Friday, March 16, 2012

iPad Series: Home Management, part 1

First I will do the things that everyone already has in one form or other: a calendar, to-do list, routines. It might seem less then thrilling, even humdrum but this is really the heart of how the iPad has revolutionized my life. It’s not that I didn’t have these things before…I most certainly did. I had a planner named Lucy, I had a color coded calendar, laminated grocery and packing lists, organized to-do lists. It’s not the existence of these things that are revolutionary, it’s the ease and the automation that amazing. The iPad’s name is Luce – the fancy version.

Let’s start with the most obvious one, the calendar. The heart of the home may be the kitchen but the heart of a mom, well, this mom, is her calendar.
1. You can sync with any existing digital calendar you may use currently: Google Calendar (although not the Tasks portion), iCal, Outlook, etc.
2. You may, of course have many different calendars which you can turn on and off from view. Here are examples of the ways that I use the sub-calendars on my main calendar.
*I find it works best for me to put my meal plans right onto my regular calendar, that way I don’t schedule a meal for a day that we are out in the evening or suchlike.
*I also like to have all the Holy Days on the main calendar [as an aside - in the “notes” section of that “event”, (ie. “Feast of St. Patrick”) I plan on putting a list of resources that I have on that saint and also links to craft or recipes that I’ve gathered. I am also going to put an alert on that day so I will get notified a couple days before hand that it is coming up, giving me time to prepare something].
*I have all birthdays and I have them repeat every year – once entered, always entered.
But being able to turn off all of these calendars is important to. When I am standing at the doctors office trying to schedule appointments all I want to see is John’s work schedule, my “regular” schedule and my “one-time events” schedule. All the rest is clutter and confusion in that circumstance.

 Photo Mar 16, 8 23 27 PM
Here are mine.
3. There are many different views, as you might imagine, the Daily view:
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The Weekly view:

Photo Mar 16, 2 34 07 PM

You can see my purple menu plan at the top. My red-ish “task”, my green “regular activities”, John’s blue work activities, my salmon colored “one-time” activities and the yellow “holy days”. You can also see the horizontal line that shows you at what time of the day you are at and the blue highlight of the day that you are on.

And there are also Monthly, Annual and List views which I personally find less helpful but whatever floats your calendar-boat.

4. You can drag and drop any event just by touching the screen. So, say a meeting gets changed (as I had one change 3 times last week) there is no erasing or deleting or retyping – you just drag it to its new home.

5. Flipping from day to day or week to week or month to month and even year to year is quick and not cumbersome…it’s actually quite pretty.
Photo Mar 16, 2 35 23 PM

6. Last cool thing is that when I open my email (I sync my Gmail to the iPad native “Mail” app – “native” means that it comes with the iPad) if there is a date or date and time or even the word “tonight”, it will highlight it and give you the option to view it in the calendar to see if you are free that day and time or even just make a calendar event from your email. That was a real “Duuuudddddeee” moment for me. Well, that was after I got really still and wondered who was watching me and how much they knew…computers are super creepy these days. But also super cool.
Moving right along…

To-Do List

1. I have switched to Toodledo, which is a free web-based service. You don’t need an iPad to use it but unless you want to haul around your laptop I can’t see it being very practical without a mobile-device. It is compatible with the “Get Things Done” system of task-management, if you are into that sort of thing. Here is how I use it. I sort my tasks into “contexts” first, and “folders” second. The “context” designation I use for the realm of my life that it falls in. Here are my contexts:
Are You OnLine (web based chores)
BAA or “Be An Adult-procrastination inducing task”
BAF or “Be A Friend” – some people are so bad at communicating with people they care about that they need an actual category on their to-do list. Sad but true.
Big City List – errands to run and items to buy when I decide to venture out of the Burg.
Co-op/ARCH – Homeschool group stuff
ECHO/St. Joes – Other homeschool group and parish work
Home Maintenance
Home Projects
Mother’s Night Out (errands or tasks to do without children around)
Weekly Cleaning

So when I think of a task - I’ll use my “hang sheets in the basement” as my example – when I think of “hang sheets in the basement” (could I have picked a weirder task?) I assign it a context, in this case it is Home Projects. If it is part of a single, large project then I will assign it a folder too – in this case, “Basement jobs”. Photo Mar 16, 9 16 26 PM

And that task hangs out there until such time that it becomes a crisis and then I change it’s “context” from “Home Projects” to “Today”. See here:
Photo Mar 16, 9 45 11 PM
And then I gold-star the ones that are really really in crisis.

