How We Track Schedules in a Fire Marriage

by | Everyday, Fire Family Life, Long Hours

From our series “Fire Prevention in Your Marriage”.  Watch the video and follow along in the transcription below. 

October is “Fire Prevention in Your Marriage” month and we talk about schedules and the fire life in your marriage, because we all know that we’ve had those silly little tiffs about:

“You said it was on the calendar.”

“Well I didn’t put it on the calendar?”

“But you told me you put it on the calendar.”

“Well, do you ever read the calendar?”

Yeah, you guys know what I’m talking about. This came in by request from Kenzie, and we are going to add this to our mix for fire prevention in your marriage month.

When anyone gets a glimpse of our family Google Calendar, they freak out sometimes. Over our family schedule…

Now, remember we have four kids. They are older and active, and none of them drive, and they’re all very much needing a lot of time, a lot of activities, a lot of driving around. I tell you when your kids get into this school age, it is definitely a whole new ball game with juggling. I know how this can be the source of frustration.

First you’ve got the fire schedule, and it’s every third day, or maybe you have one of those weird schedules that you can’t even remember and you have to calendar it. You know, before we were all so mobile that was written down. We had the big planners that we carry, the kitchen calendar. But now we have all these online ways, and I can remember struggling moving into the online calendaring space. I had my work calendar on one system and our home calendar on another, and you didn’t want to merge them but you had to because how do you schedule both things without having both calendars in front of you?

Now you throw in the fire department calendar. Even today at my husband’s department the time off request and what’s available is still a written calendar they hang on the wall. I make it a point to not complain about anything at my husband’s station because those are friends and family. We care about them, but if there was one thing I could tell Chief that he could do better (that I know because I’ve seen it done other places) it would be to get an electronic calendar for scheduling vacations. It would be so much more efficient. Right now we’re kind of in a mess where I have to give him days that we need off, and then he has to go in his next shift day, or he has to call to the station and have somebody look and see what’s available. Then he has to put in for it in writing. Then he has to wait another shift to back to hear if he gets that time off! In the meantime, a week has passed and I’m in the scheduling limbo. Is he going to be home? Is he not going to be home? Do I need to get a sitter? What’s going on?

I can appreciate the stress that this adds to your marriage. There are many options electronically but they are a one-station department, and they all have a lot of stuff on their plate. This is just one they haven’t tackled yet, so there’s my little complaint.

Calendaring (Time 4:04)

I will tell you our solution. I’m a calendaring nut. I’m a planning nut. But I’m not a control freak.

There’s a difference between being good at planning and being a control freak. I used to be in “control freak mode,” but now I’m just in “good planning mode.” Just consider that and think about that. That’s a whole other topic. I have to be on top of it because of how much we have going on in our family and in my work. My kids will tell you how many times they were little, they couldn’t help with this, and we would drive to the wrong place for soccer practice or we’d arrive an hour early or 30 minutes late and they would be like “Mum, you messed it up again!”

Now we’re at the point that our bigger kids can actually look at the calendar themselves. Their sports teams have these apps that integrate with their calendar.

My answer to everything is Google Calendar.

With Google calendar you can look at it a million different ways, and you can integrate your Google calendar to any calendar viewer. Some people like the GooCal app, some people like their Outlook. All that stuff integrates to the base of your calendar which is in Google Calendar.

I’m a very visual person, so I need a really visual schedule. This is how many calendars we have: Dan, Mya, and Jackson manage their own. This is an example so you can get a real feel for it.

Periscope User Comment: “Ha ha that looks like mine but there’s only two of us!”

Our really busy time is in the evenings with all the different sports and activities, but its color coded so I know what kid is doing what. It’s crazy. This has a few meetings for me for work, but I’ll have to tell you what I do for planning my work schedule as well because it looks like its blank, but it’s not. It’s nice having these different calendars. You can also go in here and say, “OK, right now I want to look at my calendar,” or “I only want to look at Luke’s calendar,” and each of the kids has access to these shared calendars. It’s on their phone, and they can all go in and track what they want.

