Forget the fridge list: the new ingenious ways families are organising their weeks


It’s not simply a love of nursery that drives our three-year-old to lurk by the front door in the morning, rucksack and water bottle in hand – it’s also a fear we might forget to take him. Our five children rightly assume that we’re not fully on top of their schedules, although if Edgar stopped to wonder who packed his rucksack and filled up his water bottle, he’d realise there is a system in place – albeit a rudimentary one.

It starts at 7am with my husband’s phone alarm piercing the silence; 20 minutes later four bleary-eyed boys and a baby are at the kitchen table eating Weetabix. Our daily schedule is written up on a whiteboard stuck to the fridge, reminding us of school trips, appointments and, crucially, the supper menu, and there’s a year-planner on the wall in the playroom with birthdays and holidays.

Anna Tyzack swears by writing up a schedule on the fridge each morning
Anna Tyzack swears by writing up a schedule on the fridge each morning - Heathcliff O'Malley

At 7.55am, when I put on my coat and open the front door, there’s a mad scramble of teeth-brushing and trainer-finding and then the boys and I are off across the common on our cargo bike. My husband and I fight over the school run – the fresh air wakes us up.

Back at home I’ll play with the baby to make up for neglecting her during the morning rush, and then she’ll set off for a walk or music class with the nanny and I have no excuse but to open my laptop.

I wish I was more strategic about my day. I’m not a list maker. I’m useless at putting things in my diary. If you speak to a life coach they’ll tell you to be intentional, blocking out time for dog walks or yoga or family admin, but if I have work to do, it’s head down until lunch, then again until the 5pm school pick-up, then homework, supper, telly and bath time. Only then will one of them remember they need to do piano practice or revise for a French test. I told you it was a rudimentary system!

Anna says she has always found forward planning difficult
Anna says that she has always found forward planning difficult - Heathcliff O'Malley

This New Year, we promised that we’d get better at making plans and even sort out a strategy for the next few years – education, where we want to live – but we’re not making much progress. The logistics are always so complicated that we give up. When we do go away with the children it’s by car and so last-minute that we’re booking the ferry on the way to Dover.

When I speak to life coach Mikaela Jackson of about my lack of forward planning, she urges me not to be too hard on myself; I have support systems in place, I know what my (five) priorities are – it’s better to embrace imperfection than fixate on the things I’m not achieving. “Acceptance and surrender are an important aspect of life; be grateful for what you are managing to do,” she says. “To-do lists are all very well, but they are relentless and can lead to overwhelm.”

What I want to know is, how do other households manage?

‘Last year I had an epiphany and hired a personal assistant to take the weight off my shoulders’

Annabel Veysey Baker lives in Devon and runs a business supplying virtual PAs to medical professionals

As her work expanded, Annabel found herself drowning in administrative tasks
As her work expanded, Annabel found herself drowning in administrative tasks - Andrew Crowley

Organisation is in my DNA, but as my work and my husband’s expanded, I found myself submerged in life admin. All too often I was double-booking myself or cancelling plans I’d made for our two children, aged 12 and 10. I never had any time for relaxation or doing the things I love. Then last year I had an epiphany and hired a personal assistant to take the weight off my shoulders. I already had my own VA for work; I thought, why not try having one for home, too?

The system took a little while to set up. I knew Abi, my VA, would only be truly helpful if I could delegate to her fully, which meant sharing control of my calendar, WhatsApp and emails, and giving her the ability to make payments on my behalf. This seems a lot of personal info to handover but we use LastPass, a password manager tool that allows users to share encrypted passwords and card details. Once Abi and I had identified how she could alleviate the pain points of my week, I immediately started feeling less stressed.

Every week, I share the tasks I need to get done on a to-do list app called Trello and Abi helps me work through them. She works for five hours a week [rates vary widely but Annabel pays around £175], handling all the tasks that used to consume hours of my day, such as bill payments, organising appointments and school communications, ensuring I can be much more productive at work. She filters through my emails and WhatsApp messages so that I only deal with what’s important. She also manages all those easily-overlooked yet critical tasks such as renewing life insurance, car tax and MOT, which saves me from last-minute panics and penalties.

