Let the Chaos Begin!

School is now in session. Let the chaos begin!   Mind you, I’m not just talking about school mayhem. Some of you, like me, have extended obligations beyond your children to include “paying” work, volunteer commitments, and community involvement—all of which seems to pick up in September. And maybe a few of you, also like me, have some trouble saying no to activities. It’s not because you feel cornered by the people who ask for help. It’s because you want to be out there, doing things. You want to meet people and put your hard-earned skills to use.   The problem? You can end up overwhelmed with scheduling hassles and numerous deadlines when school season begins anew. First-time school moms might really feel the pain, as they struggle to find new balance between work, family, school, and self.   I’m not one of those people with a built-in clock for dealing with my many chores. I need help. (Ask anyone who knows me.) And over the years, I’ve learned that without the right strategies for managing my time, I will lose sight of what’s going on. Allow me to share a few tips on how everyday tech tools can help you tackle this new school year full-force.  
  1. Put it on the calendar. When I was a little kid, I loved using those teachers planning books. As I got older, I tried migrating to a DayRunner. But I was awful at writing things down. And, as with handbags, I acquired too many planners—and never had what I needed when I needed it. Nowadays, I stick purely to my Outlook calendar on my laptop and my iPhone, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s worth mentioning again, simply because Outlook is one of those things that gives your schedule portability. Google and Yahoo also have portable calendars you can access from phone, laptop, or desktop. Wherever you are, keep a calendar within reach. When you are handed an important date—and this is the key part—put it in the calendar right away. Your computer and phone will sync later, and your calendar will be updated everywhere. If you’re the one booking an event, use your calendar application—or even Evite, if you’re throwing a big shindig—to send invitations to others involved. It’s a great way to track RSVPs or meeting attendees. Plus you can be green and save paper!
  1. Make a big to-do. Whether I’m feeling overwhelmed or totally in control, I always make a list of what’s on my plate every day. In fact, I’m so ridiculously in love with lists, that I sometimes make lists of my lists. I do them on paper that I carry in my purse, or I type them on the computer and print them out. There’s just something about seeing what I have to do in numbered order in front of me that makes it all more manageable. And there’s no greater satisfaction than crossing off that last item. (I even make lists for my husband.) Another great thing about Outlook (Microsoft should be paying me right now) is that it offers a “Task” function where you can manage to-do’s with timelines, categories, and more. The application sorts lists whichever way you choose and reminds you when due dates approach. I find this handy when trying to juggle unrelated things like school pictures, work deadlines, homework assignments, board meetings, and teacher luncheons. And yes, the popup reminders go through to my iPhone, so wherever I am, I am not allowed to forget.
  1. Use Web sites and email lists. This being 2009, most organizations and schools now offer information on their Web sites, updated regularly. Many also make use of email newsletters to communicate important items. Sign yourself up! Instead of wondering when things happen or who’s in charge of what, use these resources to answer questions quickly—even during non-business hours. And, as the person managing several local organizational Web sites and email lists, let me also say this: If you find a site or newsletter isn’t useful, doesn’t answer your questions, or isn’t updated often enough, please let the responsible group know. Feedback is very useful in making things more user-friendly. Be aware, though, that most of the people behind these resources are volunteers. We do what they can, when we can—and we could use help if you’re savvy! Incidentally, if you weren’t aware, CISD has a weekly eNews list. <Sign up here.>< http://www.southlakecarroll.edu/cisd-news.aspx>
  1. Don’t throw caution to the wind. As you get immersed in the multitasking thing, watch out for cell phone calls and texting while driving. True, it can be tempting to conduct business at every moment to save precious minutes, but don’t let the need to be prompt or to know everything supersede your need for safety—especially if your most precious cargo is in the car. Remember, Southlake now bans all cell phone usage while driving in school zones. Put your phones down in the car!
  1. Forgive yourself. No matter what, you cannot do everything. There will always come a time when you have to say no to something you wish you could tackle, but do with it the understanding that you’re making the right decision from a time-management perspective, from a family perspective, or from a personal perspective. You don’t do anyone any favors when you let the ball drop because you bit off more than you could chew. Know your limitations, and live, happily, within them. Reassess your schedule from time to time. And if you make a mistake, own up to it, forgive yourself, and move on.
  1. Turn yourself off. Remember that, like an overloaded computer system, you too can crash. Power off for a while. Give yourself the opportunity to feel obligation-free for at least a few minutes—if not hours—every day. Sometimes the best technology is the button that turns on your Jacuzzi or your blender. If you feel like you’re spending too much time on the kids’ schedules or in front of a screen, try carving out some hours for community activities or to simply visit with other adults—your friends, your spouse, whoever keeps you sane. Most neighborhoods in Southlake offer social gatherings for women and men every month. I know mine has groups for bingo, bunco, book club, and more. Check your neighborhood Web site for details.
  Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to be a full member of your community or school, or to branch out into some type of work (or pursue advancement in your current career), simply because you’re afraid of scheduling conflicts or overload. With the right tactics in play, you can take on the world. Or at least look like you can. And sometimes, the appearance of control is just as effective as the real thing.