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I Solved My Family’s Scheduling Burnout—With Tech

More parents are using Slack, GCal and other apps to manage their overstuffed lives
CLAIRE GAGNE

June 25, 2024

Like many families, mine came out of the pandemic cautiously, dipping our toe into group activities with hesitation, and masks. Ski lessons? Sure, they’re outdoors. Karate? Okay, but only if class sizes are small. Hockey? The cold must kill the germs, right?

Now my kids are 11, 13 and 16. Because they’re older, and we have an unspoken desire to give them every opportunity they missed out on during COVID, we are scheduled to the max. Competitive hockey. Several baseball teams. Dance. Scouts. Skiing. Piano. Art classes. Swimming lessons. School sports. A drama festival. We even had a short stint with roller derby earlier this year.  It often feels like every second of our evenings and weekends is scheduled with some sort of activity—often more than one—requiring mental and physical gymnastics to get everyone where they need to be, (hopefully) on time. On one typical Tuesday evening this spring, we had one child at Scouts, one at dance and the third at baseball—all ending at 8:30, right when my yoga class started. During hockey season, it’s divide and conquer, with my husband driving for hours around the city while I shuttle the others to activities closer to home. Some things get missed completely, like the Scout pancake breakfast that ran during ski lessons. Every day feels like a scramble, and I know we’re not alone. 

Many families in our circles are even more stretched than we are. I know some parents with all three kids in competitive hockey, for example, which means weekends involve hopping from one arena to another, hitting up all the fast-food greats along the way. Once a kid is in a competitive sport, there’s pressure and drive to keep getting better, which can mean private coaching before school, or an extra practice thrown in at a moment’s notice. 

In the innocent, pre-pandemic times, I had a “More Time Moms Family Organizer”—an oversized calendar from Costco complete with inspirational quotes and balloon stickers to mark birthdays. But we all came out of the pandemic transformed into hybrid beings, living half of our lives virtually and the other half in person. Appointments now show up automatically in calendars with Google Meet links. Schools send permission slips home by email. And sports scheduling apps allow you to “subscribe” to the calendar so games appear, as if by magic, in your calendar. It seemed silly to transplant this information off my phone and onto a paper calendar, and I wouldn’t have had time, anyway. For months, all of our family’s comings and goings were recorded on my device or in my brain. I was our CPU. 

One day (probably after being asked for the millionth time what time the hockey game was at, or when dance class started) I jokingly suggested projecting our calendar onto the wall—then realized there must be something out there that does just that sort of thing. I started googling and, sure enough, came across a handful of products that promised to sync calendars and display them on a screen. They offered a large, framed screen that could be hung on a wall and display a calendar, the weather and even a carousel of family photos. These products came with a hefty price tag though—$600 and up, which seems outlandish for the privilege of being able to display appointment times in the kitchen. 

Determined to come up with a solution, I did some more research and discovered I needed three things. First: one centralized digital calendar to hold all of our appointments, classes, games and other commitments. I set up a calendar on my iPhone, called it “Home” and invited my husband and three kids. I’ll admit it took several months to get everyone connected (I guess the YouTube notifications they were getting beat out my “join my calendar” requests”) but eventually we were all sharing one calendar. 

Then, I needed a screen to display the calendar on. This could be a tablet, TV, monitor or one of the prefab devices I had found in my research. Finally, I would need an app that could link my calendar to the screen and display it. After much deliberation and a few false starts, I decided to use a monitor connected to an Apple TV, and purchased an app for $10 that can display the calendar. (This served two purposes: I’d been wanting to set up a way to watch the news in the kitchen for a while, and the Apple TV could facilitate that as well.) 

Did I solve my problem? I’d say I’m about halfway there. The setup isn’t pretty like the $600 ones, and it has some limitations on what it can display. And while it was cheaper, it still wasn’t cheap—the Apple TV we had was too old for the calendar app, so we had to buy a newer version. But at least now when one of my kids asks me what we’re doing today I can point them to something that will tell them. It’s forced me and my husband to make sure we add all our commitments to the calendar so there are no surprises, and the kids check it before making their own plans to make sure they don’t already have something scheduled. 

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. But it feels like we need ever more apps, devices, chargers and accounts to pull it all together. Couples use project-management software to organize grocery lists and tasks, and friend groups have shared Google calendars to plan when they can gather for a night out. Tech also given us a false sense of what we can actually accomplish in a day.  With the convenience of booking things online, holding virtual meetings and reading the news standing at a crosswalk, we literally never need to stop. I make appointments and plan family trips while making lunches in the morning. Bank in the bathroom. Case in point: I wrote some of this article between innings at a Saturday-morning baseball game. 

It’s no wonder many parents feel burned out. We’re juggling careers and raising children, with pressure to be all-in at both. Extracurriculars are far more time-intensive than they were when we were kids. Parents are intimately involved in all aspects of their kids’ lives—whether that’s planning when they get together with friends, emailing with teachers, or coaching from the sidelines at a ball game. All while dealing with a constant onslaught of emails, texts and social media alerts. (You can manage those, of course, but that requires even more technology). Trying to keep up is exhausting. My imperfect calendar is just a band-aid solution to the constant stress and impossibility of being everywhere, and everything, all at once.