Apps I’m Loving

I’ve admitted before I am a bit addicted to my phone. In my defense, my phone actually makes me far more efficient than before I had it. I can work from anywhere, which really is both a blessing and a curse. Nevertheless, I have some apps I absolutely love. So for this edition of Things I’m Loving, I’m focusing on the apps I’m loving right now. 

Apps I'm Loving

In no particular order of loving, here’s my app picks:

  1. Rhonna Designs. I love this photo app for adding fun text and graphics to photos and then sharing on Instagram. My favorite was when my little Monkey got to bring the stuffed animal – Travelin’ Ted – home for the weekend. I took pics all weekend and added fun sayings and a “Travelin’ Ted” text to each picture. Then I printed them all out for my little guy to take to school with him. 
  2. Bloglovin’. I love that Bloglovin has an app, because now I can easily read my favorite blogs wherever I am. I often hop on there when I am waiting in line or sitting in the pick up line and read a few blog posts. 
  3. 5K Runner. This is the app my oldest and i are using to train for a 5K in August. I like that the workouts are easy to follow and cue you when to run and walk. They progressively get you ready to run a 5K in 8 weeks. 
  4. Word Chums. This is a fun word game, similar to Scrabble. I had a friend send me an invite to play one day and we’ve playing games ever since. It’s basically a cuter version of scrabble – you pick a fun character to be and with your points from playing you can be little accessories. Right now, I’m a little puppy with a red bow and a mug of green beer. 
  5. Meijer. This is the best “superstore” in our area – tons better than Walmart. They have an app where I can see the latest sale flyer, and access their perks program, where I can clip coupons and earn rewards. And they just added a feature where if I put my number in at checkout, I can view my receipt right on the app. 
  6. Repost. I am loving this app which allows me to report pics from Instagram onto my own feed, and credits the original user. Perfect for sharing the pics people take of me or my kids, or for sharing the great pics some of my bloggy friends post.
  7. Printicular. I love this app for photo printing. I can choose pictures from my camera roll, Instagram, or Facebook feed, send them directly to Walgreen’s to be printed, then pick up the prints in usually about an hour. This was perfect the day i forgot my son was star of the week and needed to take pictures into school. I dropped him off, chose some pics from my phone, sent them to be printed, picked them up, and dropped them off at school – all before it was time for him to share and without access to my computer!
  8. Notes. I know this is one of the most basic apps, but it is one of my most used. I use the notes app to (wait for it…) take notes. Ideas I think of, bits of info I want to remember, things friends tell me as we’re chatting.  Right now, I have a running note I keep blog ideas on, another with my boys’ current heights and weights for when I’m out clothes shopping, a couple books friends have recommended, and a website with a free yoga workout website someone told me was great.
  9. Facetime. We’ve been using Facetime more often the last few months. With winter being so horrible, we didn’t get to see my in-laws as much as usual. They would Facetime so they could see and talk to the kids.  When my oldest had to ask people to sponsor him for a school fundraiser, I had him Facetime some relatives so he could ask “in person” for a donation.

What are YOUR favorite apps? Tell me in the comments! 

Finding Balance with CoSchedule

cos-logo-icon-orgwht-250x250I was provided with a discount on my subscription in exchange for writing this review. This post also contains affiliate links, so I may receive further discounts if you choose to subscribe to CoSchedule. However, all opinions are honest and my own.

A month or so ago, my little Monkey asked me why I’m on the computer so much. I gave him the answer I was supposed to give – mama is working hard on making her dreams come true. But afterward, I really didn’t feel very good about it. Yes, I think my kids should understand that I have dreams and they should see me working hard to achieve them. But I desperately don’t want their childhood to pass me by and be left with memories of sitting at my laptop while they grew up. 

I knew I needed to find a balance. I needed to continue to grow this writing space of mine, while not letting it take over all the space in my life. I needed to start working smarter, not harder. I had to become more efficient at blogging and all the related work that goes along with it. 

