The 7 best productivity and calendar apps for families
There is no job in the world quite as busy and overwhelming as that of being a parent. Family calendars quickly fill up with practices, recitals, birthday parties and hundreds of other things that you need to keep track of each month. Add in the various to-dos and must-dos that spring up out of nowhere each day and any parent can find herself deep in the weeds pretty quickly.
Luckily, our phones were built for more than just scrolling through Facebook and snapping quick pics of our little ones. Productivity apps can be a real lifesaver for moms and dads these days, and finding the right ones to help make your family life easier can make all the difference.
Figure out your stress-points to find the right app for your family
“The important thing when looking for an app is to understand what your pain points are,” says Bethany Parker, vice president at Xero Americas and mom of two. “Do you need help getting a group of people to collaborate on planning something, help tracking tasks or making sure you’re getting down key details?”
The first step in finding what you need is to sit down and figure out exactly what it is that is causing you the most stress in your family’s daily life. For some, this may be that no one ever seems to know where they are supposed to be on any given day, while for others it may be that they are overwhelmed by the details that come up in tracking chores. There is no single perfect app for all families, so take the time to assess your own trouble spots and look for the app that will help you get around those spots more efficiently.
Kids of almost any age can use family apps
Don’t assume you have to wait until your children are older to get them involved in using family organization apps. Most young children are familiar with using a tablet or phone and can begin getting used to seeing them as productivity tools at an early age.
“My best advice is to start early with these apps,” says Janet Schiesl, mom and professional organizer in Washington, D.C. “Getting them going early will make it routine for them before teenage rebellion begins.”
For younger children, you will do most of the interacting with the apps, but just being exposed to the idea of using the productivity apps will be enough. As they get older and are able to read, your kids will be able to add to lists, mark off tasks, utilize family calendars and more.
We’ve rounded up a few parent-approved productivity apps that will help you and your family become organized in no time.
The best apps for busy families
1. Google Calendar
The calendar from Google is one of the most-widely used apps because it’s free, simple and available on all platforms. All you need is a Google email address and you’re good to go.
Google’s color-coding options make it easy to divide up different types of tasks, activities and events, so that each person can filter their view by what matters to them. The ability to share calendars make it the perfect option for busy families with older children who have a lot of practices and other dates to keep track of on a weekly basis. Being able to set permissions allows you to control who sees what and who can add or delete events. Google Calendar can do a lot more than simply track dates for you. For instance, when you input a location for any activity, Google will automatically pull in a link for directions, as well.
“I live and die by my Google Calendar and so does my family,” says Parker. “Everyone in our family has access to the calendar, even our nanny. Based on permissions and sharing, family members can see each other’s schedules and plan accordingly when booking travel for work, attending school events or planning a night out.”
Download Google Calendar
If you’re looking for a way to easily create and share lists, notes and reminders with your family members, Evernote is a fantastic option. It’s available for all platforms, has a basic free plan that works well enough for most people and the app is also accessible offline. It’s known primarily for its list functionality, but Evernote has a lot of other features that set it apart from the competitors. You can easily record and share audio notes and Evernote makes it easy to take and store photos within its notebooks, as well.
“I use Evernote to make notes and lists for all kinds of things, but especially for planning for the holidays or birthday parties,” says Abby DeSantos, a mom of three from Springfield, Massachusetts. “Being able to take photos and have them saved in my notes was a real game-changer. I take photos of all kinds of things like school event notices and even my daughter’s reading list, so I can look at it quickly on my phone when we are in the bookstore.”
Trello is a project management tool that has been loved by professional project managers for years, but tons of families rely on it as well. Essentially an electronic corkboard, Trello can be as simple or as complicated as you would like it to be. You can create a “board” for anything, from a family vacation to meal-planning. Share it with your family members and anyone can add “cards” made up of links, thoughts, dates, to-dos and more. Family members can comment on cards and easily move them around by dragging and dropping. You can also find templates for Trello created by other families that you can save to your own Trello for your family’s use.
“My pick for best family organization app is Trello,” says Brandon Ackroyd, a dad from Philadelphia. “It’s perfect for planning a family vacation, making shopping lists, keeping track of appointments and hundreds of other things.”
Parker is also a big Trello fan and counts it among her top three choices for family apps.
“I love Trello,” Parker says. “Right now I have a board to plan an upcoming family trip to Italy, a board for our home remodel and so many more. Trello allows for hyper collaboration and everyone can add ideas, links, reviews and more.”
