Between all of your work-related tasks, the endless barrage of meetings, personal commitments, and those pesky to-do-lists items, how can you possibly get everything done? Do you even have the chance to catch your breath or do the things that you actually enjoy?
While scheduling may be a struggle for some, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The light begins to shin when you follow your calendar with exactness and start to see the benefits. You begin to see how Calendar and schedule management frees you.
That may sound like an impossible feat. But, it’s within reach if you try out the following 25 brilliant tips.
1. Put first things first.
“Putting first things first means organizing and executing around your most important priorities,” Stephen Covey famously wrote. “It is living and being driven by the principles you value most, not by the agendas and forces surrounding you.”
If you don’t book your priorities, you can be certain that something of less importance will occupy that time slot. That’s why in order to protect what’s more important in your life, then take control of your schedule in advance. How far in advance? Well, some people prefer to create an annual plan.
Again, this will vary from person to person. But, an annual plan is where you simply block out time in your calendar for what’s most important to you. Examples would be business goals, industry events, doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher conferences, or your best friend’s wedding.
Creating your annual Calendar (that you add to) won’t just shield your priorities, it will also keep you focused. It will also make managing your calendar much easier since there are fewer blocks to fill.
2. Schedule the best week ever.
Wait. Didn’t you just draft an annual plan? Yes. But, schedules change and new priorities pop-up throughout the year. That doesn’t mean that they’re any less important. It’s just that you don’t have a crystal ball and see that far into the future.
Either every Friday afternoon or Sunday evening, map out your ideal week. You can start by listing all of your tasks for the week and then prioritizing the list. From there, add your priorities into your calendar.
Just make sure that you schedule the right tasks at the right time. For instance, base your schedule around your energy levels and deadlines. If a deadline is for Thursday morning, then it wouldn’t make sense to work on this task at ten o’clock on Wednesday night.
3. Seize the day!
You’ve got an idea of how you’re going to spend the next week and even year to an extent. But, what would your dest day ever look like? I doubt it would be sleeping-in, rushing to work, and working until the wee hours of the night.
Or, would you rather wake-up and start the day on the right foot? You know, squeeze in an exercise, catch-up on the news, and enjoy a healthy breakfast. How about knowing exactly what to work on and when so that you’re working smarter, not harder. And, wouldn’t you want to end the day by doing something that you enjoy like relaxing or spending quality time with your nearest and dearest?
Determine what would make your day the best day ever. Afterward, schedule accordingly so that you can control and seize the day.
4. Always think before you act.
We’ve all fallen into this trap. You set down at your desk and then open-up your inbox. Next thing you know, you’ve just spent 30-minutes going through your emails. Another example would be you start looking for a misplaced item and then decide that it’s a good time to declutter and organize your office.
These are both activities that need to get done. But, do they need to be addressed at this very second? Probably not. In fact, getting distracted by these less important tasks can throw off the schedule that you’ve already planned.
Before diving into an activity, ask yourself if it’s worth doing right now. If not, schedule it for when you have the availability.
5. Have a well-equipped toolbox.
If you’re a homeowner, then you should know the importance of having a well-equipped toolbox. It’s essential for basic tasks like hanging a picture or doing a little home repair. Even if you rent an apartment, you should still have a basic toolbox handy.
The same idea applies to your calendar and schedule management. Instead of relying on a wall or desktop-sized calendar, download a calendar app. It’s more accessible and portable than the old paper calendar. And, it can easily be shared with others.
On top of a calendar app, also look into tools like scheduling software. Calendar, for example, uses machine learning to make smart suggestions on how to schedule events. It’s much more convenient than going playing phone or email tag when planning a meeting.
6. Your kiss is on my list.
Unlike Hall & Oates, I don’t mean this literally. I’m actually talking about the KISS Principle.
Short for “keep it simple stupid.” The idea comes from a Navy design principle from the 60s. It’s great advice for all aspects of your life. But, it’s particularly useful when it comes to your calendar.
As a computer scientist and author of “The Laws of Simplicity,” John Maeda explains, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” For example, you wouldn’t want to create a complicated calendar system just to keep track of habitual actions like brushing your teeth. Instead, you would add entries like deep work.
7. Pick-up timeboxing.
Ditch your to-do-lists and embrace a simple productivity hack known as timeboxing. As explained in another Calendar article, this is where you open your calendar and block off an exact amount of time to a specific task.
According to Marc Zao-Sanders over on HBR, timeboxing encourages you to get the right thing done at the right time. Additionally, it “enables you to communicate and collaborate more effectively.” Timeboxing also creates a “comprehensive record of what you’ve done, makes you feel more in control, and fights back against Parkinson’s Law.
8. Become a microscheduler.
You wouldn’t think that Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Wahlberg, and internet celebrities like Elaine Lui, and Casey Neistat would have much in common. But, they all share a scheduling habit where they break their days into five to seven-minute blocks.
Also known as microscheduling, this is a rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. However, it ensures that you maximize and protect your time. And, according to Insider, “Microschedulers feel calmer when they have their plan, prioritized to-do list, and an organized structure to their day.”
9. Work in batches.
Batching is one of my favorite time management techniques. Besides being easy to implement, it’s also effective. Simply block out time in your schedule to focus on a group of similar tasks. Examples would be running all of your errands at the same time, cooking all of your meals on Sunday, or checking your inbox at predetermined times.
The reason why batching works is because it prevents multitasking. It also reduces the time spent switching between tasks.
10. Aim to be early.
Let’s say that the due date for a project is on the twentieth of the month. Bump that deadline up by a couple of days. No matter how organized you are, Murphy’s Law is always lurking in the shadows. So, it’s better to have met this deadline in advance just to be safe.
