Where’s that permission form? Why is that soccer uniform dirty? What, the recital is tonight? What on earth am I going to make for lunches today?
Sometimes it feels as if you spend the whole week just putting out fires. There’s a solution. Set aside time on the weekend to target your trouble spots; think of it as a pay-it-forward approach to a better week. “If you dedicate half an hour on Sundays to planning your week, you will own your life and take control of it — to the extent that you can control things,” says Joanne Lalonde Hayes, a Montreal time-management expert, and publisher and author of the More Time Moms Family Organizer and the newly released More Time Moms Family Meals. And once a Sunday prep session becomes part of your routine, the more organized you’ll be and the less time it will actually take.
We’ve gathered tips for targeting the most common trouble spots — so pick yours and get going!
Conquer the calendar (5 to 25 minutes)
Spend time with your agenda It seems obvious to say “use a calendar,” but I mean really use that thing. Once you can see what’s in store for the week, it’s easier to see what you need to do, from baking for the school fundraiser to picking up birthday gifts.
Customize You can get calendars made especially for families or you can customize a standard one by using different-coloured markers for family members and stickers. On the weekend, make sure everyone’s activities, including lessons, parties, chores, tests and appointments, are in there. “Planning gives you peace of mind. Once you put things to paper, they don’t need to be whirling around in your mind anymore,” says Lalonde Hayes. See the bottom of this post for some digital organizing tools.
Work the phones (or email) Arrange carpools and sitters, RSVP for parties, and set up playdates.
Share the plan Encourage family members to use the calendar and ask them to look it over to make sure you aren’t missing anything. Ask the kids to enter items from their school agendas.
Simplify the stuff (10 to 25 minutes)
Check the forecast Is it time to drag out the snow boots or sun hats? Make sure necessary gear is accessible and in good repair.
Dump out backpacks Wash or wipe them down if you need to and file or ditch any papers, projects or artwork. Better yet, get the kids to do their own. Tuck in any must-haves for the coming week: lunch money, permission forms, extra mitts, cleaned and filled water bottle, sunscreen.
Make space “Organize based on your routine and activities,” suggests professional organizer Linda Andersson of Kelowna, BC. That means making sure there’s a logical spot for gear, and labelling drawers and cupboards so items go back where they belong. “The kids have a bin in the laundry room closet that holds their backpacks (so I don’t trip over them all the time!) and their own specific hooks and drawers to put away their stuff,” says Laurie Prentice of Elmira, Ont. Once you’ve got the system up and running, take a few minutes with the kids on the weekend to make sure everything is in its place.
Plan clothing “On Sundays, we pick out five outfits for the week and put them in a hanging closet unit that has five shelves,” says Jenn LabelIe of Mississauga, Ont. “In the mornings, the kids pick which outfit they want. It has really cut down on the fighting.”
Tackle sports gear Consult your trusty calendar (you wrote everything down, right?) to determine what equipment your kids will need this week. Clean it if necessary, then put it somewhere out of the way (in the car if you will be driving to the event).
Tame the paper (5 to 20 minutes)
Sort it once “I have one basket that all the school papers go into every day,” says Stephanie Bentley of Lindsay, Ont. “Every weekend, I sort through, filing important papers and disposing of others.”
Keep keepsakes Bentley has made large art files by taping together three sides of two sheets of bristol board. She stows precious works of art when she cleans out backpacks on weekends. “The files lie flat and fit easily under the bed or in a closet,” she says.
Replenish your petty cash stash Make it easy to grab five bucks when your child informs you that the school’s walkathon fundraiser is tomorrow.
Manage the weeks’ errands Keep a bin or basket at the door where you can drop library books to be returned, mail that needs to be posted, clothes that need to be taken to the dry cleaners. Encourage kids to use this system too.
Master the menu (20 to 60 minutes)
Plan meals This smart habit eludes many of us despite our good intentions. Brenna Dubé of Ottawa creates a mix-and-match meal plan for the week based on food that’s in the house. She writes it on a dry-erase board posted on her fridge. Jill Hastie of Kitchener, Ont., maps out menus on the calendar before grocery shopping, to make sure she has everything she needs. She also tries to precook a few meals on Sunday for the week. See Online organization tools for meal-planning helpers.
Suss out supplies It’s hard to get inspired on a weeknight when you’re rushing to get a meal on the table. Take a few minutes on the weekend to check your cupboards and freezer for forgotten feasts: Take out some chicken to defrost or haul out that curry sauce from the downstairs pantry.
Bake ahead “Every Sunday, usually once the kids are in bed, I bake muffins for their nutrition breaks,” says Laurie Prentice. “I make a different kind each week and freeze extras so they can have a choice.”
Attack the snacks Dubé divides a week’s worth of school snacks, such as crackers or cereal, into containers (another great kid job). She also washes and cuts fruits and vegetables.
Stock up on sandwiches Here’s a tip from Handy Household Hints from Heloise: “Make all the sandwiches for the week, seal them in freezer bags and label them. Then pop them in the freezer, and they’ll be ready to stash in lunch sacks before going to school each morning. The sandwiches will thaw by lunchtime.” Note: Mayo, lettuce and some cream sauces don’t freeze well, but most meats and hard cheeses will.
Share the load
Professional organizer Linda Andersson, owner of Organizing Help in Kelowna, BC, says that a parent needs to take the lead in getting organized for the week, but that person shouldn’t do it alone. In fact, when you are jotting things in your calendar, you should be asking yourself if you can delegate the task to a family member, says Hayes. If family meetings work for your gang, you could schedule one to go over the coming week and divide up the responsibilities.
Online organization tools
fircle.com This free online shareable family calendar allows you to code each event by family member, manage kids’ allowances and maintain household chore lists. You can also make journals and newsletters, organize playdates and create polls that let family members vote on family decisions.
tadalist.com You can store a number of lists and share them with others, who can add or even tick off things they’ve done: great for organizing birthday parties, shopping and errands. Works on iPhone and most browsers. And it’s free.
moretimemoms.com The free grocery-list app allows you to choose from six weeks of grocery lists based on the More Time Moms Family Meals cookbook. You can customize the list and check off items as you shop. Download to as many phones as you like, so it’s easy to delegate shopping to other family members.