Enter my friend NJ, over at A Cookie Before Dinner, who offered me the perfect suggestion at the perfect time. We were emailing and she asked if I had tried using CoSchedule. About one afternoon into my free 14 day trial, I knew I loved it! And my love for it has only grown. Here’s why: 

  • CoSchedule makes blogging more efficient. CoSchedule is a drag-and-drop editorial calendar that integrates your posting and social media schedules. Using the CoSchedule calendar in conjunction with the plug in for WordPress, makes blogging and social media promotion so much more streamlined! I use the calendar to plug in my plan for what I am posting when. That automatically creates a draft in WordPress. When I write the post, I simply scroll down and there is an option for me to schedule my social media posts right there. This means less windows open to distract me, and easier social media promotion of my posts because I can focus on one post and everything to go with it all in one place.

CoSchedule Plug In

  • CoSchedule helps me be organized and accountable. I love the drag and drop feature on the calendar! If I change my mind about when I want to publish a post, I can easily drag it to the new date. When I drag the post, the social media scheduled to go with it follows along! How cool is that? And something about having that draft already sitting in my list of posts, makes me feel more accountable to get it done.

CoSchedule Calendar 2

  • Customer service at CoSchedule is awesome. I’ve received emails from one of the cofounders, asking how I like my free trial and asking if I have any questions. When I replied back with a question, I got a quick response that completely answered my question. In addition, when I upgraded from my free trial to a subscription, I received an email that they would like to send me a free notebook as a thank you.

CoSchedule Email

  • The CoSchedule blog is filled with helpful tips and information. With posts on blogging, content creation, social media marketing, specific platform tips, work organization and more, this is definitely a spot I have been heading to often since I discovered it. Plus, you can sign up for a quick tips email that is targeted to your interests, whether it is social media, writing, marketing, or editing. 

CoSchedule Blog

Ready to check it out for yourself? Click here to start your own free 14 day trial. If you love it, sign up for a subscription. I love that CoSchedule offers you ways to save on your $10 monthly fee such as writing a review and referring friends. Spread the love, get a little in return. I like it. 

Social Media Editorial Calendar For WordPress

 

How to Manage Multiple Social Media Platforms Without Disaster

Manage Social MediaI have had a couple social media near disasters in the last couple months. I manage several social media accounts and platforms. Between my own blog, my husband’s football team, a Rocket Football board and a bond proposal committee I volunteer on, work, church, and a social media client,  I manage seven Facebook pages, three Twitter accounts, two Pinterest accounts, a Google+ profile, three websites, and two Instagram accounts. Yep, that’s a lot to keep straight.

About a month or so ago, I had two moments when I realized I needed to get myself organized when it came to managing multiple social media platforms. The first one was when I hit publish on a comment on another blogger’s site, only to realize I had commented from the bond proposal’s Google profile. I had to quickly delete and repost from my own profile. The next was when I realized there was a post on the Rocket Football Facebook page about voting yes for the school bond. I kept thinking I didn’t know how I had posted on the wrong page. Then I talked to another Rocket Football board member and he told me he had shared it on the page. Neither was disastrous, but the wrong post on the wrong platform, could be.

My near misses were the wake up call I needed to figure out some strategies to stay organized and effectively manage multiple pages and platforms without mixing anything up. I developed three habits to manage multiple social media platforms without disaster. 

