A Single Mom’s Tech Survival Guide: Tips & Tools for Busy Parents

As a busy, connected single parent it can be hard to keep track of all the things in my life and my family’s life. Doctor appointments and dentist appointments for 3 people, birthday and holiday gift wishes, important documents are hard enough to track solo. Add in the mix of coordinating with a parent in a separate household and BAM!

These are a few simple and free applications I’ve started using the past year. There are more eloquent systems out there; these are just the first, simplest and easiest ones I found. If you’ve found more advanced and comprehensive solutions, please comment below and share!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, sometimes the simple things escape me.

For managing life, think cloud.

This was the first hurdle for me to overcome. I had always saved my contacts and calendar directly to my phone. It took me several months to grasp that saving my contacts and my calendar to my Google account presented me with several simple, productive tools:

  1. Losing or resetting my phone does not mean loss of data. Also, for longer edits I can use the web interface and full keyboard from my computer.
  2. With Google Calendar, I can schedule and share appointments easily with my ex-husband. Adding him as a “Guest” to the event sends him an email invitation. When he accepts, the appointment and all pertinent information (address, reminders) are also added to his calendar. I cannot express how much simpler it is to coordinate schedules through shared calendars.
  3. Tools like Google Docs and Dropbox are simply amazing for storing and sharing school projects, important family documents and even sharing photos. With Google Docs, students can collaborate on group projects and track changes.  With Dropbox we can keep a synced family folder of any file type: scanned report cards, family photos, important school documents and access it anywhere from a web browser or phone app.

Time for some fun! Recently, I’m in love with Amazon.

  1. I can link all of our family devices and share books, movies and music between them. My older son is beginning to explore my extensive science fiction collection and we no longer have to dig through the boxes in the garage to pull out treasured old friends.
  2. The Wish Lists function allows me to create gift lists for myself and each child. When family members ask what the kids want for birthdays and holidays I can simply share the list with them. It’s an ongoing gift registry, but it helps me keep track of which boy wants what and when! A simple tool, but very effective for busy moms and dads – especially in separate households.
  3. Although not free, the $79 annual Amazon Prime account has been worth the upgrade fee. With this account we enjoy free 2nd day shipping (OH NO! The birthday party is THIS weekend?!) and a good library of free movie and book rentals. My son currently has the 2nd installment from the Hunger Games checked out. Three months through the year I calculate I’ve already come close to breaking even.

Hey, a girl’s gotta work….

Finally, here’s a couple of easy tricks that help me look like a rock star at the office. My coworkers have remarked more than once about how “on top of things” I am. They just don’t have all my secrets:

  1. I take advantage of the scheduling tools available within Outlook and my phone. A simple step to set reminders on emails keeps an on-going “To Do” list. When I’m on vacation, I set a reminder on my phone to turn off my work auto-responder at 5pm on my last day off. This saves me that embarrassing “out of office” message when I’m already back in the office.
  2. The Traffic Widget that runs of Google Maps. With the Traffic Widget, I can glance at my phone in the morning to see how long my commute will take. Sometimes, just a little warning of traffic problems is all you need to get a jump start on the day.

And finally….

Google Alerts. Essentially, Google Alerts is nothing more than a saved search that Google runs for you at a designated interval (daily, weekly) and then emails you any new results since the last search. Being able to identify news on important clients and competitors before my boss reads about it shows that I’m thinking, proactive and taking initiative.

What easy, free solutions do you use? What works for your family?

  1. Thanks for the collection of ideas. I use many of these, but you listed some good ones I haven’t used yet. Being an Android user, Google Apps w/ email, calendars, docs, etc. is a no-brainer.

    I hadn’t thought of using Google Calendar for coordinating split-home parenting, but that could be very helpful. My organization skills in general are less than sufficient, and that particular application of them is especially painful currently, so I’ll take all the help I can get 🙂

    • It took me close to 6 months after I bought my Android phone to really discover the tools built right in to it. So many new users out there, sometimes you just have to point out the obvious.

      Google Calendar is AWESOME for coordinating schedules.

      • Ha, hope I didn’t come across as saying it’s easy to coordinate all your Android / Google Apps stuff. I just meant that once I knew it was there, the decision to use Google mail and calendars on my Android was an easy decision. While smart phones have come a long ways, some of the features are still a bit tricky to find or get working right.

  2. i use google calendar for most of my scheduling, that’s sync’ed to the built in calendar app on my iPhone. I wish there was a way to sync my work calendar (exchange) with google, but some basic research has shown that to be much more difficult and not worth the work.

    i didn’t initially buy into the whole Evernote thing, but i’ve recently turned around on it. Before i’d be sending myself lots of emails of journal drafts, reminders, things of that sort of nature, and Evernote streamlines that process much more easily and i’m not even using it to its fullest potential yet.

  3. I cant find the google maps one. Maps or traffic. Cant find either

  4. michaelajansen :

    Ha, hope I didn’t come across as saying it’s easy to coordinate all your Android / Google Apps stuff. I just meant that once I knew it was there, the decision to use Google mail and calendars on my Android was an easy decision. While smart phones have come a long ways, some of the features are still a bit tricky to find or get working right.

    I understood – you were making the exact same point as me! It’s not always obvious or apparent, but once you realize what’s there it IS simple.

  5. Hi my friend! I wish to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include almost all vital infos. I would like to see more posts like this.

  6. With two teenagers and nearly opposing works schedules + school schedule for the wife, Google Calendar is a requirement. We each have a calendar which has been shared out so we can see all appointments at a moments notice and avoid scheduling conflicts.

    Google docs has been indispensable for working on assignments. Especially when different computers are in use.

    Also, for entertainment value, Google Play Music is great because you can have a near unlimited access to your music library from nearly anywhere at anytime.

    I use box, but, any shareable cloud storage service is nice. And Google is planning on launching their own in the next few weeks.

    Also, with the portability of smartphones and tablets, this frees one from the need of being tied down to a desktop or even a laptop. Because you can access your data and files from where you are.

    Great idea, Stephanie. And if I can think of anything to add to your arsenal I will.

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