Now go back to referencing the first picture…
2. You can also make “notes” onto any folder or context in the Notebook. That is handy for measurements for projects that you are doing or addresses, or websites you need, etc..
3. Alerts – you can set an alert for a particular date and time but you can even associate a particular context with a particular location. So I have Lowes associated with my Home Projects Context and it will alert me when I am within a couple miles of the store if I have a task that requires a trip to Lowes. Crazy.

Home Routines
1. I use this app for the daily tasks that I don’t want cluttering my real to-do list. If you are familiar with Flylady principles then this app will fit like a glove.
Photo Mar 16, 9 53 03 PM

You have your routines (all completely customizable and however many you want). It resets automatically every day and you can set reminders to go off.
It’s got a built-in to-do list that I do not utilize, as you may imagine. That would just be too much of a good thing.
You have the choice to break your home down into zones (up to 7 of them) and there is even a timer so you can set it and work in your zone for 15 minutes (or whatever you set it to). For more on these ideas just visit Flylady herself – no need for me to rehash here.

And behold, we have arrived at the ubiquitous Evernote…deep breath…here we go.
This is another web-based service with an app. The premise is that you have different “notebooks”, essentially folders and you can clip webpages, copy and paste things, attach picture, even record your own voice, and, of course, tag each note.
I’ll show you my categories and how I use each of them.
Photo Mar 16, 10 04 05 PM
1. Correspondence
I think it is a shame that we don’t catalogue emails and save them the ways we would hand-written letters. Not all of them, of course, but those epic-long catch up emails with long distance friends, for example, should be cherished. Evernote provides you with your own Evernote email address so you can just “forward” into your Evernote Notebook anything that comes from your email.
2. Home and Garden
This is my favorite way to use Evernote. Two main things I’ve come up with…
The first is tracking my garden. Just take a picture with your iPad. Open the secondary Evernote app called Evernote “Skitch” and annotate using that. Type up a summary of your activity that day and voila! Just yesterday I went to plant a new perennial but I couldn’t remember how far the mums come down in the garden and since they’re not up yet this spring I was able to reference this picture. Perfect.

Photo Mar 16, 1 14 41 PM

My second favorite idea for Evernote is the “Toy Library”. After fighting a losing toys v. order battle for 7 years John and I launched the D-day of toy storage the week before Christmas. We sorted all the toys, took pictures of each type, and then – literally – boxed them all up and put them under lock and key. John said that he felt a little Grinch-y putting padlocks up on all the toys. I had no such qualms.
The kids always have dress-up clothes and trains out. Other then that each kid is allowed to have out one type of toy at a time. They can switch it out every few days. It has been wildly successful. The kids LOVE it. Seriously…not one complaint in 4 months. It was frankly just too much crap to sort through, way over-stimulating and overwhelming, for everyone. So they just fought and dumped. And dumped and fought. Now they play. No, I’m not joking. I've noticed that if they don’t have a toy out but want to play a game that would utilize it they just take whatever they do have out and pretend. Rosie had “tools” out the other day but she was playing house. Instead of asking to switch toys to the play food she just pretended that the hammer was a banana, the saw was a pancake, etc..
So here’s where the iPad connection comes in.
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Photo Mar 16, 1 15 35 PM
They just scroll through Evernote and decide what toy they want. It’s awesome possum.

3. Family Journal
I type or record myself speaking about little things that happen or activities that we do. Things that are not blog-worthy but are memory-worthy. We can attach pictures or recordings of the kids saying cute things in their cute voices, etc..
Less sentimental but quite practical is my “don’t reinvent the wheel” notes. After a rough start to vacation I wrote down all the things to avoid next time. At Christmas I took pictures of all of the decorations and where they go because I had just spent DAYS trying to sort out what was bought for which space. Hopefully next Christmas will be smoother with the visual references.
Photo Mar 16, 10 37 55 PM
4. Magazine clippings. Or webpages. A private Pinterest, of sorts. I was reading Better Homes and Gardens on the iPad (the digital version of magazines is much better – interactive and videos – all over much better) and I saw something that I liked so I took a screen shot and opened it up in the aforementioned Evernote Skitch and used it to point to the things in the image that I liked. The burlap pillow and burlap curtains. The pink arrows and words are what I added.
Photo Mar 16, 10 33 03 PM
Better then Pinterest.