  1. Get in the habit of double checking. At a minimum, you need to develop the habit of double checking the account you are using when interacting online. I’ve started a double check system. I check which account I am using before writing my post, whether it is a comment on another blog, a Facebook status, a Tweet, or any other content being credited to a social media profile. Then I check a second time before hitting post, comment, publish or whatever else will send my content out into the interwebs. Check first, check last.
  2. Schedule your social media posting as much as possible. Obviously, not all social media can be scheduled. That defeats the entire purpose of the social aspect. But most promotional and informational posts can be scheduled. I devote dedicated time to social media content planning and scheduling. This avoids the errors that can often come from multitasking and window hopping while online. I focus on one account at a time. For example, my Facebook posts for the bond campaign I’m volunteering on are all scheduled out for the week at one time. I dedicate a block of time to create the content for the week, then schedule it to autopost when needed. During the week, I just have to interact with the comments and share more timely or conversational posts as they come up. I use a paper and pencil calendar for the bond campaign and transfer my ideas when I sit down to schedule for the week, but I use a different strategy for my blog. Which leads me to…
  3. Take advantage of social media management apps. There are a lot of apps and websites out there that allow you to schedule multiple platforms all in one place. Hootsuite and Buffer are a couple of the most popular, and two that I am most familiar with. Hootsuite allows you to schedule posts as well as interact on various platforms all from one spot. Buffer allows you to schedule content to post on various different platforms. For my blog, I have recently started using CoSchedule and am absolutely loving it. It is like an editorial calendar and social media management tool all rolled into one. I can keep a calendar with my planned posts. It syncs with my WordPress blog using a plug-in, so when I draft my post, I can also create and schedule my social media promotion on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google+ pages. With this app, I can focus on the social media promotion right when I create the post, so no need to flip back and forth among accounts or tabs to get the job done. And less transitioning, means less room for error. 

By using these strategies, I find I not only stress less about posting mix-ups, but I am becoming more efficient as well. By cutting down on the multitasking and flipping back and forth among platforms and accounts, I am more focused on each task and completing it quicker and more easily. My beloved checklists are almost becoming unnecessary.  Who would have thought a near miss of a social media disaster would lead this paper and pencil checklist girl into the efficiency and productivity app world? Change and progress – they’re good my friends.

How do YOU manage multiple platforms without disaster? 

Introducing the Structure in an Unstructured Life Planner!

If you have spent any time over here at this blog, you have figured out I am quite the Type A gal. So it will probably come as no surprise to you that I couldn’t find either a personal planner or a blog planner available anywhere in a store or across the interwebs that was exactly what I was looking for. So, being a paper-and-pencil girl and needing to have a paper-and-pencil planner, I went ahead and made my own. 

I use one three ring binder to combine both my personal and my blog planner, because I like to have everything all in one place. I have mine set up the following way:

Monthly pages. I have a monthly calendar where I keep track of my and the family’s schedule – appointments, plans, days off from school, etc. On the bottom of the page is room for me to write my goals for the month. On the facing page, I have my monthly blog planning calendar,  where I plan my posts and have check boxes for scheduling, crossposting to BlogHer, and promoting on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.  On the back sides of these pages I copied a plain calendar grid and I use one to plan my Facebook posts and the other to plan my Twitter posts. I do a lot of scheduling ahead on social media, so this helps keep me on track and organized. 

Monthly Planner Pages

Weekly pages. Next I have my weekly to-do pages. These include space on each day for a to-do list, a blog section to remind me what I am posting, anywhere I need to link up, social media notes, and a reminder to clean out my comment spam and to write daily. Under the blog section is room to note any schedule items, like sports practices or school events, and check boxes for reading and exercise. The far column has space for me to jot the meals for the week, so I don’t have to flip back in my planner for a quick peek at the week’s meals, a section with a cleaning list, and a small notes box.

Weekly Pages

 Meal Planning pages. Next I have my meal planning pages. The front has dinner plans and the back has lunch plans. I also have a sheet with meal planning ideas, a pantry inventory, and a freezer inventory.

Meal Planning Pages

 Budgeting pages. Next I have my spending plan sheet, that helps me keep track of when bills are due and if I have paid them. 

Misc. pages. Finally I have a section with some miscellaneous pages, such as my list of home improvements we’d like to do, my list of books to read, and my random stuff I want to remember pages where I can jot down ideas or tips I come across and want to remember. 

Budgeting and Misc Pages

Blog pages. Then I have another section with my blog post ideas pages and my monthly stats tracker. I separate my personal planner from my blog planner with a few page protector sheets that contain a blogging checklist I use and some other blogging tips and tricks I have compiled and like to have where I can see them easily and often. I also keep a couple folders that fit into the three ring binder in the back for loose papers such as the school lunch menu that I use when meal planning, or receipts I need to do something with, etc. 

