There’s excitement and anxiousness in the air at back to school time, but for many parents, this time of year can also bring about a little dread. As in: Ugh. Here comes the deluge of To-Do lists and classroom paperwork and lunch-packing and scheduling and on and on. So next up in our back to school tech guide, we present you with 10 of the best organizational apps for parents to help start the school year on the right foot. Whether you’re an Android lover, an iPhone addict, or yeah, even a few for you Backberry holdouts.
1. For Better Time Management: Timeful app
I’ve always been interested in behavioral science (why we humans do the things we do), so I was immediately intrigued by this new app. It “learns” about you — your productivity habits, routines and behaviors — and builds a personalized schedule just for you . It’s essential an Intelligent Time Assistant that combines your calendars, to-do lists, appointments, etc., to help you better manage your time. And, thanks to its behavioral economics-based, advanced algorithms, Timeful even makes suggestions for you to start healthier habits, too, like meditate 3 times a week. I really like that Timeful syncs up with iCal and imports your existing events and tasks into an in-app daily view. Everything in one, clean, colorful place. (Free download for iOS on iTunes.)
2. For Creating the Most Organized Life: Checkmark 2 app
I’ve recommended this app before, and still think it’s a handy one to have in your arsenal when trying to carve out an organized life for yourself. The updated version was redesigned specifically to work hand-in-hand with iOS7. The fact that you can set location-based reminders remains one of the best features of this app. It’s also cool that you can time your reminders out in a way that makes sense for real life. For example, set a reminder to Take fish out of freezer 20 minutes after you get home. So even if you — like a certain friend of mine (ahem) — get home and launch into helping your son with something else, forgetting all about the salmon chilling in the freeze box, guess who remembered? Yep, Checkmark 2.
Real talk? At $9.99, the app is pricey, but it’s a good investment for those of you who rely heavily on your iPhone to keep you on time and on track of your busy life. And less than a paper date minder. (Available for iOS on iTunes for $9.99.)
3. For Managing All Those Class and Team Lists: Ringya app
If you ask me, I’d say a good half of parenthood is about lists. And when our kids are school age, that fraction jumps to three-quarters. There are class lists, school supplies lists, carpool lists, team rosters, PTA contact lists, volunteer group lists, and maybe even some lists of just lists. Ringya feels your pain. Use this app to digitize all of those lists with a simple snap of a photo. You can also manually input “Rings” or scan info from an Excel spreadsheet (because we all just love those) by emailing it to rings @rinya.com. It’s added into your account automatically, no sweat. Share Rings with friends and send a group message to folks from you new, super-organized lists. I’m already envisioning a paper-free life for us all. (Free download on iTunes and Google Play).
4. For Coordinating School-Year Volunteer Efforts: VolunteerSpot app
Wrangling volunteers takes work. That’s why you need this stalwart app in your life to make it a little easier. We’ve raved about the app before, because it’s just that helpful. If you’re taking on the duties as class parent this year or heading up the spring fundraiser, VolunteerSpot will keep track of your all the volunteers, scheduling, and overall organization activities online — consolidated in one neat place. People can access your sign-up sheets online without downloading anything or creating an account. The app makes it easy to send out last-minute change notifications and reminders to the whole group. Read: no more Reply-All email chains. Slow-clap for that alone. There’s also a newly-added Clipboard for iPad that makes signing up as easy as passing your tablet around the room, and it’s free. Peace out ,paper sign-up sheets. (Available on iTunes and Google Play for $1.99.)
5. For Group Calling: Without Dialing the Whole Group: Callbot App
If you’ve ever been in the position to call 27 parents about a snow day, let six coworkers know about a last minute meeting change, or try to wrangle a ton of missing RSVPs the day before a birthday party you know that sometimes email just doesn’t do the trick. Instead, you can go old school in a new school way with Callbot, a highly rated app that lets you make a single call and hit tons of people on your list. It lets you know if the line is busy or sends to voice mail if there’s no answer. Plus, you can see all the received calls so yeah, sorry. No “oops it must have ended up in my spam!” Plus there’s no reply:all feature which we’re sure your call list will be grateful for. The app is free if you call less than 20 people. But if you plan on using it for a big list, you can buy packages of calls starting at $.99 to call 20 people, or spend $7.99 should you have 160 of your closest friends and family who need to hear about that birth announcement right from your own mouth. (Available on Google Play and on iTunes for iOS free, with in-app purchases for large calling lists.)