For five hours a week, Annabel employs the services of a VA at a cost of around £175
For five hours a week, Annabel employs the services of a VA at a cost of around £175 - Andrew Crowley

At the start of each term, she transfers all the relevant dates into my Google calendar and highlights relevant information from school. She even reminds me to take the dog for a walk and have lunch, and she makes suggestions and helps to plan dinners out and weekends away with my husband.

We give Abi ideas for holiday destinations and our dates and she deftly arranges the rest, with affordable, child-friendly accommodation and well-timed flights. She even planned a girls’ trip for me and four friends last year and they all agreed they need an Abi, too.

Of course my husband, who’s a tree surgeon but also very hands-on with the kids, and I still end up running around to and from play dates and holiday activities. They know what they need daily for school, but they still need reminding and meal planning falls to me, though Abi has my back, scheduling batch-cooking time and helping me switch between meal-delivery services, depending on the best offers. She’s also introduced me to for straightforward meal planning and grocery shopping.

Annabel at home with her family
Annabel at home with her children, Bella, 10, and Noah, 12, her husband Ben and their dogs - Andrew Crowley

When the children are off school sick, I tend to pick up the slack and the holidays are a juggle, but Abi has lightened my load so much that when the system is under stress, I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

Just having this extra support has put me back in control of my home life; I go away for work conferences without worrying that everything will fall apart.

The experience inspired me to set up, a new business specialising in lifestyle VAs like Abi to help entrepreneurs, business owners and parents balance their professional and home lives.

Of course, not everyone can afford extra help, in which case there’s a lot you can do to build a good system for yourself with Google calendars, life-sorting apps and a more efficient approach to time management. But if you can afford even a couple of hours a week, I truly believe that the payoff will be huge; Abi doesn’t just help me to be more organised, she buys me time, which in our busy lives is invaluable.

‘I’ve always avoided Whatsapp groups with other parents – I’d rather steer clear of the drama and gossip’

Journalist Richard Morrissey lives in London with his wife, Helena. Their nine children are now aged between 31 and 15; four still live at home full-time and two in university holidays

The Morrissey family at home in London
The Morrissey family at home in London - Anna Huix

I’m someone who likes a routine and this made things easier when the children were younger. We had a whiteboard, which Helena and I would write on each evening, setting out what everyone was doing the following day. Not that things didn’t sometimes unravel: at the beginning our first child was in nursery in the City, where we both worked, which was a nightmare, as if our son so much as sneezed one of us would be called to take him home. But as we had more children, I became a stay-at-home parent – it wasn’t a difficult decision, as the professional upside for Helena was much stronger than for me – and we had a great live-out nanny who worked on weekdays until around 5pm, after which it was “cocktail time”, when I served carrots, cucumber and crisps on a lazy Susan.

Children love the small certainties amid the chaos. We’d then eat supper together later when Helena was home from work and the older children had done their homework. We didn’t look over their shoulders; from early on I was keen for them to learn how to manage themselves, even if that meant learning to make mistakes. Helena and I also encouraged them that organising their belongings for the next day would make their lives less stressful and avoid hassle from us, particularly me. Parenting is about mirroring: we both worked hard and they got used to working hard, too.

That said, Helena has always been good at leaving work on time; she makes a point of not staying late into the evening. She wants to be home with the children, even if this means she has to be more focused during the daytime. We’ve never worried about getting the children to bed early; it seems more important to have a great meal together and a time to chat and watch our favourite TV shows. Even now, I still cook and the children living at home who are working will text me if they’re running five minutes late for supper; we never drilled it into them, but it’s become a significant daily event.

Richard and Helena Morrissey at home
Richard and Helena Morrissey - Heathcliff O'Malley

I’ve tended to minimise involvement in school WhatsApp groups and their equivalents. Some can be helpful but over the years I have found some parents can get far too involved and worried about issues that are not really that important, and I would rather steer clear of the drama and gossip. Sometimes it is best not to know what is really going on.

I was keen to get the children involved in as much sport as possible, though. It’s character-building and fun. You win, you fail and you mess up, but you can’t walk away from the responsibility. It is a great real-world experience to have at an early age. I do not believe in the sometimes fashionable view that “everyone is a winner”. Life just isn’t like that and the sooner children learn to understand this and embrace it, the better. We learn more from our so-called defeats than from the victories.

