The benefits of running a digital family
Running a family has never been a walk in the park, but I’m willing to wager that modern society has made a challenging job harder than it’s ever been. Thankfully, there are tools that can help: here’s how I and my family reduce stress and reclaim our time with digital aides.
Being a geek certainly has its benefits. As a life-long and proud specimen of the species, my all-encompassing interest for all things digital has certainly consumed more than its fair share of my life span – but on the other hand, it does allow me the perk of continuously discovering new ways to apply new technology in order to improve my life in whichever way I might conceive of.
Fortunately, I also have a more than technologically apt spouse, whom not only tolerates but even shares (albeit a slight part of) my digital interests. As a result of this, we’ve found several ways to apply digital tools that make it easier for us to collaborate and exchange information – thereby reducing every day stress and reclaiming time that is better spent with our two adorable girls aged 3 and 6.
Calendars and lists, oh my
One of our primary ways of staying productive is with regard to how we do time management: the two of us, as well as each child, have their own calendar through a hosted Google Apps domain. In much the same way that you’d find in a workplace, everyone’s appointments are entered into their calendars (with appropriate reminders, if need be), and synchronized instantaneously across our mobile devices.
Organizing our calendars this way provides us adults with glanceable information about what’s going on for the next couple of days, and since we also have access to the information through GMail’s web interface, we conduct both short- and long-term planning of weekdays and weekends with ease.
With the matter of who goes where at what time taken care of, we arrive at the more mundane – yet in no way less important – of tasks: what’s for dinner. Using Wunderlist, which also synchronizes across our mobile devices, we create weekly menus and, based upon the menus, shopping lists. Furthermore, we add stock ingredients prior to – well, running out of stock.
This way, whomever does the shopping knows exactly what to get, eliminating the need for hastily drawn-up shopping lists replete with holes (hey, I’m no better than the next lad), or having to go back because something was forgotten. In addition, we use Wunderlist for tracking easily missed chores or tasks such as cleaning out the gutters or refilling motor oil. Truth be told, though: we could do with some improvement on the latter point.
Once the mundane matters have been done away with and we’re well fed, our attention wanders in different ways; you’ll often find me writing the things that you’re reading right now, whereas the rest of the family typically enjoys a bit of entertainment. We’re pretty light users in this department, but disregarding the daily dose of children’s TV, we’ve also bent media to our will.
Courtesy of a dedicated file server, Gigabit Ethernet, Wireless N, Android tablets, PCs and a jailbroken Apple TV, we stream family photos, music, TV shows and movies at our leisure and on our device of preference, as opposed to having to adapt our schedules. Not least is this a benefit because what we’d like to see would otherwise keep us up too late in the evening, and we’re big on getting enough sleep.
For the curious, I could note that all of this is downstream from the file server as of yet; we don’t stream anything from our mobile devices using AirPlay or DLNA, although I suspect we’ll come to make use of such functionality in the future as our system already supports it.
Although the above covers a surprisingly large part of everyday family life, we’re also fortunate enough to have a kindergarten and school that relies on e-mail and an online learning system to disperse information. This provides access to information such as daily, weekly and monthly schedules and activities, adding a greater depth to what we talk with our children about when we’re all at home.
Additionally, we also use Evernote for storing reference information of various kinds – both personal and common, and although we don’t use its notebook sharing feature right now I suspect we’ll do so very soon. Recipes, receipts and bus tables are just a few examples of information that we now access digitally (most often on our tablets and smartphones) rather than having to lug and archive their analogue counterparts.
Lastly, lest anyone should think otherwise, the tools and methods we apply do not distance us from one another; rather, it allows for closer, more efficient collaboration and time saved that we can spend with one another. As always, it’s the tools themselves that dictate the outcome: it’s how you use them.
If you have any clever solutions for saving time or simplifying matters on the home front, feel free to pitch in below in the comments – I’m sure we’ll all appreciate it.