Blog Planner Pages

 This is the system that works for me and keeps me on track. I hardly ever go anywhere without my planner!!

Think this system would work for you? I am offering my planner pages to readers for a special price! You can buy the personal planner pages, which include 12 monthly pages, the weekly planner pages, the meal planning pages, and the budgeting and miscellaneous pages, all for only $2! Want just the blog planner pages, which include 12 monthly blog planner pages, the blog ideas page, and the monthly stats page? The blog planner is also available for only $2! Want them both? Buy both packs and save $1 – you can get the personal planner and the blog planner for only $3!

Purchase the Personal Planner here:

 

Purchase the Blog Planner here:

 

Purchase BOTH the Personal and Blog Planners here:
 

3 Ways to Organize Your Facebook News Feed

Organize Your Facebook News FeedI’ve said before, Facebook and I have a love/hate relationship. There are a ton of things I love about Facebook, but one of my irritations is the cluttered news feed. I often feel like I miss posts from friends, yet see 20 updates from Target. And don’t even get me started on my beef about how many people actually see my Facebook posts from this here blog!

While there are many things I can’t change, there are some simple steps I can take to see more of the posts I want to see (like ones from blogs!), and fewer of the ones I don’t want to see (like those annoying complainers you haven’t seen since middle school but accepted the friend request out of curiosity!). Here’s three simple things you can do to organize your Facebook news feed.

1.    Change the settings on friends. You can do this one of two ways, in your friends list, or as you go through your news feed.

To change the settings from your list of friends, click friends on your profile page.

Facebook News Feed 1

Your list of friends will appear, with a box next to each one with a checkmark and the word Friends. Hover over this box and a list will appear.

Facebook News Feed 2

The first change you can make, is decide whether you want to see updates from this friend in your news feed at all. If there is a check mark next to Show In News Feed, then you will see updates from this person. You can uncheck this line and you will stop seeing any updates from this person in your news feed.

If you decide you want to see updates, you can further refine this option by clicking on settings underneath Show in News Feed. From this list, you can select to see All Updates, Most Updates, or Only Important Updates.

Facebook News Feed 3

 If you don’t want to take one chunk of time to go through all your friends on your list, you can do this as you go through your news feed, and slowly over time you will weed out the updates you don’t want and retain the ones you do want. To do this through the news feed, simply hover over the name of the friend in their status update. A box will pop up, with a Friends box in the lower right corner.

Facebook News Feed 4

Hover over the box with Friends in it. You can now do the same steps as above, by selecting Show in News Feed or not, and then adjusting Settings if you choose to have the updates show in your news feed.

Facebook News Feed 5

2.    Change the settings for pages you like. This is ideal for pages you have liked at one time or another and now don’t want to see all the time. OR, it is perfect for pages (like the Structure in an Unstructured Life page!), that you don’t see all the updates from, but would like to. Similar to what you did with friends, you can do this one of two ways.

From your profile page, click More, then select Likes.

Facebook News Feed 6

Click more again, and select Other Likes.

Facebook News Feed 7

 Hover over each icon on your list, and a menu will pop up. You once again have the option to select Show in News Feed, or to uncheck and have updates not appear in your news feed.

Facebook News Feed 8

If you select to have updates show in your news feed, you can click on Settings and select All Updates, Most Updates, or Only Important Updates.

Just like with friends, you can also do this from your news feed. When you see an update from a page you like (or one you don’t!), you can hover over the name of the page, and a window will appear. There will be a Liked box in the lower right. Hover over Liked and you now have the Show in News Feed and Settings options.

Facebook News Feed 9

A word about blog Facebook pages – unless you select to Show in News Feed and choose All Updates, Facebook picks and chooses what you see from these pages. They claim to have a formula that takes into account your interaction with the page, but I have found my number of followers Facebook selects to push a post into their news feeds to be rather random. If you really like a page, choose to see all updates to ensure you receive them.

