In my day job, I’m an engineer focused on improving manufacturing quality and productivity. So most of my professional life revolves around the fact that everything is a system, and every system can be optimized. Perhaps this is more of a theoretical statement, and it isn’t as cut and dry in the real world — never mind the real *mom* world. Through trial and error, though, I’ve found a few tools that work for me as part of my system to keep my mom life — to-do lists, calendars, groceries, meal planning, and all that comes with it — organized.
For our family’s to-do lists, we use Trello. Trello is a free cloud-based list-making app that allows you to manage and organize multiple tasks and lists. Your workspace is a virtual board, which consists of multiple lists, where every task or item is represented by a card. I use two Trello boards every day — one for myself, and one for our family.
My personal Trello board has one list for each of the community groups I work with, as well as a personal shopping/wish list and a parking lot list that serves as a brain dump of all my “someday” tasks. Each card has space for a sub-checklist, notes, links, and a due date and reminder feature, which helps me keep on top of preparing for various committee meetings, daycare events, and more.
Our family board includes a grocery list, multiple to-do lists, and a list that has cards with important notes we want to keep top of mind. There is an “incoming” to-do list with tasks that get dumped there as we think of them, and then lists for this week, this month, and a parking lot for non-timely tasks.
Trello gives us the flexibility to create a list of tasks associated with a specific project as well. For example, when we refinanced our house, we had a separate list of all the tasks and dates associated with that process. Since tasks can be moved from list to list, we review the incoming list on a weekly basis, decide who will be responsible for the task, if the task has a deadline, and which list it belongs on. This helps us to build our plan for the week, while still not losing track of the tasks that don’t need to be top of mind right now.
Since tasks can be assigned to a person, I can easily copy tasks from our family board over to my personal board as I build my work/life task lists for the week.
Grocery shopping and meal planning
As I mentioned before, our grocery list lives in Trello and gets built throughout the week. We use an app called If This Then That (IFTT) to connect our Amazon Echo to the Trello list so that anyone in the house can easily say “Alexa, add ____ to my shopping list” when they discover we’ve run out. This means I can be fairly confident that, by the end of the week, most of our needs are already on the list. Seeing what items we add week after week gives me visibility of what items I should stock up on when they go on sale or even set up a Subscribe and Save for.
For meal planning, I use an inexpensive whiteboard with a one-week calendar on it (similar to this one) to plan out our meals for the week. I have a handful of easy go-to dinners I like, and I typically cook a double batch so we can add leftovers into our dinner plans.
Every week, I sit down with my Trello grocery list, coupons, the grocery store flyer, and this whiteboard and lay out what’s for dinner each night that week. We generally eat the same things for breakfast and lunch all week, but the whiteboard can be used for anything we want to plan there as well. If any family member has an evening commitment that may impact dinner plans, I’ll grab that from our Google Calendar and note it on the meal plan as well. With the week’s meals laid out, and a keen eye to what sale items I may want to stock up on, I can add anything else we need to the grocery list that was built throughout the week.
My husband and I both have used Google Calendar for over a decade, so we continue to rely on it for scheduling and reminders. There are a lot of benefits to using an electronic calendar: the ease of creating recurring events, having constant access to the calendar on our phones, and being able to add items and appointments far into the future (like next year’s annual physical). We each have our own calendar but share view access. This allows us to see when we are traveling for work, and we can send calendar invites for family events or for our son’s appointments. Each weekend, we look at what is on the calendar for the coming week and determine how it impacts the rest of our planning. One of us has an evening meeting or an overnight work trip? Plan for leftovers that night. Busy weekend? Maybe those “this week” tasks on the Trello board can be moved out.
Much of my system has emerged from trying many different tools to see what works and what doesn’t. As our family’s needs evolve, I’m sure our systems will too. This system works for us for now and has helped us to start 2021 on the right foot!