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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Organizing for Autism Series {Part 2}: Managing Busy Schedules + A Free Printable!

Welcome to week 2 of our Organizing for Autism series. Today we are looking at tips for handling the insanely busy schedule that comes with having a child with autism. In any given week, we might have OT appointments, developmental therapy, school or camp, sports, and fun events to juggle. Add to that my volunteer work for ASNCOC, SNAC, and other groups (plus work, and of course this blog!), and things can get really hectic. 

That's why keeping a very organized schedule is a must for our family. Because I love organizing, I use a whole system of different calendars and schedules, but don't feel like you have to do the same. The best system is the one that keeps your family on time and your sanity intact, however that looks.

One thing I find extremely helpful is to break the schedule down into manageable chunks: long term, monthly, weekly, and daily. I use a combination of apps and paper schedules - the electronic schedules are good for the general big picture, sharing with my husband, and making appointments on the go. The paper schedules are where I get into specific details and to do lists. This is an overview of how we manage our family's busy schedule:

Scheduling Apps:

Cozi: This is a great free app for a shared family calendar. I love that it works equally well on my phone and online. Each family member shares a log in, so you can all see what the others have planned. Especially nice is the color coding feature for each person (or pet!). If you want to get fancy, you can upgrade to the paid version, Cozi Gold, but we just use the basic free app.

Schedule Apps for Kids: I'm not going to get into detailed app reviews here, but there are a number of good scheduling apps for kids. For weekly planning, I like Week Planner for Kids, which has great graphics and the ability to customize events. For daily schedules, some of our favorites are Choiceworks, First Then, and Routinely (which unfortunately is no longer available to download).

Monthly Calendar:

I like a good old fashioned paper wall calendar for keeping up with monthly events and appointments. After much searching for the ideal monthly schedule, I found the perfect free printable calendar on the Elli blog. I love that it has big open boxes and a place for notes down the side! I have it printed at Staples on 11 x 14" cardstock, hole punch the top, and hang it with clear Command hooks.

The really fun part is using color coded washi tape to add things to the calendar. I have different washi tape for each member of our family, whole family events, birthdays, to do, school, camp, travel, and miscellaneous. This system has been amazing for us, because it's easy to mark off longer events like a trip, very clear who needs to do what, and if an appointment changes, just move the tape - no more messy crossing things off.

Just be careful to use the right color coded tape when adding an appointment to the calendar - I once accidentally used my son's color for a board meeting I had to attend, and he was very upset, thinking that he had to go to the meeting instead of me that month! It wasn't until I changed the appointment to the right color washi tape that my son was convinced that he was off the hook. 

Weekly Calendar:

I'm also a fan of having a weekly calendar where I can write my to do list, which I do not want cluttering up my wall calendar. It's a good place to keep notes about the minutia of the week, including general things to get done that don't have to happen on one specific day. Because I couldn't find the perfect weekly printable on Pinterest, I ended up making my own.

One of my favorite features is the "Next Week" box, which gives me permission not to finish everything this week! I typically use the "Other" section for random things I need to buy like cat food or a new bath mat, but you could use it for weeknight dinners or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Download a free copy of the CHART Weekly Schedule printable!

Daily Schedule:

In addition to the weekly schedule, I find it very helpful to have an daily schedule where I can jot down hourly appointments and notes. I'm a firm believer that everything I write down on paper is one less thing to store in my brain, which is why I love having so many places to keep notes and to do lists! Things like camp pick up times or household projects for that day - small stuff that doesn't need to be on the longer term schedules. It's also a place to keep track of fitness goals, cleaning, daily inspiration, and so forth.

The cuteness of the Emily Ley Simplifed Planner - so hard to pick a favorite!

I been using my own daily schedule printable too, but I've decided that for next year I will try the Emily Ley Simplified Planner. The Simplified Planner has a very nice hourly lay out and to do list section, much like my own printable. Plus it is just super cute - and why not have fun keeping track of therapy sessions and IEP meetings, right?

Visual Schedule:

For our son, a visual schedule is the ideal way to show him what is in store for the day. For more on use of visual supports to structure activities and time for your child with autism, read our previous posts about teaching responsibility with visuals and using visuals to structure play.

One last tip: If you want to dive more deeply into time management, check out the Pomodoro Technique. It's a helpful way to divide up work and break times to make tasks feel more manageable (and to cut down on distractions like checking Facebook when you are trying to be productive!).

Stay tuned for more in the Organizing for Autism Series soon!

(Note: this post contains associate links.)

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