6. For Preserving the Kids Artwork Digitally: Artkive app
Trying to store every piece of artwork Jackson and Talulah bring home from school will only land you on an episode of Hoarders: Proud Parents Edition. There’s only so much room we have in any given home. No list of the best organizational apps for parents would be complete without Artkive, which is truly easy way to help you kick the clutter habit while preserving the sweetness of all that special artwork. Especially the 3-D stuff that ends up in storage purgatory forever. Instead, simply snap a pic of your child’s carefully crafted green horse and orange castle, tag it by child’s name, date or grade via the dropdown menu, and it gets stored chronologically in the app’s cloud. Then you can share with friends or turn your child’s artwork into a hardcover book. Where you’ll store the books, well, that’s up to you. (Available on iTunes for $4.99 and on Google Play for free.)
7. For Help with Lunch Planning: LaLa Lunchbox app
My son’s heading into kindergarten this fall. This means he’ll be packing lunch, which is new territory for me — his pre-K school provided healthy hot lunches. Now I’ll have to come up with lunch menu every single weeknight. Cue the brow sweat, right? Nope. Not when LaLa Lunchbox’s got my back. The app makes meal-planning fun and gets your kids involved in the process, letting them select foods for their lunch using kooky monsters, colorful designs and sounds. LaLa Lunchbox’s food library is loaded with healthy choices in the vital fruits, veggies and protein categories, and snack options, too. Plus, you can sync between multiple iOS devices with ease and add items to a handy grocery list. And once you and the kids agree that today’s lunch rocks, you can save that meal to your favorites list. (Free download for iOS on iTunes.)
8. For Help With Dinner Ideas: How to Cook Everything app
If I ever come into a mountain of money, one of the first things I’d probably line up is a personal chef. I mean, I like baking and cooking, but the amount of thought and prep work involved with doing it every night is exhausting. And we haven’t even tackled the how do you make this? part of things yet. Well, culinary know-it-all and cookbook god Mark Bittman’s app is going to coach you through it with his 2,000 recipes and 400 illustrations, plus tips, techniques and menu ideas all to help you over the how-to hump and move you beyond noodles with butter for the third night in a row.
There’s one more big reason we keep recommending this app every chance we get — well, besides the Quick Dinners section — which is that the app is self-contained. No Wi-Fi connection is necessary to use it. Seems like the perfect time to say: Now we’re cooking with gas! (Available for iPhone on iTunes for $4.99. Also a Vegetarian How to Everything version available for iPhone and iPad for $9.99 which is completely worth it.)
9, 10. For Storing Anything and Everything: Dropbox App and Carousel by Dropbox app
It’s not the newest or shiniest, but none of us around here could live without the original Dropbox. It stores all of our important work docs, the kids’ medical forms, contact list spreadsheets, recipes, insurance forms–you know. Everything. And the ability to access it all from our phones or tablets at any time, anywhere, is indispensable. Just this month, Dropbox for Android 2.4.3 was released with additions like document previews of Word, PPT and PDF files, and way better search, which we’ve been pining for. Plus? Finally a way to get all those photos off your PC or phone and into the cloud, safely. Oof, those automatic camera uploads are really a parent’s lifesaver.
However if most of your storage is related to photos, be sure to check out the new Carousel by Dropbox app, free (Android, iOS, shown above). It combines your phone photos with your Dropbox library of photos, automatically uploads new ones, and stores them all by event for easy search. We dig it a whole lot.
(Dropbox available free on Google Play and iTunes for iOS, plus Blackberry and Kindle Fire with extra charges for additional storage)
More from our 2014 Back to School Tech Guide
– 16 best math apps for kids of all ages
– 12 of the best educational apps for preschoolers
– 11 of the Best reading apps for kids
– 16 best science apps for kids of all ages