Can you remember when you last scheduled time for reflection (looking back) or for focusing on work projects (looking forward)? The answer to that question may very well be no, and your reason may be that you’re just too busy trying to get everything done. The problem is unfortunately this tendency to react rather than plan will eventually wear you out, and if you’re a manager, it’ll wear your team out as well.
This is where calendar management can save the day!
Calendar management is something that we all do, but probably not in a very efficient way. We may only check our calendars sporadically, or when we need to organise time with another person, whether that’s a colleague or a client. Sometimes, this can mean booking meetings directly into your calendar without considering your to-do list and project deadlines, leaving you with fewer working hours than you truly need.
In this blog, we’ll provide you with an introductory guide to calendar management, including why it’s so important, how you can get started, and how you can effectively utilise your calendar to enhance your time management and productivity in the long term.
What is calendar management?
In its simplest form, calendar management is a process for managing your time. Done well, it facilitates increased productivity and better work-life balance.
So, what does effective calendar management look like?
An optimised calendar should be an essential tool in your productivity kit. Firstly, it should contain all the important tasks and events in your life, so that you don’t have to hold all of this data inside your busy brain. Secondly, it should give you a clear and realistic overview of your available time, helping you to prioritise your work, set expectations with your colleagues and clients, and collaborate without conflict.
What are the benefits of calendar management?
There are many benefits to calendar management, but here are our top four:
1. Reduced cognitive load
An effectively managed calendar becomes a single source of truth. It becomes an accessible and easily searchable archive, where we can store all our important appointments, events and deadlines. Having all this information in a separate space frees our minds for creativity and strategic thinking.
2. Enhanced productivity
When we’re busy, often the last thing that we have time for is planning out our day, we just want to get stuck in and get going through our to-do lists. However, what we fail to understand is that when we take the time to organise our calendars, we can more accurately prioritise our tasks for the week or month ahead and actually get more done. Why? Because having a greater understanding of our schedules allows us to pay attention to important tasks and deprioritise or reduce time on those that aren’t.
3. Supports work-life balance
There are many ways that you can use your calendar to set boundaries between your work and personal life, for example by setting hard stop times, and blocking out of work hours so that there are no unexpected meetings that you need to attend. You can also block time in your calendar for personal activities to ensure that you’re pursuing objectives outside of work.
4. Better team communication
Ever had a plan for your morning when suddenly a meeting gets booked in at 9AM?! When you have a well-organised calendar, unexpected meetings are a rare occurrence. Better still, if you share your calendar with your team they’ll have a clear view of your availability, and you’ll all save time lost on the back and forth of scheduling a meeting that suits all parties.
Selecting your calendar
There are many different elements to consider when selecting your calendar and deciding whether to use a digital or physical system, for example, ease, accessibility and presentability.
Digital vs paper calendars
The biggest benefit of using a physical paper calendar is increased memory. Studies have proven that the act of writing notes helps us to remember information more accurately. A paper calendar is also generally more portable, and you don’t have to rely on battery power to access it!
However, when it comes to digital calendars, their benefits strongly outweigh any negatives. You can update, and share information far more easily than with a paper calendar. You can integrate digital calendars with your email and/or task management system, and you can set up repeat events and reminders, instead of writing out this information again and again. Finally, a digital calendar is generally more visually appealing and organised.
But, really, the truth is that the best calendar is one that you will use and that will deliver on your objectives.
Setting up your calendar
Once you have selected a calendar that fulfils your requirements, the next stage is to set it up using the three steps set out below:
Step 1: Identifying your ‘life buckets’
We all lead very different, multi-dimensional lives. We have our work life, our student life, our home life, our social life, and perhaps our fitness life, and on it goes.
If we want to have a comprehensive and helpful digital calendar we should begin by considering capturing all the various elements of our lives into different ‘buckets’.
Take time to compose a list of the various activities and events that you are involved in and group those with similar characteristics together.
Your list of life buckets may look like this (or it may be much shorter or longer):
- Work tasks
- Work meetings
- Family time
- Health appointments
Step 2: Colour coding
Once you have finalised your list of ‘life buckets’ you should assign each of them a different colour. This visual distinction in your calendar can be really helpful in providing you with a clearer picture of what your week looks like. At a glance, you can see what you’re spending your time on, and it may also give you an indication that you need to enhance your work:life balance.
