How To Use a Calendar To Boost Your Productivity
The humble calendar is a mighty tool when it comes to productivity: it schedules, eases the burden on the to-do list, and allows easy organization of projects and teams. Find out some ways you can leverage your calendar, which is likely connected to your email, and readily available on your smartphone, to be more productive with your workday.
Sync Your Calendar Across Devices
Make sure your calendar is always available—sync it across all devices, so you can easily check your schedule from your phone, desktop, and tablet. This will make it easy to see meetings at a glance, add reminders immediately (rather than writing “add reminder” on a list), and schedule meetings.
Free up space in your brain by adding time-sensitive to-dos and reminders to your calendar. Here are just a few reminders that might make sense to have on your calendar:
- Repeated tasks: Need to reconcile the books each month? Review a report on a quarterly basis? Any task that needs to be repeated weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just “occasionally,” can be added to the calendar.
- Due dates: If you have a project with several milestones, add the due dates to the calendar. You can also add a pre-due date reminder. That is, you can have “Project Plan Due” on Thursday, and set a reminder for Tuesday to “Review and Finalize Project Plan.”
- Follow Ups: Did your co-worker say he’d have a report to you on Tuesday? Did you send your assistant a request on Monday? You can set reminders to follow up on these various projects and requests.
- Break time: Do you often fall into a sea of work, only to emerge frazzled? Set yourself a reminder to step away from the computer—it’ll be a break for your eyes, an opportunity for a stretch, and you may very well find yourself re-energized after some time away.
You can either consistently schedule all of a day’s reminders for one time slot (e.g., 9 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.) or you can block off the amount of time you anticipate the task occupying.
Nearly every calendar will allow you to use color. This does more than make your calendar attractive (although aesthetics count, too, if you’re looking at something several times a day!). Colors allow you to quickly absorb your meeting schedule, if you’re spending too much time on project X and not enough of project Y, and important upcoming due dates.
There are lots of ways to use color. You can reserve one color for meetings, one color for personal appointments, and assign each project its own color. Or perhaps, it’s more important for you to use color to distinguish between in-office appointments, remote appointments, and reminders.
Play around until you can develop a system that works for you—what’s most important is that it’s intuitive. A system that requires you to remember the difference between navy and teal calendar events is likely too complicated.
Most web-based calendars allow sharing. This way, you can create a calendar to keep a project organized, and then share the milestones and due dates with co-workers. It’s not just your own due dates that you can put on a calendar; you can also put due dates for others on it. For editors or brand managers, this is an easy way to establish a promotional calendar. If you want, you can also create a separate work and personal calendar and sync them together.
Block Your Time
If you’re most productive in the morning—as so many of us are—block off a chunk of hours on the calendar, so that you don’t wind up being scheduled in a meeting. You can also block off time to work on projects. If you know, for instance, that you’ll need to spend two hours each month on bookkeeping, but have trouble finding uninterrupted time for the task, set aside two hours.
Look Back; Look Ahead
If you are using calendar for tasks, you get an added bonus of being able to assess your productivity and see how long a task took. Don’t underestimate how helpful this is: knowing how long it really takes to write a blog post, schedule an events, research vendors, or whatever required tasks you might be asked to do will help you manage expectations and not get overwhelmed.
As well as reviewing the past on your calendar, spend time looking ahead. If you have a day filling up with meetings, make sure to schedule yourself a lunch break. Or, see if you can move some tasks or meetings around.
Unlike a paper calendar, it’s easy to manipulate a digital calendar to show many views. For the long view, look at the entire month: Are you having a busy month? A quiet one with lots of opportunities to work on a side project? The week view will give you a sense of the flow from Monday to Friday—that way, a big Friday due date won’t be a surprise. Finally, the night before or early in the morning, make sure you have a good sense of the upcoming day’s schedule.
Schedule Meetings Wisely
Too many meetings can make anyone’s brain feel sluggish. Plus, after a day full of meetings, your to-do list might burgeon to unacceptable, unachievable levels. Before you accept a meeting invite, make sure it’s not coming at the end of a five-hour block of meetings. If it is, see if you can move the event (or one of the other meetings you have). Make sure you give yourself breaks for lunch—you can even preemptively schedule lunch on your calendar, if you like to eat at the same time each day. Also check to make sure you build in transportation time if any of your meetings take place in different locations.
Make Emails a Calendar Event
Got a time consuming email? Or did you get an email that requires a specific follow-up on a set date? Drag the email to your calendar, and make it an event—while not all email programs allow this, it’s a handy trick if you have it available. That way, you can forget about the email until when you need to respond or follow up.
Set Up Regular Check-Ins
This can be particularly handy if you work with people who are in lots of meetings, and have heavily scheduled calendars. Setting up meetings in advance will guarantee you some face time, and you can always cancel the meeting (free time!) if no updates or conversation is necessary.
Another option is to set up a semi-regular reminder to reach out to someone: this could be a former co-worker it’s important to keep in touch with, or a colleague that you’d mentoring. For people who have trouble keeping in touch, the calendar can be the perfect tool, providing a friendly reminder that it’s been a few months since your last contact.
More Tools to Boost Your Productivity
These workplace productivity apps, productivity software, and hacks will help you be even more efficient.