3.    Create Lists in Facebook. Facebook allows you to create lists within your friends, and also interest lists for pages you have liked. By doing this, you can click on the list and get a news feed of just those friends or pages. Kind of like a filter for your news feed.

To put your friends into a list, such as Family, Close Friends, High School Friends, Work Friends, etc. you need to first create the list. Facebook has a few preset lists, such as family and close friends, but anything more detailed or specific you will want to create yourself.

From your news feed screen, find Friends on the left column, and hover in that area. A More will appear. Click that and it takes you to a screen where you have the option to Create List. From there, click on Create List and choose a name for your list. You can add members at that time, or you can go add them later.

Facebook News Feed 10

Next, assign friends to your lists by once again going to your friends list from your profile page. Hover over the Friends box, and below where you selected to Show in News Feed, is a section that lists Close Friends, Add to another list. Choose the list shown or pick Add to another list and select from the menu that appears.

Facebook News Feed 11

You can do the same thing for pages, but these are called Interest Lists. In the left hand column of your news feed page, below apps, click More. Interests will appear. Hover in that area, and click More. You can add an Interest List the same way you added a Friend list. Then again, you can add pages you like the same way you added friends.

For both friends and pages, you can also do this while going through your news feed. Simply hover over the name of the friend or page, then hover over Friends or Liked, and select the List or Interest List from the menu that appears.

What ways do you organize your Facebook reading?

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How to Create a Routine for Kids

How to Create a Routine for Kids - Structure in an Unstructured LifeI’ve written about routines here before. You can check out my post about one of our after school routines here, or about my morning routine here. So for those of you long-time readers, a post about routine and structure is nothing new. But today I am tackling how to create a routine for kids.

It’s not rocket science that kids thrive when a routine is in place. That’s why elementary classrooms and after school activities everywhere have a set schedule and process for doing things. And having a routine in place can make stressful times of the day or challenging tasks much easier to accomplish and far more pleasant.

So you know you want to create a routine with your kids, but are wondering where to start? How do you get from chaos to structure? Don’t worry. I’ve got five steps to help you get on track!

How to Create a Routine for Kids

  1. Identify problematic or stressful times in the day. For most moms, they find morning time, after school, or bedtime to be those points in the day where some structure would help. But it can be different for everyone. Maybe for you, it is the after lunch hour or two that is stressful. Another approach is to identify tasks that are slipping through the cracks. Maybe homework is not getting done or chores are left unfinished. Identify the times or areas that give you the most stress, and use that as your starting point.
  2. Identify the “set in stone” items first. Are there tasks that are non-negotiable, like completing homework, reading time, or certain chores? Start by identifying those things. Or are there time frames that you want to stick to, like the time you eat dinner, when you want the kids in bed, or the time you need to be out the door in the morning. Figure these tasks and/or times out first and write them down.
  3. Build the routine around the “set in stone” items. If dinner time is your non-negotiable, start with eating at 5:30 pm and work backwards from there for your after school routine or forwards from there for your evening and bedtime routine. If getting homework done is your non-negotiable, then plug that into your routine where you think it will be best accomplished, and fill in the other tasks around completing homework.
  4. Consider how the routine can be flexible. A routine is the ideal to strive for, but it will need to be flexible at times. One-time events at school, church programs, unexpected guests, and other such events will happen. Think about how your routine can be flexible when these things happen. Can you build in a “flex day” where you have a free day from homework or chores that can float to whatever day of the week it is needed? Can you have a couple meals that are easy to prepare and your pantry is stocked for to make on days when dinner time has to be shifted for activities? Figure out the flexibility when you can calmly do so, to avoid the panic when these spontaneous routine-disrupters happen.
  5. Start slowly. Begin by working on the “set in stone” parts of your routine first. Focus on and reinforce those areas right away. Once you have that task or activity running smoothly, shift your focus to another part of the routine. Slowly master each part, to avoid becoming overwhelmed – either you or the kiddos!

