How to Use Your Calendar Properly

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Podcast 80

Your calendar, probably the most powerful productivity tool you have in your toolbox. On this week’s episode of the Working With Podcast, I answer a question about how to get the most out it.

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Script

Hello and welcome to episode 80 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week’s episode is all about the humble calendar. They’ve been around for a very long time is one form or another and because of their simplicity have helped millions of people through the ages to schedule their work and to create amazing things. 

Before I get in to this week’s question, though, I wanted to give you a heads up to a couple of very special offers I have on at the moment, not only do I have my Complete Guide To Creating A Successful Life course at 50% off, I also have a Spring Special on where you can get two courses for the price of one. Yes, you can get From Disorganised to Productivity Mastery in 3 Days for FREE when you buy Your Digital Life 2.0 Online. That’s a value of over $240 for just $65.00. 

That 2 for 1 offer is on for a limited time only so hurry. Remember, with all my courses once you are enrolled you are enrolled for life and will get all future updates for free. All the details are in this week’s show notes

Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Sanjid. Sanjid asks: Carl, I really struggle to know how to use my calendar. I use a to-do list manager and I don’t know what I should be putting on my calendar and what to put on my to-do list. Can you help clarify things for me? 

Hi Sanjid, thank you for your question. It’s a very valid question and what to put on a calendar and what to put on a to-do list can cause quite a lot of confusion at times. 

Before we go into the specifics lets take a step back and look at how not just your calendar and to-do list should work but also your notes as well.

We have three basic tools in our productivity armoury these days. The calendar, to-do list manager and your notes app. All three have a specific job to do. In a very basic way, your calendar tells you where you need to be and with who on what day and time. Your to-do list tells you what tasks you need to perform on a specific day or within a specific project and your notes is where you keep all your ideas, meeting notes and other similar reference materials. 

Now a good productivity habit is to keep a hard edge between these three tools. What that means is you do not duplicate. When you keep a clean edge between these tools you don’t need to have tasks in your calendar or events in your to-do list. 

What should happen is you look at your calendar and see what meetings and appointments you have and where you need to be, and then look at your to-do list manager to see what tasks you can complete in between those meetings and appointments or if there is anything you need to do at a particular location. 

For example, Let’s say you start the day and look at your calendar. Your calendar tells you you have a meeting with your boss at 9:30am at your office. You can then go to your to-do list manager and pull up your tag or label for your boss and see what actions you have that relate to your boss. During the meeting, you would take notes into your notes app, and after the meeting transfer any tasks to your to-do list manager—and that should not take you more than a few minutes. 

That’s essentially how everything should work. 

The whole point of keeping these tools separate is to avoid overwhelm and a confusing mess. I’ve seen people try and keep their tasks and appointments in a calendar or trying to keep everything in a hybrid calendar, task list and notes manager and in almost every case it has ended in tears. You end up with things all over the place and in today’s world of massive distractions, it becomes incredibly easy to miss something important. When that happens you lose trust in your whole system and then things become worse because you no longer collect everything.

Your calendar is also your best planning tool. When you use your calendar properly—for events—you can see what your future days look like. You will know when you have a forthcoming business trip or workshop and on those days you can remove all but the essential tasks from your task list. You know you will not have much time to do tasks on those days because you need to be fully engaged in your workshop or you will be involved in back to back meetings. On those days you switch into what I like to call “collection mode”. This is where you are not completing tasks, instead, you are just collecting. 

It also means you can plan ahead. Let’s say you have an offsite two-day workshop on Wednesday and Thursday next week and you have an important project update to present on the following Friday morning. When you have the workshop and the presentation scheduled in your calendar, you will see that and know immediately that you need to get the presentation completed by Tuesday at the latest leaving you only needing to practice your presentation on Thursday evening or early Friday morning. Alternatively, you may see the workshop and presentation and decide to request a postponement of the presentation to the following week. Without that kind of alert, you are going to be worrying about preparing the presentation while you are doing the workshop which means you will not be able able to fully engage with the workshop and so not get the full benefit of what you are learning. 

In my experience workshops and business trips are often planned quite far into the future. I know, for example, I have a workshop in Singapore in September, which is four months away. At the moment, I do not need to do anything about it, but as it is a four-day workshop I will need to arrange hotel accommodation and, of course, my flights to and from Singapore. The event is scheduled in my calendar as an all-day event which prevents me from double booking myself, and I have a project for the workshop in my to-do list manager that will tell me to organise my flights and hotel accommodation on the 1st July—two months before the event. 

And that is a good example of a to-do list and a calendar working together. My calendar is telling where I will be, and my to-do list manager tells me what I need to do. 

Of course, there will be other tasks associated with the workshop. I will need to arrange to cancel any classes I have on the days I am in Singapore and I will need to block the dates on my client scheduling system so I do not double book myself. All these are tasks and are in my to-do list manager. They are tasks, not events.

And that is the clear blue water between your calendar and your to-do list manager. Tasks go on your to-do list, events go on your calendar. 

What you want to develop is a calendar that allows you to quickly see what you have on, and where you will be on a particular day so you can make granular decisions about what tasks you will do on those days. 

When you put everything on your calendar—tasks and events—it becomes incredibly difficult to see at a glance what you need to do. When something looks full and busy you will resist looking at it and when you do look at it you will feel overwhelmed and things will get missed. 

Now there is another area where your calendar can help you and that is with doing focused work. I’ve found, psychologically, that when I schedule a period of writing time on my calendar I am much less likely to resist doing it. I have a recurring task on my calendar every Monday morning for writing. Now, generally I will write my weekly blog post at that time, but occasionally, I have something else that needs writing that is important. Because I use the general term “writing time” on my calendar, I get to choose what I write. Likewise, I have time blocked out on a Friday afternoon for recording my YouTube videos. My calendar does not have anything specific, just “video recording time”. That way I know I will have a three-hour block to record videos. If I need to record anything specific it will be in my to-do list manager and that task will come up on Friday so I know I have something specific to record. 

This all means that when I look at my calendar either the night before or when I am doing a weekly review I get to see the blocks of times I have allocated for the work I have to do and I get to see where I have gaps for doing errands or other unscheduled work that comes up such as phone calls, sorting out student issues or just to take some time out and get some fresh air. 

Finally, a tip for those of you struggling to fit in your hobbies, side projects or exercise to your week. Schedule the time in your calendar. Every Sunday afternoon when I do my weekly review I schedule out my exercise for the week. I like to exercise five times a week and exercise is an important part of my life. So it gets scheduled. I can look at my calendar and see what I have on and where I need to be and then fit in my exercise time. Again, once it is on my calendar it becomes much more difficult to find an excuse not to exercise. It also helps me to prepare mentally for it and to decide—based on how I feel on the day—what kind of exercise I will do. 

So there you go, Sanjit. I hope that has helped you and given you some ideas on how best to use your calendar. Thank you for your question and thank you to all of you for listening. Don’t forget, if you have a question you would like me to answer on this podcast, all you have to do is get in touch either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. 

It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.