The last few years have been pretty messy. With the world succumbing to a viral plague, the climate crisis getting worse, and me moving in with my girlfriend, it has been a time of dramatic change for everyone here on Earth. And like fighting a global pandemic or climate change, my relationship takes a lot of organizing.
Things were going well until, like most couples we know, we massively overcommitted to things. I’m a freelance writer managing multiple clients, while my girlfriend is a locum veterinary nurse doing a part-time Master’s degree and lecturing on the side. We also have two dogs, a cat, and more hobbies than we probably should. Keeping on top of it all was turning into a full-time job.
With things starting to fall through the cracks late last year (a missed deadline here, a 5 am bout of insomnia there), I decided to take things in hand and, like any good productivity writer, find an app to offload all my worries onto.
There is actually a small industry of productivity apps designed exclusively for couples, so they were my first try. Unfortunately, every one I checked fell short for us, for one of the following reasons:
It was no longer actively being developed.It was overpriced with very limited features.It was just awful to use. (Seriously, some of these apps are more likely to cause a breakup than help.)
Since no app developer had bothered to make a workable solution for us, I realized I had to roll my own. So, if you and your partner(s) are looking to get a bit more organized too, here’s how you can go about it.
What We Were Trying to Do
My girlfriend and I had a couple of problems we needed to solve:
We had a lot of totally different things going on, so we needed to find a way to stop us double-booking ourselves, or missing important due dates and deadlines. (In other words, we needed a calendar.)We had loads of future plans (mostly to do with the dogs) and we needed some way to centralize and formalize them so we could actually book things, instead of forgetting to and panicking at the last minute.We needed some way to store important documents, general ideas, recipes, and the like.And we both had to be able to check all this without constantly asking annoying questions of the other person.A Shared Calendar (Each)
The biggest change in our lives came from setting up—and actually using—a shared Google Calendar. Or, well, three of them. (You could use any calendar app here, but Google’s is free, cross-platform, and we both already had accounts.)
The most important is the joint calendar. This is set up so we can both add and edit events. We use it to schedule dog training sessions, nights out, and basically anything we’ll be doing together.
We also have a shared calendar each—but the other person has read access to it. This way, my girlfriend can add all her shifts in practice, lecture times, and assignment due dates, and I can make sure she doesn’t forget—slash, plan my naps around her schedule.
One advantage of this setup is we can both use whatever calendar app we like. My girlfriend sticks with the stock Google Calendar app, but I’m a big fan of Fantastical on macOS and iOS.
A Trello Board
Even before the productivity overhaul, it wasn’t that hard to keep on top of the urgent fires—the dogs got fed, my work (mostly) got done, we didn’t go too many days without showering. The problem was we never really managed to sort the things we wanted to do, like agility lessons for the dogs, a film photography course I was interested in, or having a spa day. Once or twice a week we’d have a conversation about one of these things, but we’d never actually take action. Which is where Trello comes in.
If you’re not familiar with Trello, it’s basically a digital white board with everything sorted into columns that you can configure however you need. We have columns set up for different household tasks, the dogs, ourselves, trips we’re planning to take, and other stuff that’s relevant to our lives.
Each task, plan, or potential whatever gets a card in the appropriate column. There’s one for those agility lessons, another for my course, and a third for that spa weekend away. We can then add comments, share links, and generally just plan things properly.
There are loads of more advanced Trello features we aren’t using yet so we can get by on the free plan, but so far it’s meant that the things we want to do are happening more often—and with less hectic last-minute rush.
A Central Notes App
As important as future planning is, we also have an incredible amount of stuff going on right now that we need to keep track of—like the names of our favorite baristas and bartenders, or how to make our go-to Mexican chicken salad. For that, we needed a central notes app, database, and info dump location.
We use Craft, which I love for its flexibility, but it’s currently a macOS and iOS exclusive (though a web app is coming soon). It’s part of a new kind of notes app built around linking notes to other notes that are linked to other notes. You basically create your own personal Wikipedia for your life. Notion and Obsidian are two of the other standout cross-platform options you could try here, but you can also use any app that allows you to share notes with someone else.
We use our notes app as a dump for anything that doesn’t fit neatly into a calendar or Trello. Some of the stuff we’ve thrown in there include:
Takeaways from dog training sessions.Receipts for some car repairs.My girlfriend’s strength program.A list of wines we like.
And so on and so on. It’s been really useful keeping a sort-of joint couple database. Sure, it’s been really odd too—but more useful.
Putting It All Together
The best productivity system is, as always, the one you’ll actually use. It doesn’t matter how carefully tagged and sorted your to-dos are, if you don’t bother to keep them up to date.
So far, things are working well for us. I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure the apps are kept relatively current, so there have been no double-bookings or missed deadlines, and an acceptable amount of 5 am insomnia given the state of the world.
If I’ve convinced you to put a similar situation into practice, your first step is to discuss with and convince your partner(s). (This is easiest done a few days after a disaster; doing it immediately just starts an argument. Not that I’d know.)
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