So what does this look like in real life? This past weekend I realized we were failing miserably at getting the 10 minutes a day of reading homework completed with my oldest. Knowing that he does better and has more focus right after school, rather than in the evening, I knew this needed to be done after school.

So once I realized homework was slipping through the cracks, and identified it as a “set in stone,” I began to build my after school routine around it. I know a few housekeeping tasks need to be done when we walk in the door – backpacks unpacked and clothes changed for me and for my little one who has to wear a uniform. So those came first, then my non-negotiable – homework. After that I filled in play time and dinner.

I know days like today, I have an ice cream social at school from 5 – 7 pm and football practice from 6 – 7:30 pm. Days like today, I figure can be homework break days, and dinner shifts to earlier to fit everything. If the kids aren’t too hyped up about the ice cream social, I might try to have them read to each other, but I’ll go with the flow on that.

Finally, I’m really hitting the homework part of the routine hard this week, and until we get into the habit of doing it. Then I’ll get more particular about other areas, like maybe having the kids do some chores while I make dinner, or giving them a little more responsibility with the unpacking their backpacks.

Here’s how I envision the routine looking after a while. I’m starting out posting this so we can work toward the end goal.

Afternoon Routine from Structure in an Unstructured Life

Do you have routines that work? How did you create them?   

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How Do You Prioritize the Priorities?

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

How many times have you read the advice to sneak tasks into those “spare” minutes in the day? The five minutes while waiting in the car pool line, the seven minutes while the kids play in the bathtub, the four minutes while you wait for the water to boil or the oven to preheat. We’re told that these are golden opportunities to sneak in those things we say we don’t have time for.

We are told we can fill these stolen moments with:

  • reading for pleasure
  • taking care of ourselves
  • cleaning
  • organizing
  • connecting with your kids
  • teaching your kids

These are just a few of the tasks we are told we can fill up those “extra” minutes in our day with. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many unaccounted for minutes in my day. Certainly not enough to squeeze in all the suggested activities I could squeeze in if I were maximizing those seconds in my day.

For example, take bath time. After the hair is washed and the wriggly bodies are scrubbed, my kids like to splash and play for five or ten minutes (or until after the water gets cold if I would let them). So according to all the suggestions I read, I could be using these minutes read a magazine. Or to give myself a five minute facial or remove my nail polish. Or to clean my sink, toilet, etc. Or to organize my linen closet or cupboard under my sink. Or to talk to my kids about their day, their hopes, their dreams. Or to practice skills like counting, spelling, or patterning with my children. I don’t know how you do the math, but that’s at least 40 minutes worth of “stuff” right there. Talk about cold water and prune-like fingers.

So what do I usually end up doing while my kids are splashing and squirting? I usually feel so overwhelmed by all the activities I should be fitting in right then, that I stare out the window or at the wall and fret about all the things I should be doing right then. Productive and efficient, huh?

I wish this was one of my posts where I then go on to offer five or ten tips for solving this dilemma. However, I don’t have the answer, either. So this is a post where I ask YOU how to solve this dilemma. How do you spend the minutes you can fill with things you never get to? How do you decide what to fill those minutes with?

How do you prioritize the priorities?

Organize Your Group with GroupGel

As a mom who works outside the home, I know how easy the business world has made it to communicate information to groups. Each day at work, I have multiple options available to get information out to coworkers in a quick and efficient manner. I have established email groups, an intranet, and interoffice mail all at my disposal and all easy and fast.

However, when I am in my mom role and outside of work, it gets more difficult to communicate information to other moms, church groups, or sports parents. Most of us with children find that we interact with at least one group, usually more. And sometimes because of the difficulties in organizing these communications, people get left out or times are wrong or needs are misunderstood.

That’s where GroupGel comes in. GroupGel is a new online app made specifically for communicating with groups. It makes sending messages, collecting RSVPs, and getting volunteers so much easier! GroupGel is a cloud-based system, so it is easy to access from anywhere, whether you’re at home, at work, or on the go.

