Almost all of us want to be able to improve our productivity. But how exactly can we do this?
There’s certainly no shortage of tried and true techniques. Examples would be working when you’re most effective, setting timers, blocking out distractions, or setting daily goals.
While all of these are helpful, they also rely on a calendar. Case in point, to reach your goals, you need to block out undistracted times for you to focus on tasks that get you closer to your desired outcome. If not, you’ll get bombarded by phone calls or commit to less difficult chores.
But, just because you have a calendar doesn’t mean you’re getting the most out of it. It’s like buying an elliptical to improve your health but letting it sit there collecting dust. If you ignore your new exercise equipment, you’re still failing to maintain your health.
In short, if you want to bolster your productivity, then you can’t neglect your Calendar. And, here are the best ways to prevent that from happening.
Time estimates aren’t adjusted.
This past Sunday, I decided to cook dinner for my family. It wasn’t an overly complicated entre — it was stuffed peppers if you’re curious. Unfortunately, I underestimated how long it would take me to prep and cook the meal — leaving a very hangry family.
To be fair, we’re all terrible at estimating time. And, you can thank the planning fallacy for that.
What is the planning fallacy?
The planning fallacy is a psychological term that describes our tendency to underestimate how much time a task will take. It was first introduced in 1977 by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They found that people tend to ignore historical data when making predictions.
In other words? We don’t use historical evidence to estimate time. Instead, we concentrate exclusively on the upcoming task at hand.
Kahneman later elaborated on the original concept in his 2011 book “Thinking Fast and Slow.” According to him, estimation mistakes are usually caused by two factors;
- Failure to consider the past times when we have completed similar tasks
- We assume no complications will arise that will delay us
A second mistake relates to optimism bias, which describes our tendency to believe that the future will be a better place than the past. How does this connect to the planning fallacy? People think that things they do in the future will be more efficient than the things they do now.
As a result of our optimism, we believe that delays will be unlikely. But, unfortunately, that means when it comes to estimating time, you go with the best-case scenario. Consequently, we tend to disregard historical data that proves that the best-case scenario is, in fact, highly improbable.
How to overcome the planning fallacy?
In some cases, the planning fallacy is nothing more than an inconvenience. For example, you might have a hungry family when dinner is running late. But, you can put out some snacks in the meantime. However, time estimation errors account for 25 percent of failed projects at work.
The easiest fix? To estimate time spent on different types of tasks, use a time tracking app to track your progress over time or uncover when you’re most productive. The app’s built-in reports make it easy to reference the data later on.
Another easy solution? Give yourself some time than you need. For instance, you could set aside 2 hours for a specific task, even though you believe that it will only take you an hour. If it ends up taking you an hour-and-a-hour, then you have 30-minutes to spare instead of going over the allotted time you planned.
Sorry to continually beat the drum on this same idea — but you should periodically track your time on your recurring tasks. As you become more proficient at these tasks, you should complete them faster. For example, if you blocked out two hours for a task and it now takes you an hour and a half, that extra time could be used elsewhere.
Not blocking out your priorities first.
Throughout my entrepreneurial career, I have sported a variety of hats. Obviously, this is more important when just getting started. There is no way to hire a talented team when you don’t have the resources. Once the cash starts flowing in, hiring a stellar team to support means fewer hats you have to wear.
That doesn’t mean you should completely ignore these responsibilities. Instead, it means that you can delegate specific tasks to others. On the downside, that could mean that you start filling your Calendar with entries that aren’t priorities.
Instead, follow the advice of Stephen Covey. “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Still, it shouldn’t be too difficult to achieve. After all, when it comes down to it, your priorities are anything that moves you closer to your goals.
With that in mind, you should book your priorities before anything else. If you don’t, other less critical items will take their place. Also, keep in mind that you won’t accomplish them all on a single day, so focus only on your three most important tasks. All other activities should be put off until later, delegated, or deleted.
Ignoring calendar conflicts.
Occasionally, calendar conflicts will arise. That’s life. But that doesn’t mean you should just shrug your shoulders and tell yourself, “Oh, well.”
Ignoring calendar conflicts doesn’t mean that they’ll magic resolve themselves. Instead, you’re going to have to be proactive and tackle them head-on.
For example, if you double-booked a scheduling events, own up to your mistake and try to make it right. So, let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment when you were supposed to have a call with a client. Let your client know about the scheduling error and offer an alternative date to speak. They may be disappointed, but it’s better than leaving them high and dry.
Forgetting to add calendar entries.
It’s possible to lose productivity when you forget to add calendar entries. Don’t wait to add events to your Calendar until the last minute as well. You might miss important meetings if you don’t do it immediately. As a result, you may be unable to meet deadlines, or you’ll need extra time to catch up on missed tasks.
Always schedule items as soon as possible — even if it’s a year in advance. But, of course, with the popularity of calendar apps, you can do this whenever and wherever you can. So, in my opinion, there’s really no excuse for forgetting to add entries to your Calendar.
Not clearing your Calendar regularly.
There are very things in life that you’ll possess forever if you don’t clean things out — including your Calendar. Everything from torn clothing, broken appliances, and outdated pantry items must be replaced. If not, you’ll end up in an episode of Hoarders.
The same is valid with your Calendar. If you don’t declutter your Calendar from time to time, it’s going to be packed with unnecessary entries. How often you go about this is up to you — I personally do this twice a year. Regardless, here are some items that you may want to remove when cleaning your Calendar;
- Meetings with no purpose or agenda
- Back-to-back or standing meetings
- Habitual or minute activities, like brushing your teeth.
- Unnecessary notifications and reminders, such as “Walk your dog.”
- Recurring events that no longer fit into your schedule or you have no interest in attending
- Tasks that can be delegated or outsourced
- Other people’s priorities
Sticking with calendar default settings.
Make sure your calendar settings are tailored to your specific needs instead of just accepting the defaults.
For instance, multiple calendars and color-coding options are typically available in calendar apps. By using a different font or all caps, you can also draw attention to necessary entries. Alternatively, you can change the calendar view and decide what day to start.
In addition, you have the option to enable other time zones, hide specific calendars, and change the default time. This last option is particularly important. You can set the time to exactly what you need for an event or task instead of blocking out the default time — usually, this is an hour.
As an example, you might only need to meet with your team for 30-minutes. But, since you stuck with the entire hour, you’re wasting everyone’s valuable that could have been spent on something of more importance.
If you really want to supercharge your Calendar and productivity, consider teaming your Calendar with other tools. By harnessing machine learning, Calendar, for example, suggests when, where, and how to schedule your time.
One final piece of advice here. The calendar app and tools that you use should seamlessly sync across multiple devices. Google Calendar, for instance, is equally accessible on Android and iOS devices. That means you can switch between your iPhone and Chromebook, preventing any missed calendar entries.
Failing to review your Calendar constantly.
To start the day on the right foot, you need to plan ahead. I mean, that’s like saying you’re going to cook your family meatloaf for dinner on a whim. Unfortunately, you don’t have all of the ingredients, leaving you scrambling to think of a replacement — on top of a disappointed and hungry family.
As for productivity specifically, let’s say it’s Sunday night, and you didn’t look ahead on your Calendar schedule for tomorrow. Because you’re busy with your family, it slips your mind that you have an early meeting in the morning. Suffice to say, you don’t prep for the meeting and are caught off guard when you receive a calendar reminder 15-minutes before the meeting starts.
In situations like above, that could not throw your schedule off. Or, even if you can keep your schedule intact, you may feel “off” for the remainder of the day. In turn, this could slow your productivity to a screeching halt.
Image Credit: Lucas Pezeta; Pexels; Thank you!