. For example, if you're using a monthly planner, perhaps a weekly planner will give you the extra room you need.

  • If you're already using a daily planner, you may need to switch to a multiperson daily group appointment book.

  • If you really like the format of the planner you're using, you might get a different model that provides more space for each entry.

  • If you're using a hard-copy planner, consider whether an electronic one—which will generally have less limited space constraints—may work for your family.

Problem: Your family is forgetting to enter events into the planner.


  • Check to see whether the location of the planner is conveniently accessible to everyone and move it if that will help.

  • Analyze whether you've selected the right format—hard copy versus electronic—and switch if a change is appropriate.

  • Ensure that everyone is using the family's planner as the main repository of scheduling information. Some members may be using individual planners to record events and then forgetting that the information needs to be transferred to the central system. Until everyone gets into the routine of using the central planner, the family's master scheduler should make a point of reminding the other family members; he should have this task scheduled as a recurring item on his own personal schedule.

  • If family members aren't keeping track of events at all, make sure that they have individual planning tools that they can carry with them so they can record the information they'll need to transfer to the family's planner.

  • If the family's planner is portable, make sure that it doesn't move around so much that people can't locate it when they want to enter information.


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Problem: The family's planner keeps getting lost.


  • Consider whether you should switch to a wall-mounted planner that can't be carried around.

  • Attach a locator device to your planner, similar to the ones found on most cordless phones. Make sure you anchor the base paging unit in a permanent location.

Problem: Your family is forgetting to do things that need to be done.


  • Double-check whether the item is on the family's schedule. If it's not, then add it.

  • Make sure each family member is remembering to check the family's planner and understands which items on the schedule are her responsibility.

  • If someone is forgetting to do things while away from home, make sure he has a portable individual planning tool that he keeps updated. If he's forgetting to check the planner, have him set an alarm that will ring to remind him.

  • If someone is forgetting to do the parts of a task that are involved in the preparation or wrapping-up phases of an activity, remember that some people see these parts as separate events, so they need to have them scheduled separately.


You can schedule some tasks more generally and others more specifically depending on the organizing styles of the people responsible for completing them.

Problem: Some people in your family are forgetting to look at the planner.


  • See whether the location of the planner is convenient for them. Remember that the planner should be located where everyone will pass it at least once—and preferably more times—a day. Also, you need to position the planner at a height that makes viewing it easy for everyone.

  • Some people need an additional motivator to look at the planner because the thought of facing the day's tasks is not appealing to them. A calendar with a new comic or joke for every day may help. Or you could set up a system of random small prizes or rewards that are given to the first person to find them posted on the planner.

Problem: One person in your family isn't following the system.


  • Your planner may not be a good fit for that person's age, learning style, or personality. Instead of trying an alternative to a system that is working for almost everyone, try finding a personal planning tool that will dovetail with the family's system and work for the individual. Consider tools that use more or fewer graphics and colors (for those who are more or less visually oriented), more auditory reminders (for auditory learners), or more interaction from the user (for kinesthetic learners). Consider personal systems that break down tasks into smaller components for those who have trouble focusing on a large project all at once.

  • If the person is an age at which she's looking for more independence, try giving her more responsibility or letting her have more input into the overall schedule.

Problem: The planner worked in the beginning, but over time people seem to have lost interest in it.


  • The planner may have become so much of a fixture in your house that no one even notices it any more—and, for many people, out of sight is out of mind. Buy a similar planner in a new, vibrant color, or spruce up your old planner with cartoons you change frequently or dollar bills that can be claimed for performing tasks.

  • Family dynamics change over time as children grow into young adults. A planner that worked for several years may simply have outlived its usefulness. Assess your family's current situation and select a new planner system that's a good match now.


No matter how carefully you organize your family's schedule, there's no doubt that occasionally something will happen to upset your plan. It may be an unavoidable happenstance, such as the electrical power to your house being knocked out by a storm or your child waking up with a high fever, that will compel you to alter your schedule. Or it may be a fortuitous event, such as a longtime friend passing through town or your winning tickets to a concert, that will make you want to disregard your schedule.

Surely, it wouldn't be fair if you could deviate from your schedule only when unavoidable problems occur and not when enjoyable opportunities present themselves. As long as your family is accomplishing routine tasks on a regular basis, you'll find that skipping them occasionally won't create much of a break in your day-to-day flow. So, don't let yourself get too upset when circumstances force you to alter your planned activities, and don't force yourself to stick to your plans if something fun unexpectedly pops up. Your schedule is meant to be a tool to help you; you should never feel as though you're a slave to it.

If the Schedule Isn't Running Smoothly

Problem: Your family members are scrambling around at the last minute because they aren't prepared for the next activity.


  • Analyze whether your planner has enough space to record all of the preparatory steps. If it doesn't, you may want to get a different planner with more space for details.

  • Include reminders of upcoming events on your schedule one week in advance.

Problem: Activities are taking longer than the amount of time you've allotted for them in the schedule.