GroupGel is very user-friendly and easy to set up. It is free to sign up and creating your group takes only a few minutes. Even adding group members can be done in a matter of seconds; simply fill in their name and contact info and you’re set! You can also easily create subgroups, so you can send messages or events to only a portion of the group, rather than everyone. Perfect for getting a message to just those attending an event, while not bothering those that can’t make it.

One of my favorite features is the Messages. You can easily send a message to the group via email, text, or phone, or all three. This is perfect for those last minute changes in time or location like rain delays of sports events. It also allows you to send reminders to groups, such as “Don’t forget to bring your dish to pass to the play group holiday party!”

Another great feature is Sign Ups. This makes organizing get togethers and parties so much easier! This GroupGel feature allows you to list all the items needed and group members can go in and sign up for what they are bringing. Having a potluck and don’t want seven trays of cookies and one pasta salad? Make a sign up list and ensure you get a varied and perfect selection of dishes! Similarly, you can use the Volunteers feature to get sign ups for different jobs or tasks needed within the group or for an event.

GroupGel allows you to create Interest Forms which are perfect for easily and quickly gathering information from group members. For example, my group of mom friends and I get together and hold a book exchange with our kids every year at Christmas. How much easier would it be to buy for this party if we all knew more about the types of books the kids in the group are interested in and what reading, or listening, levels are in the group? An Interest Form could gather this info and have it available for the group to see.

The Event feature allows you to invite the group to an event in one quick step. Simply create the event and it gets sent to the entire group. You can also simply click a box to make RSVPs to the event an option. This allows everyone in the group to get the same information without worrying that you forgot to tell someone the details.

I am guilty of having complained (numerous times) about the lack of organization in groups and activities my kids are involved in. The Coach often tells me that maybe I should volunteer to organize it then. But with a full time job, kids, home, and a million other to-dos, I simply haven’t had the time available to do that. However, with GroupGel, the time needed to organize soccer snacks or baseball concession stand duties would be drastically cut, making it a much more manageable task. Uh-oh, did I just volunteer to organize these? :)

This is a sponsored review by GroupGel. All opinions expressed are my own.  

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention (or Maybe It’s Lack of Time)

A page from my new planner

My beloved planner system was no longer working for me. And since I have yet to find a product on the market that is exactly what I’m looking for, I had to resort to making my own.

I’ve written before about being a paper and pencil (or colored pens, actually) kind of girl. I’ve tried electronic planners and they just don’t work for me. Although I may be coming around, because the notes and reminders apps on my iPhone have been getting a lot of use lately. I also have my own quirky way of keeping track and informing my family of what is going on. For awhile, this whole system was working great. For awhile.

I jot down a lot of notes; quotes I like, things I want to remember, great ideas, books I want to read, ideas for Muffin Tin Meals, etc. And while I have loved using my pretty notebooks to keep track of my goals, meal plans, grocery lists, and everything else, I was finding I used up the notebook way before I used all the ideas in it. Which led to me rewriting and rewriting certain things. I don’t have time for that.

So I set about to create a solution to my problem. I needed something I could write in, but that I wouldn’t have to rewrite all the time to transfer info. I needed it to be portable enough to fit in my bag. I needed spots for weekly goals and to-do’s, meal planning, budgeting, great general info like books and quotes, and blogging ideas and tips.

I didn’t need a calendar, as I have a calendar system at work I use that fits perfectly with my job. I print out calendar pages and have three months at a time posted by my desk to track meetings and appointments. Then I use a cute weekly to-do list pad from the dollar spot at Target for my weekly work to-do’s. Since I don’t take much work home, I don’t need these items to travel – they stay in their homes at my desk!