Here’s the really cool thing, there’s a three unit. It’s set to repeat every three days eternally. The only time you have to change that is on leap year. Ok, is next year a leap year? I don’t know, so I’m going to have a look at that. That’s the only thing that sort of throws me, I have to go in there and adjust it on leap years, but it’s pretty much every three days. If you wanted to mark, it’s so flexible you could use it however you wanted to use it, I have his three units. You can just change the color here, if you guys are a blue unit, green unit, red unit, I think some shift calendars are like that. You can mark all of them and match the colors. There is a ton of flexibility here.

I was spending so much time answering both to my husband and to my kids.

“Where is this? What time is this?”

Now my only answer to them is look on the calendar because inside all those appointments are addresses for where we are going and details on what colored uniform to wear. Now on the fire schedule stuff, I don’t really put anything in the details because that’s up to him to manage. Here’s the thing, if you aren’t a computer person and like to write things down, I totally get that because I write notes for these things. I have a whole journal that I keep. Sometimes you need that hand to brain reaction. It literally helps you learn better when you physically write. There is a connection there, and some neuroscientist can explain it better than I can, but there is a connection.

Passion Planner (9:05)

Also Dan and I both have a Passion Planner. I mark key pages. Passion Planner was a kickstarter a couple of years ago, and I bought it early. I saw this girl’s ad and I was like, “OMG she knows my brain!” She really talks about running a business. She has this whole system, and I don’t necessarily use it like that. Just look up It’s one of my favorites. It helps me take notes, and so I would say, I was even color blocking on here. Pink was exercise, and green was for my corporate work, and blue for Firefighter Wife stuff. I use this one week in advance. I mark the unit days so I can plan out my work schedule. If I had a dentist appointment one afternoon it’s going to blow the entire afternoon for work, so where am I going to fit my work in?

They also have a small version by the way. Honestly, if you are a written person I wouldn’t recommend the free download. This is so worth the money. This is such a good program and good project. I think she is onto something really good. In between each month I will do a monthly plan so I can block out the big stuff monthly. She has this whole exercise in between you can go through and reflect on your month. I’m a big fan of Passion Planner as you can tell for planning the minute details of my week. It’s really for goals, how to fit them into the week. Now on contrary my husband is not at all like me in this way.

Fire Family comment: “I use a calendar on the wall in the kitchen, a shared planner and then the shared one on the phones.”

Visual Calendars (11:22)

We do have a wall calendar too. The wall calendar is highlighted with unit days, and our littlest kids use that because it’s very visual for them and so theirs is the only handwriting you’ll see on our wall calendar.

Look what we did in October! My seven year old marked the wrong day in October so our whole month of October has the wrong unit day marked! She will write things like if she had a birthday party coming up or something.

The visual calendar in the kitchen is really good to reference to. It gives you this visual. I think there needs to be a lot of calendar methods. We even have this cork board because sometimes you get those things sent home from school that you need, like the flu clinic at school. I just put those up for frame of reference. If the paper comes in that way, I will visualize it that way. Even if I put it on my calendar I sometimes forget. Maybe I’m a hoarder, but that works for me.

Compromise (13:05)

Here’s my marriage advice on this topic, know your spouse’s preferences and try to adapt to them, both directions.

It’s that whole meet in the middle thing. I know that he’s not really good at getting things into the electronic calendar. He wants to be though. Here’s the difference, he knows that I need that. He knows our family needs that. He wants to be good at it, so I love that even though it’s not the best, I know he’s trying. That helps me to be a little more reminding of, “Hey did you to check this,” “I want to remind you that I put this in the calendar.” Some things I’ll put a notification on. Some things that are really important I’ll invite him to so he actually gets an email reminder, which he doesn’t love because he hates email. I only use that selectively knowing his preference. He knows that I don’t like last minute stuff to be dropped on me because it doesn’t fit in our life.

I want to be able to do things, and when we’re free we are very spontaneous. We want to be. We might go to the Blue Jackets game tonight just because there’s nothing on the calendar, and there are a lot of cheap tickets because the Blue Jackets haven’t won a single game yet.

Periscope user comment: “Our Rule, if it’s not on the calendar it is not happening.”