You can also use this technique for meetings. If a meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m., then plan to be there at 1:50 so that you don’t run late. Arriving early also gives you the opportunity to prepare and review the agenda.
11. Put a “P” on your calendar.
She may have a song that emphasizes how much she works. But, in reality, Rihanna prioritizes downtime.
“I never used to be this way,” RiRi told Interview Magazine. “It’s only the last couple of years that I started to realize that you need to make time for yourself because your mental health depends on it.”
“If you’re not happy, you’re not going to be happy even doing things that you love doing,” she added. “It’d feel like a chore. I never want to work to feel like a chore.”
To make time for herself, Rihanna places “the infamous ‘P,’ which means personal days” onto her calendar. That’s it. She just puts a “P,” which is a different color, on her calendar to protect her personal time.
12. Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.
I’m not actually a fan of Kit Kat bars. But, that jingle. It’s timeless. And, so is the advice it shares, “Give me a break.”
Make sure that you schedule breaks in your calendar. It gives you the chance to recharge and refocus. After all, we can only focus on one task for so long. Track your energy patterns to see when you’re most productive and when your energy begins to lag. It’s different for everyone. But, usually, we can work for around an hour before taking a break. After that, take a 10-20 minute break before getting back to work.
13. Schedule BBTs.
Back burner tasks are those things that you never get around to. Usually, this is because they’re not all that important and you just don’t want to do. Examples would be calling your insurance company or cleaning the bathroom.
Despite not being a top priority, they’re usually things that you eventually have to get around to doing before they pile-up. Don’t forget to schedule these responsibilities when you have spare time. Saturday mornings as an example, are perfect for scrubbing your bathroom.
14. Use reminders strategically.
Perhaps one of the most underutilized features of a calendar is reminders. Most of us just stick with the default. But, when used correctly and sparingly it can differently be an asset.
Let’s say that you have a meeting scheduled for next week. Set a reminder a week in advance so that you can send the agenda out to attendees. Set another reminder a day prior to giving you enough time to prepare. And, set a final reminder an hour before just in case you get in the zone and lose track of time.
15. Strike while the iron’s hot.
Earlier in my career, I was terrible at following-up with professional contacts. I’d meet people at an event and promise to keep in touch. But, because I didn’t schedule a meeting, I never did. Now, when I meet a contact, I share my schedule with them on the spot and schedule a follow-up with them.
The same is true of any event that you plan on attending. Whether if it’s meeting with clients, a dentist appointment, or conference, once booked add it immediately to your calendar. If not, you may accidentally schedule something else during the same date and time.
16. Stop playing the victim.
Growing up there was this older kid who got a kick out of being a bully. One day I finally had enough and stood up to him. Guess what? He never bothered me again.
I’m not suggesting physical violence here. I’m saying that you need to stop making excuses and stand up for yourself — especially when it comes to your time. If you can’t focus because your phone is constantly going off, then turn the thing off. If you feel like you’re stretched for time, then start saying “no” to time requests.
Heck, even if you do say “yes” you can always reclaim your time if the request seems like a waste. Just make sure to give adequate notice.
17. Change your view.
Did you know that online calendars offer multiple views? These include daily, weekly, or monthly. There are also more specific views like your work schedule or every two days. Find a view that works best for you.
Personally, I enjoy the one that displays every two days. It keeps me focused on today and helps plan for tomorrow. It also events me from getting distracted on what I need to do a week or so from now.
18. Set time limits on your tasks.
If you know that you only have an hour to clean out your inbox, update your social channels, and return a phone call, then you’ll be motivated to do all of these within that timeframe. If you give yourself too much time, then you’ll just goof around since you have too much time on your hands. It’s all thanks to that darn Parkinson’s Law.
I would track your time for more important tasks though. You certainly don’t want to under-or-overestimate how long these items take.
19. Eliminate back-to-back appointments.
Just because it’s acceptable in the business world to schedule back-to-back meetings doesn’t mean you have to. I would even go as far as to say that you should never book back-to-back appointments. The reason? It’s just going to end badly.
You need time in-between meetings to travel, prepare, or just decompress for five minutes. If you have any back-to-back appointments currently in your calendar, reschedule one of them immediately. And, going forward, always give yourself a buffer.
20. Revise your approach to meetings.
Speaking of meetings, you’re probably going about them all wrong. In most cases, meetings are unproductive. Even worse, they’re a blight on your schedule.
Only accept meetings that serve a purpose. If they don’t, find an alternative like a quick phone call or Slack message. If you must plan a meeting, keeping them short, invite-only key stakeholders, and stick to your agenda.
21. Keep your calendar or schedule visible.
We’re visual creates. So, it wouldn’t hurt to place your calendar where you can see it. It could be a giant wall-sized calendar or placed on your desktop. Now you’ll always have a visual reminder on what needs to get done today, tomorrow, or even next month.
22. Create titles that catch the eye.
Spice up your calendar by creating more helpful titles. Instead of ‘Meeting’ go with something like ‘Sales Pitch.” Also use color-coding, boldface, or different fonts for each title. It will make these important entries to stand out and will help you plan more accordingly.
23. Let AI do the hard work.
Case in point, smart calendars. These calendars can track how you spend your time and analyze your activity in order to make recommendations on how you can better spend your time. These tools can then automatically add recurring events to your calendar.
24. Step back and take a big-picture view of your calendar.
Periodically, review your calendar. Make sure that it’s a current reflection of your priorities and is helping you achieve work-life balance. If not, then find out what items on your calendar can be delegated or dropped.
25. You do you.
Finally, in the immortal words of Jon Bon Jovi, “It’s my life. It’s now or never.”’
When it comes to your calendar and schedule, find the methods and tools that work best for you. It might take some trial and error. But, when you find a management system that suits you, stick with it.