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I tried a family organiser app for a week but nothing changed

An app is only as good as the data you feed into it— and the mental load needs to be shared

There’s an app for that
There’s an app for that

Anyone who has run a household with children, pets, grandparents, outings, doctor and dentist appointments, extra classes, the neverending kiddie birthday parties, and a thriving social life will know that the biggest challenge is one of coordination. The whole house of cards will (and does, frequently) fall apart if people are not — literally — on the same page about who’s doing what, who’s taking care of which chore, what the other members’ schedules are. 

If you’re not careful, you will schedule a vet visit at the same time that the child has to be ferried to a birthday party at the other end of town, or will find yourselves confronting the fact that both you and your partner thought the other person was ordering dessert for a dinner party at home.

As they say, there’s an app for that — in fact, there are several that allow you and your family to sync calendars, share tasks, and assign chores to various members of the family. They let you create to-do and shopping lists and have features that actually get the family on the same page. An end to all the bickering, am I right?

Well, let's see. I tested family coordination app Picniic for about a week, and downloaded it when our family schedules were threatening to get overwhelmingly complicated — my husband and I had multiple meetings through the day, had started stepping out to meet friends, and had a hundred and one other household tasks to perform while our teenage daughter had a revolving roster of music and Kumon classes, extra coaching, and her own social life.

Also read: Four new to-do apps to organise your life

Picniic lets you create multiple profiles for each member of the family. It has a calendar widget that allows all the members to update it with their own schedules and see what others have scheduled. It can also sync with your other calendars like Google Calendar and iCal, but I didn’t find it easy to import the third-party calendars and went with the inbuilt one. 

Picniic does have several useful features, such as a shared shopping list that allows everyone to add what they need, so that one person can pick up everything at a go from the store or when they’re ordering stuff online. I found this particularly useful because I hate going to the store multiple times a week to pick up stuff that always gets added on after I’ve just completed a trip.

The primary app interface
The primary app interface

The to-do feature is also neat as it allowed me to assign chores to my husband and daughter, and it has several other features like photos and files sections where you can share family pictures and important documents. While I haven’t had the opportunity to try these yet, I can imagine scenarios where it would be useful — uploading medical prescriptions, important notes and emails from the school, exam schedules and suchlike.

But now we come to the tricky part — about who makes inputs into the app in the first place. I found that that responsibility fell squarely on me, yet again, and I had to remind my loving family multiple times to download the app, to look at updates, to check in at least once a day, and to add stuff on the app instead of sending a hasty WhatsApp voice note. 

It didn’t help that the Android version of the app is buggy and simply doesn’t sync across devices as smoothly as it should, as several other users have noted on the app’s page on Google Play Store. Moreover, most of the time we didn’t get notifications when someone made a note on the app or added something to the calendar — probably because notification settings on Android phones, especially the ones built on custom operating systems like Xioami’s, are complicated and need to be tweaked in order to enable apps to send alerts and notifications. And a simple ping or buzz won’t do — if your family is anything like mine, they need a sound alert that’s as loud as a siren and text that’s at least a 20 point font size.

Surely app makers should take all this into consideration when they create Android versions of popular iPhone apps?

However, technical quibbles aside, an app like this is only as good as the data you feed into it, and it will work well only if all members of the family are creating to-do lists and shopping lists and adding stuff to their calendars regularly. If it all just adds to my own mental load — where reminding my family to update the app gets added to my own bulging to-do list — it doesn’t really help anyone.

Other home-organisation apps to check out:

Cozi: Like Picniic, Cozi helps coordinate and communicate everyone’s schedules and activities, track grocery lists, manage to do lists, plan ahead for dinner, and keep the whole family on the same page. It also has a recipes and meal planning section that can be useful for families with members who have varying dietary restrictions, allergies etc.

Remember the Milk: The oldest app in this category, Remember the Milk helps get to-dos out of your head, and let the app remember for you. It comes with a set of solid notification nudges : you can get reminded via email, text, IM, Twitter, and mobile notifications and integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, Evernote, and even Twitter!

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