Good point, if it doesn’t show up on the calendar it’s not happening, Dan and I are both free spirits enough that we’ll sometimes chuck the whole calendar and go and do something for our health. We don’t let the calendar rule us. But sometimes we have to. There are things that obviously we can’t just chuck and can’t ignore, I get that.

Here’s something else to think about, and this goes for anybody, if you work outside the home, whether it’s the firehouse, whether it’s an office. I worked in an office, so I was always in front of a computer. I always had a calendar in front of me, and it was easier for me to keep things organized. But at the firehouse, when they’re on a run they have their phone with them, they just don’t have calendaring stuff with them. Their brain isn’t always there, so they might be talking about a trade with somebody and then boom, a run comes in and it might slip their mind. Then the next shift the guys are like, “Can you do that trade for me?” He hasn’t talked to me and I just have to appreciate the environment they are in at the firehouse. It isn’t necessarily conducive to someone who has an office job that can sit down and say, “I’m going to enter this into the calendar right now.” That’s just my appeal.

Fire Service Apps and Online Calendars (15:40)

There are fire service apps. We get this question a lot on the website, “Is there an app that tells me the calendar for the fire service?”

There are a lot of apps, but here’s my experience. They talk about the fire service, they handle the fire service, but they don’t handle the rest of my life as well. I just default to the best. I’m a believer of using the best of breed, and Google Calendar is by far the best of breed.

Periscope user comment: “My husband texts about the trades so I can double check with Google Calendar.”

I mean he’ll text me too. That’s a good calendaring scheduling tip: text and ask your spouse about trades and time of and stuff like that. It’s a courtesy and it helps. I just know that he’s not always in a place where he remembers that. I might text him back and then he goes on a run, and he’s not the one who gets to put it into the calendar because he’s not in the groove for that in his work environment.

The fire service apps are very fire service oriented, but they don’t address all your other family kinds of needs.

Periscope user message: “He always assumed I would be home to take care of the kids. I schedule me time.”

Yeah you have to tell him when you want to get away, I totally agree.

When I keep saying Google Calendar, it doesn’t mean that you have to just use Google Calendar. Because I use a calendar app by this company called Calendars, and some people use GooCal, some people use Calendar Pro. I chose this app, it’s my Google Calendar all behind it, in fact I can sync a whole bunch of Google Calendars to this, but I use this app because I like the way it looks visually on the weekly layout. It’s has the same colors as my Google Calendar, some of the other calendar apps didn’t sync colors over. That’s just a little tip when you’re picking an app.

And I will tell you the $1.99, $2.99 that you pay for your calendar app is so worth it. It saves you so much time. The free versions are nice, but you don’t want to be distracted by a bunch of ads and junk like that when you’re looking at your calendar. My advice is one calendar for all. I think it’s really tough to keep your work and your personal separate. Sometimes you have to, like if you’re in an office place, but then you have to have a system to sync those or put it in both places. It is totally a habit. I’m thinking about a trade or when something comes up, and making it a habit to always put it on that one calendar. That is a habit you have to form, no doubt about that.

If you’re stuck in a place scheduling-wise: I don’t have time for everything. I feel overwhelmed. There is an exercise that I will do that I have done through certain seasons of my life. Whenever you change jobs or you go into a different season, maybe you go from little kids to not having preschool, from preschool to kindergarten, or just any season like that even from Spring into Summer with no school. It takes a little time to adjust your rhythm and to adjust your routines. Some people don’t even realize they are doing it. Some people it really messes with them, and they need to intentionally think about it.

If you’re in one of those seasons, one thing I suggest you do is just take a day and instead of making a to-do list, write down everything that you did. You might get to make a to-do list, but not get to everything and feel like you didn’t do anything that day. But you really did a ton. So write down everything you did and then if you’re really into productivity and efficiency and trying to improve yourself in that way, write down how much time it took.

There are apps that will do this for you, time tracking apps. I haven’t used any for a really long time so I can’t tell you what’s the best at the moment. I went through seasons where I time-tracked every activity I did for two weeks. Then I would go back and say “this is too inefficient,” “this I need to delegate, this I need to outsource, this just needs to move of my plate completely, this isn’t getting enough time and I want to give it more time,” and it’s like you have to have the facts before you can make some calendar and schedule adjustments in your life. I’m kind of nerdy about this, but at the same time it’s how I fit everything in my life. I don’t hate it. I don’t feel pressure. I like doing this. I want to be doing the most important thing at every moment, so doing a little analysis on where I’m spending my time and how to make adjustments, to me, is very worthwhile.

