Between piano lessons, sports practice and PTA meetings, it can be hard to find time to get organized. But experts say setting aside time to plan will pay off later...

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Between piano lessons, sports practice and PTA meetings, it can be hard to find time to get organized. But experts say setting aside time to plan will pay off later.

“The more disorganized we are, the less efficient we are,” notes professional organizer Valentina Sgro in her new book, “Organize Your Family’s Schedule … In No Time.” “The less efficient we are, the more disorganized we become. So we get caught in a spiral of disorganization.”

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Unlike some get-your-stuff-together books that promote the author’s style of organizing, Sgro suggests a variety of options and offers tips on finding which best fits certain personality types. For example, a person who remembers things better when they’re written down might do better with a hard-copy planner instead of an electronic one. Someone who frequently gets absorbed in a task and forgets the time might prefer a personal digital assistant for its handy reminders.

“Organize Your Family’s Schedule … In No Time”

Valentina Sgro
Que, $16.95

Chapters target specific issues related to preschoolers, grade-school kids, teenagers and elders.

While some of the advice will elicit a “duh” (Example: “Adjust the family’s schedule to fit around the school’s daily schedule and yearly calendar”), other tips are handy. These include:

Create a system for managing paperwork. This could be a colored folder with each person’s name; an organizer with a compartment for each day of the month to store field-trip directions or play tickets; or a literature sorter with slots for each person’s mail, including permission forms that need signing. Keep a designated slot for bills.

Use a picture-based system for daily tasks or chores for young children. Draw or cut out a pictures in a magazine of a child brushing teeth and doing simple chores. These can be made into cards and hung on hooks; pasted to magnets and attached to the refrigerator; or glued to a poster in the order a child would do them during the day.

Keep a family planner or calendar in a central location so everyone passes it at least once a day. If family members forget to check it, try a calendar with a new comic or joke for each day.

Don’t just mark down the date of a big party or project. Instead, break them into steps and create deadlines for the prep work. For example, “Finish research,” “Type first draft,” etc.

Create standardized lists. A big time-saver is a shopping list of common items (you can even organize the list aisle-by-aisle in your grocery store). Keep the list in a central location, check off items you need and leave room for additions. Another idea is a vacation packing list for each family member.

Plan errands to reduce multiple outings. “If you eliminate one trip to the [grocery] store every week, you’d gain more than 26 hours and save about $230 a year,” the book notes.

Create a portable office. Got time to kill during baseball practice? Pay some bills. Carry a portable file box with file folders, a pen, postage stamps, your checkbook and unpaid bills. Include an address book, some cards and notes and you’re set for thank-yous and birthdays, too.

Consolidate tasks if you help with elder care. For example, consider banking with the same institution so you only have to deal with one system. Schedule appointments such as haircuts at the same time and place.

Pay attention to signs that your schedule is overbooked. If you’re regularly eating on the run, find an activity to cut out.

Look at time management in a different way. Sometimes efficiency is overrated. Sure, it might take two hours to make cookies with a preschooler, vs. half an hour without the “help.” But it’s two hours of quality time together — with cookies as a bonus.