How I Do It: Three "Techie" Tips for Parents

Julie Pippert
September 16, 2010

"I don't know how you do it!"

How many times has someone said this to you? To me, often.

In times past, I'd swallow back the sense of being somehow set aside as outside the normal, in a way that brings up that angsty teen feeling of being on display, and the implied criticism, and I'd shrug and say something like, "Hey, like everyone else, I live a life of needs must."

After I got my iPhone I'd switch to humor and say, "How I do it? Oh it's not me, it's all the iPhone," then, depending on how comfortable I felt, I might crack a joke about snuggling with my beloved iPhone at night.

One time, someone called me on it, "You know, Julie, tools are only as good as the user."

I think she meant that as another form of "don't know how you do it" but in this case, it got me thinking, and she was right: it is about both the tools and user.

So today, I have a different answer. It's not glib, flip, funny, or borderline "mind your manners." Instead, today, I'm going to tell you how I do it, and I'm going to name names.

In no particular order, here are the top "how do you do its" I use regularly and my tricks and tips for making the most of them:

Manage the schedule: Some days I feel like the social secretary for one hundred people. There are only four people in our family, but I think we each live about six to eight lives. Think about it: school or work, friends, hobbies, activities, clubs, family, special occasions, doctor's appointments, travel, etc. It gets crazy. Fast. On top of that, I get event notices via Facebook, Google calendar, emails, and more. So I use things I already have in hand and a couple of extras to keep it coordinated.

  1. I feed all of my email through Gmail.
  2. I use the More Actions features "Add Task" and "Create Event" in Gmail. This helps me create a quick glance to-do list of action items (that I can even prioritize) and add dates to my calendar quickly and painlessly.
  3. If I open an email that's an event on my iPhone, I can click the date and add an event just as easily.
  4. My iPhone is my main calendar, so I tend to shift all events there. I can sync iCal and Google calendar pretty easily.

In truth, Gmail is a pretty handy tool, it's free, accessible, a lot of people already use it, and if you get to know all of the features it offers, you can probably find a pretty great way to use it to manage your email and events all at once. Speaking of...

Manage email:  The other day on Facebook I remarked that email had become my voicemail: a blinking red light to dread because it would signal need to an already overloaded me. I was in really good company. As I already said, I feed most everything through Gmail. I create task lists and stock up my calendar using the easy features. But, that does nothing to stem the tide of incoming. Luckily, Google heard my pain and created the Priority Inbox. I use the tagging feature to assign organization to my email, even while I can still see it all in one place. I use the weight feature to make sure important emails always go to priority while unimportant ones go to the main inbox. It is a little work upfront, but with a big payoff in the end. I have 30 labels for categories. Many are mostly archived, but easily accessible if needed. I also use the search feature. And keep in mind, you can open, read, and add a task so a to-do isn't lost. Speaking of to-dos...

Manage tasks: Initially, I was very keen on putting tasks in my calendar or on the really basic notepad on my iPhone. However, that sort of limited interaction. I recently found an interesting app called Remember the Milk. It lets me pull in contacts so I can share tasks and events, set up for things such as text message reminders, create lists, and even find where to go to accomplish them on a map. It's a lists lovers dream, too. I can use it on my phone or my Mac. And my favorite bit? Free.

That's it. I operate on the KISS principle. Too many complex tools make my life harder, not easier. I need one go-to spot (which is mainly Gmail) and a system or organization that is simple enough to keep me using it. It needs to coordinate among tools, and with my husband and colleagues. So how do I do it? I find a good tool I like and I learn how to use it, and then...I do.

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    I am so sorry! I don't know why my comment posted 3x?!?!?!?

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 2

    sso, in your gmail - how do you have it set up on your iPhone? I have multiple email addresses, one of which gets lots of spam that doesnt filter for some reason.. but I have multiple email adresses to sort different types of content (work, self, mommy groups..) can you sort your gmail automatically? MAybe I need to reread the article when kids arent doing laps around me- literally,LOL

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 3

    sso, in your gmail - how do you have it set up on your iPhone? I have multiple email addresses, one of which gets lots of spam that doesnt filter for some reason.. but I have multiple email adresses to sort different types of content (work, self, mommy groups..) can you sort your gmail automatically? MAybe I need to reread the article when kids arent doing laps around me- literally,LOL

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 4

    sso, in your gmail - how do you have it set up on your iPhone? I have multiple email addresses, one of which gets lots of spam that doesnt filter for some reason.. but I have multiple email adresses to sort different types of content (work, self, mommy groups..) can you sort your gmail automatically? MAybe I need to reread the article when kids arent doing laps around me- literally,LOL

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 5

    I got this "Active desktop calender" on my PC paid $30 bugs looking at features like alerts , blinks,recurring events, so on many I can say, now I have tones of events fully organized. Highly satisfied with it. Try free for 30 days. (it even has holidays built in).

    over a year ago

  • Parent # 6

    As I read your blog post I felt as though someone had post a page from my own journal. These are the same tools/methods I've come to depend on. (Though "Remember the Milk" was a new one so thanks!) I seek to find productive ways of living a life while trying to lead my family as we navigate through over-scheduled calendars and increasing competitive academic curriculum. Users are indeed as important as the tools. Thanks, Monica Bongart @monicabongart

    over a year ago

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