What I needed was to organize my life, not my job. So I browsed around online and found a number of bloggers that had created their own printable planning pages. Being the perfectionist, Type A person that I am, none of them were exactly what I wanted. So I created my own! My planning pages are a mix of open space pages to write on and pages with static info typed in and printed. Here are some of the features of my planning pages:

  • Weekly goals page, things to do page, and writing list page – all open space to write in my info for the week
  • Dinner meal plan and lunch meal plan – dates filled in and standing activities, but open space to write in meals
  • Spending plan – arranged by week; filled in are the pay dates and bills to be paid those weeks, and the estimate for each expense, left open are lines for the actual amount and a check box for paid
  • Meal ideas with my favorites filled in and space for more, lunch ideas (same), and Muffin Tin Meal ideas (this I created boxes with six spaces since my muffin tins have six spots, a freezer inventory page with open lines, and an open yummy ideas to remember page
  • Book wish list (filled in with the books I already have on my list and open space to add more!), home projects list (again, some filled in and some space for more), what to do each season list (I’ve been wanting to get this going!), Stuff I want to remember (open space to write anything I want to remember)
  • Great blogging info page (filled in with some lists I like to have handy and space for more ideas and info)

I color coded sections to make it a little more organized and pretty. Then I printed, three hole punched, and put it in a folder with prongs (which I chose because it is much slimmer than a binder). I used my Avery tabs that I love to divide each section.

Sound like something you could use? Click HERE to download a blank pdf version of my planner! My organizing gift to you! :) Interested in the word version you can customize? Email me!

What type of planning system do you use?

Back to School Series: Get in a Groove!

Next installment in the back-to-school series! Today I am tackling the topic of routines. Creating routines and sticking to them is a tough one for me. How about you? So here are some ideas on creating and sticking to routines that will help make the transition to school, and into the school year, much smoother for you and the kiddos!

  • What do you need to include? This sounds like a no brainer, but I know for me it helps to jot down a list of exactly what my routine needs to include. For the kids, the morning routine simply needs to include getting dressed and brushing teeth. They eat breakfast at school/day care, so that is already taken care of. In the afternoon, the routine needs to include activities such as unpacking backpacks and doing chores. Evening routine needs to include preparing for the next day and the usual bedtime activities like brushing teeth and reading stories. Then I have a few activities to figure out where they should fit in, such as homework. Right after school? Right after dinner? This requires some more thought…
  • Consider your children’s independence levels. When it comes to determining if you should be doing something or if your kids should be taking responsibility for it, there are a few questions you can ask. First, CAN they do it? Consider their developmental level, if they are physically and cognitively capable of doing a task. Once you have determined if they can do a task, next consider SHOULD they do it? I’m all for teaching kids responsibility, but I also realize that my kids are in school/day care all day and need a rest and some time to chill out. So while they are capable of a lot of tasks, they shouldn’t necessarily do them all. Basically, I pick my top priorities. Finally, consider WILL IT TAKE LONGER if they do it? While it is important for kids to learn to do certain things on their own, the reality is there are only so many minutes in a day and if you need to be somewhere on time, sometimes you just have to do it for them.
  • Make your routine visible and easy to follow. Once you have figured out what and when activities will occur in the routine, post it where it is easy for you and your kiddos to see it. Make it simple and easy to understand for children. For younger kids, use pictures. For older kids, use simple short phrases. If you want kids to take an interest in it, make it bright, colorful, and fun looking!
  • Practice, practice, practice and reinforce, reinforce, reinforce! As a former elementary school teacher, I know one of the keys to classroom success is spending a huge percentage of your time the first few weeks reviewing, practicing, and reinforcing classroom routines and procedures. The rationale for this is that if you devote the time in the beginning of the school year to this practice, you will spend very little time on it the rest of the school year. And it worked (at least for me). The same is true at home. Review the routine every day. Go through it step by step every day. Stop and correct when it is not followed. And reinforce through positive rewards when kids follow the routine. It can be encouraging words, stickers, small treats, whatever works for your kids. After a few weeks of this level of commitment to learning routines, it will be automatic for you and your kids.

What does your routine include? What tips do you have for creating and sticking to routines?