5. Quotations
6. Recipes. I have a separate Recipe app which I will go over later but if I’m on the go and I see a recipe in a friend’s cookbook I’ll just snap a picture of it and store it here until I have time to put it in the app.
7. School. I use it as a journal for our fieldtrips, science projects but best of all I can have Anthony do his narrations (summaries) of his reading with the recorder. He thinks it’s very cool. I’m trying to come up with a way to keep a history timeline in here. I haven’t quite cracked that code yet though. It’s great for taking notes at conferences or retreats.
8. Also school related – this would be great for non-homeschoolers too – You can use another secondary Evernote app, called Evernote Peek to do flashcards. Just typing if you want but I use it for Spanish so I type the Spanish word and record myself saying it and then type the answer. When you add that notebook to Evernote Peek it functions as audio/visual flashcards. You lift the Apple “smart cover” if you have it, or the digital one they provide otherwise.
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9. It’s all searchable. Very easy to find that thing you read last week…
The thing about Evernote is that you can apply it in so so so many ways.

The last thing I will do today is SimpleMind. I have just discovered “mind mapping”. I only use it when I am trying to wrap my mind around a multifaceted project, like planning for the next homeschool year or a long-distance trip to a wedding – anything that is paralyzingly complicated and thus overwhelming. This is the app if you are not yet to the point of being able to handle something with linear to-do lists.
For example…late November The Holiday Panic set in and I mapped out my fears. It was both calming and exhilarating. Mainly it helped me wrap my mind around it in a way a traditional linear list couldn’t have handled. Here’s the simple version:
Photo Mar 16, 10 54 43 PM

I can collapse any of the categories and open them only as I need. This next screen shot is every category expanded and it is also the reason that I was paralyzingly overwhelmed.
Photo Mar 16, 10 55 47 PM
As you can see you can color code, use symbols – turn certain things into to-dos – link to other mind maps (this map linked to a map for the gifts I had planned for everyone). I do wish it had an option to turn the to-dos into a linear list automatically. If anyone knows of a mind-mapping app that does that please let me know!

Oh my gosh. I am so tired now. And that is only 5 of the 18 apps I wanted to go over for Home Management. This may take longer then I expected. But at least that gets things started. Next up on the list is grocery lists, recipe collections, banking, contacts, packing lists, document storage and creating/editing documents, shopping, and gardens. Eventually.

See you later, I’m off to watch stupid TV now.


  1. You are incredible. I love this series-- wish I had an ipad all the sudden (for the first time). I suppose now that i have an iphone for work, I could look some of this stuff up on there... or do the laptop versions... mmmm. Great series.

  2. Alexis,
    We got an iPad for Christmas and I am overwhelmed at all you can do with it...which means I have done little other than email. This is great - thanks for the info! It makes me motivated to use it for organizational purposes.

    On another note - I hope your Emmitsburg brood is all doing well!
    Lauren Ambrogio

  3. this is amazing! thank you very much for taking the time to do this. i could seriously use this in my life, i am always forgetting to do things lately and it makes me feels so discouraged. i really love the idea that you have on the toys also, i am definitely going to do the same! thanks again!

  4. So. Um. Alexis. Wow. This is so clear, concise, detailed.... and utterly terrifying to me. You infinitely surpass me as a mother the same way that you infinitely surpassed me as a student in college. I just stand in awe and wonder. Ok, off to got lie in a crumpled heap and contemplate the chaos that is my life. -kate

  5. I know you've got lots going (and growing!!) but keep this series up. You are still such a great source of iPad (and mothering) inspiration and knowledge for me! I am just now getting into Evernote and its Unlimited Potential For Awesomeness (UPFA). So much to love. I love the toy lockup idea, though I think we're past the dump and fight stage and back into the choke and gag stage of toy chaos. Great post, as always!

  6. Hi! I came to your series from the pursuingclassicaled yahoo group. :) This is great! I use Remember the Milk instead of Toodledo, but I use HomeRoutines & Evernote, too! We do a toy rotation already, but I love your idea of taking pictures of each and organizing it that way!

  7. How did you create your different calendars? I love this idea! I am trying to use my iPad for more home management. This post is fantastic!