I’m not like a bean counter accountant type, so I don’t get all over the top. I’ve worked with people like that. They’re like, “23.2% of my work week is spent replying to emails that never result in a sales transaction.” I’m not down to that level of detail. I do suggest that if you are feeling that overwhelmed, that you can definitely find time in your life by doing that exercise.

That’s something to think about. In fact, I just did an exercise like that with somebody I was doing some business coaching with yesterday. Here’s a thing about Google Calendar, you can make whatever calendars you want. Calendars are free. Calendars space is free. You can make whatever calendar you want. I have this calendar called “The Ideal Schedule,” and I do this exercise with people that I coach. I do it with myself every once in a while. This person I was coaching happened to be a firefighter who was also running a business and a blog. We went through and I said, “on the day after your unit day, you need to block some time that isn’t so intellectual and creative because your brain might not be all the way there.”

Then we were talking about social media, and how much time social media was taking, and to block out specific times to reply on social media. I know you guys feel like I’m online all the time but I’m not, I mean, I block this out. I’m very intentional about when I go online and when I don’t. He was saying some of his very creative time was at 5:30am, so we talked about making that some of his creation time and blocking out the exercise time. If you’re going to work on a post or podcast or something, you have planning time, you have the actual production, and then you have prepping and publishing and what not. So you have to put all those pieces on your calendar, and it might take a full day. You have interruptions in between with email or family, but it might a full day.

If you stay in a routine like that with your schedule, let’s just say you’re a blogger or a podcaster or a YouTuber, and you make the discipline to put that in your schedule one day a week. Now you’ve spent one day a week for the whole year and you’ve got 52 videos, 52 podcasts, 52 articles on your website that weren’t there before. If you just try to willy-nilly, just let it fit into your schedule, that’s just how it is. Pick whatever you want. That’s for people in the media world, pick it for exercise, pick it for crafts.

You guys talk to me, I’ve been blabbering on and on and on and not interacting today. You have a lot of great calendaring ideas. Everybody’s got their own system.

I’ll say there’s no solution. I think we can inspire each other with our ideas.

There’s always a tip. There’s always some new feature. I’ve been known to do a little happy dance around the kitchen when Google Calendar gets some new feature. That stuff excites me sadly and happily.

Back to the marriage topic, it’s so important to be on the same page as your spouse, understand their style, and make a system that works for you. If it stops working, because it might, seasons change and everything, then you definitely recognize that our system is not working. It’s not that they’re mad at me or trying do something intentionally wrong. It’s that our system has stopped working and we need to fix our system. That’s always good self-awareness.

Thanks for letting me nerd is out. I hope I answered your questions. I feel like I went a little heavy on the techy and how-to side and not as heavy on the how do you juggle the fire schedule side of things. I think this applies to a lot of families and marriages and careers, so hopefully you got some tips. If you didn’t put them in the comments on our Facebook page. I will post this in the Fire Wife Sisterhood group today, and we’ll get some feedback.

I’m very visual too. That’s exactly why I had to make my calendar. I had to have one of these calendars. I can’t keep up with the written, I have to share it with too many people. I have to go electronic. You can print the pages. I used to do that as well. I used to get everything like before we shared calendars. I used to get everything into our calendar. We had nannies. We had various seasons of part-time nannies, nannies that lived with us, and so I would get the calendar all done on Sundays and then print it, and everybody worked off the printed calendar for the week. When my parents come to watch the kids, I would print it for them and they would work off that. It has everything. It has addresses on it, everything. That is another way.

You just have to think about what’s your rhythm like. How differently does your calendar change? Because if it changes too much, you might need to print it every three days instead of once a week. Electronic always stays more up to date.

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On a mission to be and inspire us all to be better humans, to strengthen fire families & marriages, to nurture and encourage fire wives, do "good business" in all areas of my life and of course, love on my 4 kids.

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