Cozi has been around for many years and is still the go-to family organizational tool for many parents. It boasts a host of features such as family calendars, to-do lists, recipe sections, shopping lists and even a space for a family journal. Because there are so many features within Cozi, some parents find it overly complicated, but it’s still a favorite for many. With over 20 million users, Cozi is cross-platform and definitely worth checking out. The ad-supported version is free, but an ad-free version is also available as a paid upgrade.
“I’ve been using Cozi for years,” says Joanne Neeley, a mom of four from Needham, Massachusetts. “Our whole family uses it, including our babysitter and I honestly think we would fall apart without it at this point!”
5. Busy Kid
Busy Kid is an app that helps parents simplify the chores and allowance aspect of family management. With Busy Kid, parents can create a list of weekly chores for each child and assign an allowance that will be awarded once those chores are completed. When the child finishes a chore, he logs on to the app and marks it as completed. (Don’t worry, if the chore wasn’t completed the way you wanted it to be, it’s easy for parents to override and deny the allowance.)
The Busy Kid app will also give you age-appropriate suggestions for both chores and allowance amounts. It ties directly in to your bank account so that you don’t have to worry about always having enough cash on hand when it’s time to pay your child’s allowance. Once the money has been transferred, your child can either save it, choose “cash out” and request a set amount or spend it on gift cards at popular sites like Amazon. For older kids, Busy Kid is also a way to teach them about investing, as they can also choose an option to buy small shares of stocks (with your OK). The app charges a yearly fee of $14.95 for the entire family, which might be worth it for busy families with several children.
“I have four kids and used to dread dealing with tracking chores and allowances for all of them so much that I would just skip it all together and do everything myself,” says Stephanie Jones, a mom from Clifton, New Jersey. “I was a little skeptical about using an app that also transfers money, but I love it. I can track all of their chores, but it also puts it on them to track and check off when they’re done. I feel like my kids are super incentivized by it because they have more control, instead of it being me nagging them the whole week.”
Download Busy Kid
Kids spend a lot of time in front of screens these days, whether it’s on a computer, tablet or phone. As a result, parents are spending a lot of time worrying about their children’s online time and what they’re being exposed to when they’re there. In an attempt to maintain control over what our children are doing online every day, many of us spend evenings pouring over their browser history and looking through their social media. Qustodio aims to save parents the time and sanity spent doing these things by arming them with the tools to control their child’s online experience from the onset. Qustodio has a built-in pornography blocker by default and also lets parents block specific sites and apps. In addition to being able to limit overall screen time, Qustodio also gives parents the ability to set how much time their child can spend on specific types of activities, such as social media apps and games.
“My husband and I use Qustodio for parental controls,” says Katie Mallick, a mom of twins from Charlotte, North Carolina. “We love that we can limit screen time and block them from certain sites. It helps us stay on top of how much time they’re spending on their iPads, which goes a long way toward helping us feel organized and in control.”
Greenlight is a new app that bills itself as “the debit card for kids.” Another way for parents to get control over how their kids are spending (and saving) money, Greenlight makes it easy for parents to load money onto a card that their kid can use. Using settings within the app, parents are able to designate specific places where their child can use money and how much money they can use at those places. They can also specify a general breakdown of how their child can spend her money — food, ATMs or “spend anywhere.” When their child attempts to use her card, the parents get real-time notifications letting them know. Kids can also request to use money somewhere not pre-approved and parents can quickly approve or deny the request. Greenlight costs $4.99 per month for an entire family, but parents of active kids who are often traveling for extracurricular activities love the control it gives them when their kids are away.
“I use Greenlight with my 10-year old now that she’s carpooling more often with friends for soccer games and attending sleep-away camp,” says Sareh Baca, a mom of two from Atlanta. “I’m a bit lazy, so I usually just allocate the money to ‘spend anywhere’ and set a limit, but I do sometimes set specifically approved stores. It can be as granular or as broad as you want.”
Whichever app you choose, consistency is the key to making it work for you and your family. The hardest part of any app will be the initial set up and getting used to using it, but stick with it. If one really isn’t doing much for you even after working with it for a few weeks, try another one.
“I am always encouraging parents to get outside of their sandbox and try new things,” says Parker. “We all want more hours in the day to spend time doing the things we love and if an app can give you more time to do those things, it’s worth embracing the new technology that helps you do it.”
Read next: Rideshare apps for kids