iCloud 101: Know your family’s Calendar

In the business world, meeting invitations are considered mandatory if you are emailed one directly, and only optional if you are carbon copied. These arcane rules work great in an office when everyone understands this business etiquette.  But what if you’re scheduling a family event and your son or daughter does not accept your invitation, say, to pick them up from soccer practice?  Do you figure out if you still need to pick them up, or do you reschedule?  Using the business world’s invitation system just flat out will not work with kids. I know from experience, they will not accept your invitations.

So what is the solution?  Knowing family members’ busy schedules can be more than useful, it can be a way to stay connected with one another.  Thankfully, there is more than one way to keep an entire family up to date with the various events we have in our lives. The following is a list of three different techniques that members of an iCloud-using family can stay connected and share their schedules with one another.

Create one family calendar account

One Family Account

Having a single family iCloud account set up on all of your Apple(s AAPL) products is one such technique.  Anyone can add any event at any time and everyone will see it instantly.  This may be the easiest way to go, but it does require some initial setup and configuration.  Here is what you need to do to set up a shared iCloud account on your family’s devices:

  • On the first family member’s device you are going to create a new AppleID at and set up an iCloud account associated with that AppleID.
  • In the System Preferences of each family member’s Mac, add a new account using the AppleID and password you just created.
  • In the Settings of each family member’s iOS device, add a new account using the AppleID and password you just created.
  • On all devices, ensure that the Calendar option is turned on in each account’s respective mail settings.

Once all of the devices are configured, you just start creating calendars and adding events as if it was your own personal account.  You can even use this one iCloud account to share notes, reminders and contacts.  Basically keep all of your family’s business up to date and in one place.

Share multiple calendars for common events

Share Calendars

Sharing calendars requires everyone to share and subscribe to each others’ calendars.  Not exactly practical for everyday events, but it may make makes sense for stuff that is set in stone like school calendars, holidays and game schedules.  These events may not limited to just one family and can be shared with just about anyone.  Sharing all of the events that you add to a particular calendar can be accomplished by performing the following tasks:

  • Create a New Calendar in iCal.  Choose the account you want to share from.
  • Select the Calendar you created in iCal’s Calendar List View on the left and then select the Share Calendar option from the Edit menu.
  • Determine if you want to share the Calendar with everyone, or just a few individuals from your Contacts List.
  • If sharing with everyone, copy the Calendar’s URL by right clicking on the Calendar entry you created in iCal’s Calendar List View.

Subscribing to a shared calendar is accomplished by selecting New Calendar Subscription from iCal’s File Menu.  On the screen that pops up, just enter the Calendar’s URL that you want to subscribe to.  Keep in mind that this technique will share all events added to that particular calendar.  So you will want to create multiple calendars for each of the social events that are important to the family.  Currently, sharing and subscribing to shared calendars can only be set up via iCal on OS X.  And any shared calendars that you manually add on any of your iOS devices will not push to iCloud.

Send invitations on special occasions

Send Invitations

There are still times when sending an invitation does work: For invitees that you do not want to let create and edit events on your shared family calendar, and those one-off events that do not make sense to create their own shared calendar.  The benefit of using iCloud’s invitation system is that you can also see who has accepted, who has declined, and who has not done anything at all.

  • Create a new Event and enter in the title as well as a date and time for the new event.
  • Select Add Invitees and enter in the e-mail address of those you wish to invite.
  • Send the invitation.

Recipients of an iCloud invitation will be able to RSVP by accepting, declining or indicating that they might be attending the event.  Two things you need to keep in mind when inviting someone to an event: what account you are using to create the event with, and where the invitees have their accounts.  Not every email service supports calendars, and not every calendar supports the ability to invite others to an event.  When sending from your iCloud account, the RSVP status of the invitation will be managed regardless of what email system the recipient is using.

With these three techniques, you should be able to manage your family’s busy schedule.  Each one can be used separately, or you can use a combination of the three depending on what you hope to accomplish.  Try one out just to see if you feel it will help everyone know, where everyone is at.  It may surprise you when you see how many events your entire family manages each week.