  • Double-check that the time you've allotted is a realistic estimate. To make this determination, focus carefully on the activity and do it as quickly as you can. If you've underestimated how long it should take, then adjust your schedule.

  • Determine whether the person responsible for accomplishing the task is succumbing to distractions. People working at the computer can easily get sidetracked for hours surfing the Internet. You can have them set the computer to sound a tone or announce the time at a predetermined interval to remind them to get back on task. Or if you can't take the person away from the Internet, you may find that you need to take the Internet away from the person—and the person could be you! If the computer task doesn't require Internet access, then work on a computer with no Internet connection. If you've chosen to pay your bills online but find yourself getting distracted, then online bill paying may be taking more time instead of saving time; going back to old-fashioned pen and paper may be the more efficient alternative for you.

  • If you have children who seem to be taking too long to complete homework assignments, remember that some children study better if it's quiet and others study better if there is music or some other sound in the background. You should make sure that each student's preference is accommodated. Other young students need someone in the room with them to keep them focused; if you have such a student, you might want to try scheduling her homework time in the kitchen while you're preparing dinner or in the living room in the evening while you're reading the newspaper.

  • If a family member seems too sluggish to complete a task expeditiously, she may need to get more sleep at night. Or she may need to drink more water; a 2 percent drop in brain hydration can adversely affect her ability to analyze the situation, make decisions, and get the task accomplished.

Problem: There's not enough time in the schedule to have fun.


  • Decide what items in the schedule can be eliminated, streamlined, or done by people outside of your family to free up some time.

  • Set aside certain blocks of time each week to have fun and don't do anything else during that time. If you start believing that you have less time for “work,” then you'll find that you'll get your “work” done in less time.

Problem: You're spending too much time in the car.


  • If you've been eating in your car, stop.

  • Consolidate your errands and plan your routes to make them as short as possible.

  • Consider whether your family should cut down on the number of outside activities in which it participates.

  • Arrange to participate in carpools so that other people shuttle your family members some of the time.

  • Encourage your children—and yourself—to walk or bicycle to activities if that's feasible.

  • Designate one day of the week when you won't drive anywhere you have a choice not to go.

Problem: Something in your schedule never gets done.


  • Consider whether the item is superfluous, and if it is, then eliminate it from your schedule. If it's really never getting done, then it may not be important. If it really is important, then eliminate something less important so you can get the important item done.

  • If it's something no one in the family enjoys doing and someone else can do it, then hire someone to do it.

  • Try scheduling it on a different day of the week or at a different time during the day and see whether the change helps. You may have to try several times before finding one that suits your family's rhythm.

Problem: Your family is still scheduling conflicting events.


  • If the reason for the conflicting schedules is that your family members aren't entering events in the planner so that other members know not to schedule something at that time, then try to get everyone to understand the importance of using the planner. You can insist that only events entered on the planner will be honored, but a less harsh approach is to ask the master scheduler to check with everyone on a daily basis to see whether new events need to be added to the family's schedule. Chances are, after a few weeks all of your family members will begin using the planner themselves. You can encourage this change in behavior by offering a small reward for any event entered in the planner before the master scheduler has to ask about it.

  • If you're allowing your family to overschedule by choosing activities without regard for everyone else's activities, then you need to establish a procedure that requires all family members to check for conflicts before making their own plans. Consider having the whole family collaborate on major decisions such as family parties or the distribution of everyone's enrichment activities.

Problem: Your family's schedule used to work, but now it doesn't.


  • Perhaps your family's circumstances have changed—a new job, more homework, and so on—but you haven't changed the family's schedule. Take some time to reevaluate your family's current circumstances and adjust its schedule accordingly.

  • Schedules are always subject to “activity creep.” Little by little you add a task here and an activity there, and soon all of the slack in the schedule has been used up and the schedule is overfilled. Ideally, you'll reevaluate your schedule every time you add something new to it. In reality, you'll probably add a certain number of items without any conscious evaluation. The best solution is to enter in your planner a task to analyze your schedule every three months.

Problem: Some days go really well, and others don't.


  • If you've broken down your week so that each day has a focus—errands, family time, projects, and so on—check whether it's always the day with the same focus that is giving you trouble. If it is, then work to revamp the way you handle the recurring items on that day.

  • If the trouble seems to be more random, look at whether you're having daily chores rotate among your family members. You may discover that one person really likes to walk the dog or do the dishes, whereas another person doesn't. So, on the days when people are happy with the tasks they've been assigned, everything goes smoothly, but on the days when the tasks don't appeal to the people doing them, then the system breaks down. If you can determine who's doing what on the days that work well, then make that set of assignments standard. There's no reason you have to rotate chores among family members if everyone is happy with doing the same set of tasks every day. Do keep in mind that after a while the repetition may lead to boredom, and then you may want to make a temporary—or permanent—change.

  • Certain activities in the schedule may just put someone in a contrary mood. For example, a child who truly dislikes piano lessons may end up ruining the schedule for the whole day. Weigh the benefits of the offending activity to the participant against the costs to the whole family.

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