Setting Up Your Planner : Developing a System for Your Electronic Planner

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If your family has selected an electronic planner (or if you're still considering this option), then this section is for you. Here, you'll learn how to set up your electronic scheduling system, train your family in its use, and make sure you've input all the supporting information you'll need to keep the system running smoothly. Finally, you'll set up a good backup system to make sure your electronic schedule is kept safe from crashes, viruses, and other hazards.

Things You'll Need 

  • Electronic scheduling software

  • Computer, desktop planner unit, or PDA

  • Power source

  • Instruction manual

  • Family address book information and phone numbers

  • Printer paper

  • Backup disks

Setting Up the System

You need to deal with an entirely different set of factors when setting up an electronic planning system. If you've chosen a desktop or remote-access planner, then where you locate the system will be predetermined, in large part, by the type of computer setup your family is already using. Table 1 highlights some of the main considerations.

Table 1. Locating a Shared Desktop Computer
DO Put ItDON'T Put It
In a room that the whole family usesWhere it will be exposed to extreme heat, cold, or moisture
Near a phoneWhere it will interfere with traffic flow or activities

If your family uses a network of computers, then central location will not be a major factor; it's simply important that each family member who's old enough to use the system has access to a computer that will display the planner. (Note: A free-standing computer that is not networked to the computer that houses the family's planner will not do the trick.) If you think that various family members will be printing out part of the schedule to help them accomplish their responsibilities, then make sure that the printer they will use is located where they can get to it at all times.

Ergonomics remain important. You'll want to ensure that the lighting in the room illuminates the screen without causing a glare, that the keyboard is placed at a comfortable height, and that the chair provides adequate support and mobility.

If you've chosen a dedicated, multiuser planning device, the considerations of where to locate it are similar to the considerations for hard-copy planners.  The one major difference is that you might want to keep the device out of the reach of young children who may find pushing the buttons—and inadvertently deleting data—too much of a temptation.

Setting up an electronic system takes time. (This is one of the reasons it is so important for you to determine whether your family has more of an affinity to this type of system than to a hard-copy one.) At the very least, someone will need to take the time to install or download the scheduling software. Most of the products on the market are designed to be intuitive, but, even so, you'll save a lot of frustration—and missed appointments—if you take the time to read the instructions and learn some of the program's sophisticated capabilities.


Printer ink is one of the most expensive liquids you can buy. It costs more than $17,000 per gallon!

Next, take the time to set up a full-blown version of your family's schedule for the next two weeks. Include all the cross-referencing to phone numbers, driving directions, and so on that you can. Consider color-coding carefully. There's no question that things are easier to separate visually and read on the screen if you use many different colors. However, printing out schedules that are created with color, even if you print them in grayscale, will use a lot more printer ink. It would be nice if the software gave you a print feature that provided a white (ink-free) background, but this doesn't seem to be a common option.

Remember to take advantage of the features that make electronic organizers unique. For example, if you invest the time up front to input the frequency with which an event recurs, you'll save the time later of having to input the event a 2nd, 3rd, or 52nd time. The only way you can justify all of the upfront effort of an electronic system is if it pays off in greater usability and time savings somewhere down the road.


One of the great advantages of electronic planners is that you can do so much at the touch of a button. However, when things happen at the touch of a button, mistakes can be made so quickly that they're not even noticed. If you use a PDA, watch out for these common mistakes:

  1. Scheduling an event in the wrong half of the day. You can easily schedule something in the p.m. that should be in the a.m., and vice versa. It's very upsetting to have an alarm go off at 7:00 p.m. alerting you to your breakfast meeting at 7:30—that is, 7:30 a.m., which happened 11 1/2 hours ago.

  2. Scheduling an event in the wrong year. Unlike a paper planner that probably covers only one or two years at a time, a PDA enables you to schedule events far into the future. Tap your stylus one too many times, and you could be scheduling next year's doctor's appointment two years from now.

Training Your Family to Use the Planner

One of the reasons you need to input at least two weeks' worth of data is so that you have something you can use to demonstrate the new system to your family. When you have the system ready to go, you need to make sure that everyone knows how to use it. You'll need to highlight and explain the features because so many of them are out of sight.

At a minimum, show your family how to

  • Click through on an entry to get the underlying supporting information.

  • Search for a particular event.

  • Display the calendar by day, week, month, or year.

  • Display the schedule by individual or group.

  • Enter new events.

  • Modify existing events.

Then set up some parameters for using the system:

  • Who will be responsible for entering events? Each individual or one designated person.

  • Must events be preapproved before being scheduled? All events, some events, or no events.

  • How often must the calendar be updated? Daily, weekly, or somewhere in between.

  • How often must each member check the schedule for changes? Daily, weekly, or somewhere in between.

  • Do you want to have a mechanism for alerting other members to additions and changes? If so, by email or another method.

It's okay if the answers to these questions are not all the same for each family member as long as everyone understands each family member's obligations and privileges. This point bears repeating: The system will work only if all family members are comfortable with their roles.

Accessing Supporting Information

Most family scheduling and calendaring software dovetails with other database software. What does this mean to you? It means that if you've already entered your family's address book and phone book into a computer database, then you can link that information to your new scheduling software. So, when you set up an activity, you can link it to the phone number, address, and driving directions that are already on your computer's hard drive.

If you don't already have all of this information stored electronically, you'll want to start investing the time to build this support structure for your new system. Make sure, too, that someone is responsible for inputting new information as it becomes available. Having the piano teacher's new address posted on the refrigerator, instead of linked electronically to the piano lesson on the calendar, is the sort of thing that will quickly undermine the whole system.

Backing Up the Information

You hear it all the time: You must back up your computer files! It's not a question of “if” your hard drive crashes; it's a question of “when.” Before you go any further, decide who will be responsible for backing up all of your data weekly and schedule this activity on your calendar as a recurring weekly event for that person. It wouldn't hurt, at least in the beginning, to assign a second person to police the first person. Schedule that as a recurring weekly event, too.

Don't let backup disks become a source of clutter in your home. If you're using rewritable media, have two disks. Alternate their use: Use one the first week, the other the second week, the original one the third week, and so on. Every six months or so, throw the disks out and replace them with new ones. Schedule this switch as an event in your planner. This system will ensure that you always have a backup, even if one of the backup disks becomes corrupted. And always using relatively new disks reduces the chance of the disks becoming corrupted.

If you're using single-use disks, keep the current disk and the one from the week before. Throw out the third oldest disk every time you update.


The Palm Operating System (Palm OS) is the world's most widely used operating system for personal digital assistants. Wouldn't it be great if you could enter all of your family's events into your desktop computer using your Palm software and then have each member hot sync his handheld unit and end up with the family's joint events and his own personal items? At one time a piece of software called WeSync was available; it allowed families to do just that. The WeSync software is not available currently, but it has just been sold to a new company that plans to update it and put it back on the market. If you are interested in setting up this sort of system for your family, you can check the current status of the WeSync software at www.wesync.com.

To do list

  • Review your family's planner regularly

  • Make a note of what you need to do each day

  • Check to see how your day's activities will be affected by other family mem bers' schedules

  • Select a portable system for information you need to carry with you

  • Take everything you need with you when you leave the house

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