Within a week of school starting, it begins. You can almost hear the groaning noises from tables, countertops and in-boxes as paper after paper piles up. The computer inbox swells as emails fly in daily. Homework, class reminders, past due assignments, team schedules. Face it, kids generate a lot of paperwork. But by figuring out a good system that works for you, you will save yourself not only time and energy but also a lot of headaches.
1. Implement a basic filing system. This key component doesn’t have to be complicated. Find a convenient spot (many people prefer the kitchen) to keep a simple filing system. Even a basic file box on the counter works just fine. Each school should have a file and each child who goes to that school gets a folder within that file. All relevant school information for that child - extra classes, teacher information, field trips - gets tossed in that folder.
Many parents give each activity its own folder to help them quickly find the soccer team roster, the dates for Sunday school or the rehearsal times for The Nutcracker. “My filing box keeps me sane,” explains busy mom Laura Rehling. “It’s my go-to spot for anything important. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
Just remember to act on any paper first; that is, sign it, detach it and enter it on the calendar. Then, and only then, file it away.
2. Expand your filing system as you go. You can expand on the basic school-year file system even in another file cabinet. Make files for medical records and prescription receipts. Make another file for items you may need to reference again, such as old report cards, testing results and even past activities that you still need information on: what level swim lessons they completed last year, for instance, or old team rosters with phone numbers that may come in handy.
3. Maintain a family calendar. It may seem old-fashioned with all the new technology out there, but a good wall calendar can change your life. School calendars, deadlines and the kids’ extracurricular activities can all be seen at a quick glance by everyone. You may know that your son has karate every Wednesday at 5 but someone else, such as your spouse or one of the kids, may be making plans and not remember who does what when. Some people find it helpful to assign a pen color to each family member. “My kids are so conditioned, they often ask to look at my calendar before they make plans and my daughter, especially, will mark things done and highlight them in purple,” says mom of three Julie Leary.
As soon as the school calendar comes out, integrate those dates into your family calendar. This ensures that half-days don’t sneak up on you or you don’t plan a weekend trip the same time as the school carnival.
4. Email overload. With more and more schools going paperless, you’ll need to find a reliable way to juggle all the email updates and reminders. If possible, keep your calendar by the computer so you can instantly transfer important due dates. Create a special folder in your mailbox to hold emails you need to follow up on. If you subscribe to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ theory, try keeping a notebook at the computer to remind yourself of items to check back on, such as what time you can volunteer for the ice cream social or what size school sweatshirt your daughter needs. A notebook can save you on paper and ink by eliminating the need to print out every email.
5. Hot spot. Designate a ‘hot spot’ for papers that need a quick turnaround - permission slips, class photos, book orders, etc. You may have one spot on the computer and another one for actual papers. For the tangible paper, you can develop a creative system, such as individual cubbies or hanging file racks; or simply keep a pile on the counter (as long as you can see at a glance what needs to go out). Sometimes it’s helpful to keep this stack in order of due date to make it less likely that something will fall through the cracks. Just remember to get papers out of this pile/file as soon as possible. Again, answer it, sign it, mark it on the calendar, then toss or file it!
6. Deal with past assignments and art projects. Art projects, experiments and papers tend to pile up quickly. They are sweet memories but it’s unrealistic to keep them all. Save the best ones or the ones that show growth or insight. Aby Garvey, a professional organizer and co-owner of www.simplify101.com, recommends a cooling off period before filing kids’ work. “Simply set up a bin or box to collect papers that you are on the fence about. Once a period of time has passed, sort through the papers. It will be much easier to pull the treasures from the stack (and put the rest in the recycle bin!)”
7. Program phone numbers and emails. Programming school phone numbers and doctor numbers into your cell phone allows you to make a quick call when you’re at work or away from home. Also, add teachers’ and coaches’ emails to your contact list so you can easily drop them a line. You’ll want to make it as easy as possible to communicate. Save yourself the trouble of searching for those numbers or addresses.
8. Mark down websites and passwords. Many textbooks are now online and some teachers even have their own website. Keep a small notebook near your computer to jot down those websites and passwords. When your child is in the throes of homework anxiety, you’ll want to know how to easily access them and other recommended sites.
By implementing a few easy systems at the start of the year, you will free yourself from the stress of lost papers and missed deadlines. Whew! Now you can concentrate on other challenges of raising kids…
Laura is the mother of four children and the owner of a very large wall calendar.
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