Top 5 technology must-haves for busy families

Feb 24, 2010 at 5:17 p.m. ET

Let's face it: Just when we think family life can't possibly get any busier, it always does. If you're thinking you'll never be able to get organized or stay in touch as well or often as you'd like, think again. Our top five tech must-haves help keep busy families calm, cool and connected.

Child web-caming with father

Even if your child is much more tech savvy than you -- and whose kids aren't? -- these five technology picks for families are easy to incorporate in your family's busy life.

1. A shared calendar system

Whether it's iCal to Google Calendar, having one central place to see the entire family's activities is not only a great time saver but also an excellent organizational tool. I love iCal because my husband, two kids and I enter our own appointments, and I can view everyone's calendar individually or all at once. It also automatically syncs with the iCal on my iPhone and vice versa. iLove it.

Gail K., mother of three, started calendar sharing when her daughter got her driver's license. "We needed to know when she needed a car, and she needed to know when she couldn't have a car," she explains. "At the time, we were all using PCs, and all using Outlook. However, now, she and I use the Mac calendar, and we can share appointments with each other and my husband who is not on a Mac."

2. Video Chat

Whether your child is away at college or you have to go out of town on a business trip, video chatting is an easy, fun way to stay in touch. Newer computers typically come with built-in video cameras, or you can purchase a camera that attaches to your computer via USB.

Ann G. has two children who attend separate out-of-state colleges. "We have been known to video chat to watch a TV show together," she says.

Gail K. loves video chat because it allows her to see (literally) that her daughter is doing well when she can't be with her.

3. A smart phone

iPhone. BlackBerry. Droid. The type of smart phone you use may come down to price or availability with your wireless carrier. Whatever you choose, having everything in one place is a huge timesaver and organizational tool. These phones typically can support your shared calendar applications, too.

4. A text plan

Exercise those fingers and learn how to text! You may not know all of the lingo, but you'll be surprised how easy it is to learn. From being able to let your child know you're running late to staying in touch with grandparents -- yes, they're texting, too -- you'll be your child's BFF in no time. Plus, texting plans can save you money on overages caused by talking too much and running out of minutes.

5. A portable hard drive to back up files, photos and more

Once you're organized, you won't want to lose the fruits of your labor. Digital photos, important emails, medical records, homework assignments -– they can disappear at any time. It's worth investing in a portable hard drive to back up all of your files. You'll be able to save important information from your laptop or desktop easily and regularly, just in case something goes wrong with your computer.