Saying goodbye to summer and diving into a new school year of early-morning wakeups, lengthy homework routines and extra-curricular demands can be stressful for the whole family.

Then throw into the mix your need to maintain a productive job search and even the most organized among us can feel off-kilter when September rolls around.

Here’s some tough love: “First, stop referring to it as ‘chaos,’” says Laura Vanderkam, Author, “I Know How She Does It,” “168 Hours,” and “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.” “People have gone back to school for decades without it being a crisis. You will be fine. The kids will be fine.”

Instead, follow these expert tips for keeping the back-to-school process as stress-free as possible.


If the following scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. After logging on to your computer to check email, you move to updating a spreadsheet containing your list of contacts, then find yourself sucked in to Web research. Before you know it, your kids are on their way home from school and your to-do list is none the shorter.

“Part of what makes job-hunting stressful is that there is no ‘right’ amount of time to spend on it,” says Vanderkam. “It can expand to fill all available space.”

To avoid letting your entire day go off the rails, “assign yourself a certain set of job-searching tasks per day,” she says. “This might include meeting one person for coffee, reaching out to an old colleague, or connecting with three people who work at a target company on LinkedIn. When you’re done, you’re done, and you can relax and deal with the mom stuff.” 

Write Everything Down

Make no mistake: This doesn’t mean jot dentist appointments on a Post-It or on the back of an envelope hanging out on the kitchen counter. Vanderkam, for example, uses a paper calendar to keep track of the comings and goings of her four kids.

“What’s important is that everything goes on there: work and personal,” she says. “You have one life, so you have one calendar. That keeps you from accidentally scheduling a school volunteer gig right after a job interview, which will leave you stressed when the interview goes longer than planned.”

Rely On Apps

If using your smartphone or iPad to stay on top of things works better for you, have at it.

Clear, ($4.99) an app that’s available on iOS, OS X, and Apple Watch, allows you to organize your to-dos by category (ie: job search), so you can check them off entirely as you go. It also syncs with your other devices via the cloud, and sends you reminders and push notifications for especially time-sensitive tasks. If you rely on the help of a nanny or babysitter, or share household responsibilities with a spouse, Wunderlist (free) allows both of you to share, comment and collaborate on any to-do, meaning you can create a shared list for late-afternoon pickups and evening homework duties, while toggling between that and your job search list.

Outfit Your Space

Dahlia Bellows, a professional organizer and owner of Your Amazing Space, has created what she calls her “Command Center” in a nook in the kitchen of her Manhattan apartment. It’s the place where she puts a master calendar with color-coded categories for each of her three kids, aged 8, 61/2 and 5.

“The reason why it’s in the command center is so that anyone who is tending to the children — their father, grandparents, our babysitters — is aware of the master schedule,” she says. “I suggest setting up the schedule before school starts so that it can be reviewed by everyone. My command center happens to be in the kitchen, but it could be in the mudroom if someone is in a house, it could be in the foyer, it could be in the den. Snafus obviously occur, but in general if you have the set schedule, a working parent, especially one who’s not in the house during the day, can coordinate the necessary resources that are needed to make the day-to-day run smoothly for the kids and family as a whole.”

Let Things Settle Into Place

“All may not go perfectly at first, but within a few weeks, you will have a new schedule and new routine figured out,” says Vanderkam. “Also, keep it in perspective. If you have two children who each have three back-to-school related events that take three hours apiece, this would be a grand total of eighteen hours. It’s not that much in the grand scheme of things.”