I have a simple trick to help dads plan their family’s week. It’s easy. And it’s worked every time I’ve tried it.
When Sunday rolls around, wait for your wife to discuss what’s happening in the week ahead. Look attentive but zone out. Wait until she finishes talking about what everybody has to do and where everybody has to be and when, then say things like “okay” or “sounds good.” Maybe throw in a “you got it” for good measure.
Later, frantically call your wife when you realize you pledged to leave work early to pick up the kids on a day you’re facing a huge deadline and beg her to do it instead. She’ll grudgingly agree and simmer with resentment for days.
After years of applying this surefire method, I can say with confidence that the results are guaranteed. You will earn aggravation from your wife and guilt for yourself. But, hey, they’re results and, I promise you, they will happen.
I know what you’re thinking. This doesn’t sound great. Well, believe me: You’re right. It’s pretty bad. In fact, it’s bad enough to make you think doing something different might be better for you, your relationship, and your kids. Still, that would involve change and change entails uncertainty. You don’t know what’ll happen. Might asa well stick with the tried and true, right?
Okay. Enough ironic salesmanship. Here’s the truth: Like a lot of dads, I’m a responsible person who’s not very organized. I get things done but often have to work twice as hard because I have to improvise solutions after neglecting to plan ahead. I get that planning ahead and creating a schedule makes life smoother, both for me and my family. But while I accept that as truth, I still have to drag myself over hot coals to put that thought into action. After a while, I got tired enough of letting my family down. I started looking into the future.
There really isn’t a simple method to make scheduling your family’s week easier. There are thousands of simple methods and variations on those methods, from writing on whiteboards to syncing digital calendars to Memento-style reminder tattoos. Try different ones out and find what works for you. The best one is the one you and your spouse will stick with. Financial planners often invoke the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) as a guiding principle, and that applies here. So find your simple, whether it’s jotting down notes on the back of an envelope or setting reminders with Alexa.
Really, the key to making scheduling easier is changing how you think about schedules. When you’re disorganized, calendars and plans seem like shackles. You feel like they limit your freedom and keep you from choosing what you get to do. You want to get ahead on work on a Tuesday? Too bad. Your wife just texted a reminder that the sitter has the afternoon off so you’re driving your son to swim class. Want to relax with a cup of joe and the Sunday paper? Put the coffee down. Coffee is for closers — and dads who have their act together. You, however, have got a kid’s birthday party you forgot to buy a present for and will get to 20 minutes late at best.
The truth is that schedules aren’t the problem. The problem is being on someone else’s schedule, which inevitably happens when you don’t make your own. You’re at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. They’ve lined hours and events up neatly and you’re just reacting to each thing as it occurs. No matter how good you are at thinking on your feet, it gets to be exhausting over time.
And if you’re not helping to make your family’s plan, your spouse has to do it and dictate it to you. That’s neither fair for them nor good for you. You’ve made her your boss, and both of you are likely to resent the power dynamic you’ve scrambled into. It’s more work for her and less freedom for you.
When you help create a schedule, they become tools instead of burdens. They’re like roadmaps or blueprints — and they become more fluid and present more options when you think about them ahead of time.
Here’s some incentive: Actively helping to plan your family schedule will help you do more of what you want. The conversation about the week ahead is your best and possibly only chance to argue for your own interests. Say you want to hit up a bar when your brother’s in town on Thursday. Your spouse will be more receptive if you bring it up on Sunday than Thursday (she’ll likely say yes on Thursday but won’t mean it — and it will come back to haunt you one way or another).
And doing what you want doesn’t have to mean going to the bar. It could just mean playing to your strengths and steering away from things you loathe.
An important note for straight dudes: The goal of setting a schedule isn’t creating 50/50 split of responsibilities between you and your wife. It seems fair but it really isn’t. Yes, odds are you’re doing way more domestic work than your dad ever did but your wife is still doing more work than you. Aim for a better divide and strike a blow for gender equality. Or, if you prefer, be a considerate husband — or, at least a strategic one who understands that life runs smoother when his wife sees him pulling his weight.
Technology makes that weight-pulling easier. I’m not going to suggest specific apps — dozens of articles about hacking your life with productivity tech are a google search away. Again, remember KISS: I’ve always found the simplest methods are the easiest to stick with. For example: My wife and I have a three-year-old shared Google calendar that I’ve checked about once. It’s not particularly daunting technology but I’m a little daunted nonetheless. Meanwhile, with its minimal interface and limited connectivity, I’m much more inclined to use my iPhone’s notes app.
There’s a low-key but possibly life-changing benefit of getting actively involved with setting the week’s agenda. By investing in planning, you gain a granular understanding of your family’s weekly activities and get an opportunity to think critically about it. You may discover your family might be doing too much. You might feel overwhelmed because your schedule is overwhelming. You could lobby to scale it back. Or at least pencil in the odd break here and there.