We’ve never done ski trips or half-term holidays and we rarely got invited away to other people’s holiday homes. The children were booked into clubs and camps and had friends over and got on with craft at home, arranged by me or the nanny. Our family holiday has always been in the summer, to Cornwall, France, Crete or Portugal. Helena plans it meticulously and it always costs a fortune. It used to be so stressful packing all the suitcases and getting to the airport.

Once, our minibus to the airport cancelled and a double-decker bus turned up outside the house instead. It’s always been worth it though, and we’re lucky that some of our older children now come with our grandchildren. It’s increasingly difficult to get everyone together, as they’re all doing their own thing, but the majority still join – it’s a free holiday after all.

Have we been good at carving out time for ourselves? Helena not so much, though she is getting better at it. She’s a list person who likes to tick things off and claims she will relax when she has finished her (never-ending) tasks. I’ve always felt as if I have enough time for myself though. And I wouldn’t have relentlessly made packed lunches and collected numerous children from after-school clubs and done all the cooking if I didn’t love doing family stuff. I’ve been trying to create a culture – at least that’s how I see it.

‘We devise a spider’s web of shared pick-ups and drop-offs, which somehow works like clockwork’

Anna-Louise Stewart lives in Surrey and runs her own soap company, Chuckle Soaps 

Anna-Louise Stewart with her sons Barnaby, 11, (left) and Arthur, 8
Anna-Louise Stewart with her sons Barnaby, 11, (left) and Arthur, 8 - Clara Molden

I gave up commuting into London a few years ago to be around for my sons, Barney, 11, and Arthur, eight – but then I accidentally started a soap-making business which means I’m working harder than ever. School runs would have been a nightmare for my husband, Luke, and me if it weren’t for the local coven of mums, which meets together before the start of each school year to work out how we’re going to get our children to and from school, clubs and holiday camps.

We devise a spider’s web of shared pick-ups and drop-offs, which somehow works like clockwork even though every morning at 6.30am our group WhatsApp pings with messages about sicknesses, school trips and sports fixtures. It saves us hundreds of hours of driving and also gives me the opportunity for a healthy dose of micro-socialising each day.

The rest of our lives are planned on a wall calendar. I write absolutely everything on it, from term dates to hair appointments, play dates, birthdays and subscription cancel days, and refer to it hourly. One of our children has severe allergies, which makes life-scheduling quite tough; if he’s going on a sleepover or school trip, I’ll need to find out what they’re going to be eating and what he’s sleeping on, and that all needs to be planned weeks in advance.

When everyone is safely on their way, I try to snatch a moment to do some exercise – ideally cycling with some local women – but more often than not I head straight to the soap studio, where my two employees will already be at work, infusing the village with the scent of lavender. All our soaps are made by hand, which means each batch is time-consuming; I set myself an Alexa alert to remind me to collect my youngest son from school.

'Do I have enough time to myself? Probably not but who does?' says Anna-Louise Stewart
'Do I have enough time to myself? Probably not but who does?' says Anna-Louise Stewart - Clara Molden

I’d describe our meal plan as fluid. I do a big shop once every two weeks, in which I’m led by my eyes. I really enjoy cooking but I never follow a recipe; there’s definitely sausages once a week and a pasta night. Luke and I would like to eat with the children, but Barney is allergic to so many things that we often end up eating later. Sometimes it feels as if I started cooking at 5pm and am still at it at 9pm.

Luke books our holidays. He waits for me to tell him where we should go and then he works out all the logistics, which isn’t easy with Barney’s allergies, as we have to be near a hospital and in a country where we can read the food labels.

I tend to work at weekends, which is when most of the fairs and markets take place. I wish I didn’t have to; it makes me question why I started a business, but Luke is a football coach and the boys are keen footballers, so they’re busy with that on Saturday mornings.

Do I have enough time to myself? Probably not but who does? I envy Luke, who happily takes himself to the driving range for an hour. I’m always too busy chasing my tail. But I do have a reasonably tidy sock drawer – isn’t that a sign of someone who is in control of their life?