When assigning these colours, you may consider having separate buckets for the types of work tasks that you need to do e.g. blue tasks are shallow work or admin-related and red tasks are high-priority or deep-work tasks.
In most digital calendar apps you can assign each event a different colour. In Outlook, you can use the ‘categories’ feature, in Google, you can use ‘event colours’. If you’re using a paper calendar you can achieve the same effect using highlighter or symbols.
Step 3: Consider your ‘Swim lanes’
You can also take the option of creating swim lanes for your workday. This entails creating recurring blocks of time each for specific types of tasks. E.g. 1st-morning block for deep work tasks, 2nd block for shallow work tasks and a 3rd block for meetings.
These swim lanes create a structure to help you plan your work week, with high-priority tasks being scheduled to be completed in the morning block, and meetings only being scheduled within the 3rd block, for example.
Setting up events
Set up recurring events
One massive advantage that digital calendars have over their physical counterparts is the ability to add recurring events. If you have an event that takes place every day, every week or even every third Friday every quarter, you should create a recurring event for it.
Create the event once, specify at what time it occurs, at what frequency, and when it will cease to occur and you’ll never have to schedule it again!
Here are two types of events that we recommend you set up to get you started:
We all know how easy it is to get caught up in our work and forget to take breaks. That’s where your trusty calendar comes to the rescue! We recommend setting up a recurring lunch break in your calendar and ideally, a mid-morning and mid-afternoon break too. This is a great way of safeguarding your lunch breaks and prompting yourself to take a much-needed break from your screen.
Whether it’s a regular team standup or a 1 to 1 catch-up with a colleague, meetings are a vital part of team collaboration. Instead of manually scheduling them every time, save yourself the hassle by creating recurring meeting events in your calendar.
By setting up these recurring meetings, you streamline your scheduling process and avoid the headache of the constant back-and-forth with team members to find suitable time slots. Plus, your calendar will ensure that you never miss an important team huddle or meeting again.
Now, let’s dive deeper into the realm of productivity and focus.
Schedule time for deep focus
Have you ever experienced that state of flow, where you’re completely absorbed in your work and the outside world seems to fade away? That’s the magic of deep focus time. It’s the dedicated time you set aside to immerse yourself in complex tasks without distractions, skyrocketing your productivity and quality of work.
To achieve this magical state, it’s essential to schedule specific blocks of time in your calendar for deep focus sessions. We recommend carving out these blocks during your most productive hours, which are typically in the morning when your energy levels are at their highest.
Schedule time for goals/professional development
We are all a work in progress, and your calendar can reflect that beautifully! It’s crucial to allocate dedicated time for your personal and professional growth. Just as you schedule meetings with colleagues, why not schedule meetings with yourself to work on your goals and development?
Whether it’s learning a new skill, attending a webinar, or working on a passion project, these activities deserve a spot in your calendar. By setting aside time for goals and professional development, you’re not just making time for yourself, you’re investing in your future success.
Sharing your calendar
Sharing your calendar doesn’t mean sacrificing your privacy. It’s a helpful feature that leads to efficient teamwork and seamless scheduling.
When your teammates can quickly see your availability and vice versa, it eliminates the need for endless email threads or confusing MS Team messages. With shared calendars, you can coordinate effortlessly and focus on what truly matters: getting things done together.
And don’t worry, you can still decide on the extent of the information that you share and with whom.
Using your calendar
Make it a habit to check your calendar daily, ideally as part of your end-of-day shutdown ritual or your morning routine. By ending your day with a clear view of your schedule for the day ahead, you’ll set the tone for a productive and focused day, with zero surprises.
Schedule a block of time each week (or maybe create a recurring event every Friday morning?) to review and plan for the week ahead. This weekly update session is your chance to take a step back, evaluate your progress, realign your focus and set priorities for the coming week.
No more missed deadlines or overlooked appointments! Your digital calendar’s notification feature is your personalised alert system, reminding you of important events.
Set up notifications for events that require your immediate attention (e.g. an upcoming project deadline) or those that might easily slip your mind (those webinars that you keep missing!).
We hope you’ve found this guide useful in understanding how to manage your calendar and your time.
We know that it can be a challenge to change your habits, but with the tips we’ve shared above, we believe anyone can make their schedules run more smoothly!
And remember, your calendar is not just a tool for work-related tasks, it’s a canvas for crafting a well-rounded, fulfilled life.