This post is part of our ✨7 Productivity Tips as EOY Gifts ✨ Series.
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4: 🎊 Calendar Hacks | 5: 🎁 | 6: 🎁 | 7: 🎁
There's a huge chance you keep track of your life using a digital calendar. And there's an equally big chance that more often than you wish, said calendar drives you crazy.
Whether it's back-to-back meetings, invites to appointments that simply appear without you knowing who the people involved are, or not knowing what the context or goal is. Seeing meetings you don't know if you should prepare for - or worse: you find yourself in meetings you KNOW you should've prepared for, but couldn't. Not to mention the classic meeting that could've been an email.
Maybe all of those fun attractions parade in the chaotic circus your digital calendar has become. I've been there before and now I take pride in being a "Calendar Carnival Ringmaster" - so here are my two cents to help you out.
11 Calendar Hacks
1. Protect your time before people get it.
If you feel like you don't have enough time to do the things that matter to you - like creative or strategic work - because people simply grab time with you up and down, making you feel like you lost control of your own time altogether, I have four words for you: You. Control. Your. Schedule.
Create buffers of time in your calendar where you can focus and do the things that matter. Put notes in those blocks that state that you're not available for meetings: it's your time to focus. Google Calendar even has a pre-set option called Focus time that automatically declines meetings for you. Planned Pomodoro rounds work wonders.
It helps both you and your team greatly if you choose the same days and times to do that every week. Let's say you like to work during the morning and have no reoccurring meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays: you'll block Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings for focused work, and the predictability of it will help the team to adapt to that.
Owing your time is the first step to a more organized schedule. If you don't protect the time in your calendar, no one will.
2. Put everything on your calendar. Even personal stuff.
You have the same 24 hours for everything in your life, every day. If you've decided to take control of your schedule, it's a good idea to save time to eat, rest, take breaks, make personal appointments, commute, and everything else. If you want to make sure you'll have the time for it, just put it in your calendar too.
3. Structure your day. Schedule specific times for specific tasks.
Do you feel more creative in the morning? Block 9 am to 11 am for creative work. Is your mind wandering around noon every day? Well, plan your lunch break for around noon. And if you feel your energy drop after 2 pm, it might be a good time to respond to emails or any other task that doesn't require too much brain power.
The point is: the more you know yourself and your preferred workflows, the more you can block specific times for specific tasks that will feel just right for the moment and make the most out of your work - and personal - hours.
4. Take the time you need.
Don't be afraid to block long periods of focused work. We know that uninterrupted time to work on a task is very important for productivity - the brain needs to warm up before performing at its best, so be honest with yourself about how long you take to complete tasks. If one task takes longer, go ahead and block 3 or 4 hours - or however long it takes.
5. Have a Staggered Calendar.
Our Co-Founder and Head Of Product, Dan Cintra, wrote about the advantages of a staggered calendar, and this hack fits perfectly here.
The first part of this strategy is about stacking your meetings and creating big periods of free time in your calendar. Organize your schedule with all possible meetings in sequence but concentrate them on only two or three days of the week.
That way, you'll have some days completely free from meetings, meaning you'd have the power to make them free from distractions and use them to get some focused time.
“The math is simple - and very reasonable: no matter what, you're going to have X hours of meetings a week; and Y hours free from them - that you can use to execute tasks, research, do some planning, or whatever work your job requires you to do. Those Y hours are much more useful, powerful, and productive if they're as together as possible and not scared throughout your schedule.”
The second part is about organizing those meetings to make the most of your time - the "staggered" part. One simple rule is: if you run a team, schedule all your 1:1s for one day and your team meeting the day after - but make sure it happens before you meet with the rest of the leadership team. Here's the reasoning:
- Monday - 1:1s: Let's say an issue arose during one of the 1:1s, and the two of you (you and the person on your team) couldn't find a solution.
- Tuesday - Team meeting: You can take that issue to the rest of the team the day after. Together, you can think of ideas on how to solve the problem.
- Wednesday - Leadership meeting: You take the solutions your team suggested to the rest of the leadership, and together, you decide how to move forward.
6. Whatever works for you.
You've heard me say this before, and you'll hear me say it again: find out what works best for you and your workflows, don't just go after the hype new calendar app. Everyone has their preferred workflow, apps, and tools - because people have different talents and work differently.
Use a calendar system that works better for you. Whether you prefer the monthly view, the daily agenda, or the weekly agenda, pick the one that fits your lifestyle better.
7. Be diligent with invites - and ask others to be too.
I like to take care of my calendar like a flower garden. Trimming the ends, getting rid of the weeds, and carefully adjusting every detail. That leads me to many practices, but the most basic is that every invite needs a reply (Yes, No, Maybe).
Look at all your invites at least two weeks in advance. If you know you won't be able to attend some meetings, just say "No" to the invite immediately. It helps you to have in mind that there's a subject you'll have to catch up on later; it helps the person who's organizing know they won't be able to count on you for that moment and even gives them a chance to reschedule.
Whenever I see someone didn't confirm whether they'll be attending a meeting scheduled for the week, I reach out to them saying something like, "hey, I see you didn't confirm yet. Can we count on you, or should we move on and send you a summary later?". It's way better than those dreadful 5 minutes wasting time and making small talk before stating, "So, I think X won't be joining us."
8. Calendar audit
Keeping on the subject of diligence, one hack I use is conducting a calendar audit every once in a while by looking at my calendar for the next two months and checking which meetings I need to confirm attendance for or which ones I can delete or reschedule. It helps to keep the landscape clear.
9. Don't be afraid to ask for more information.
"Hello! I see you sent me an invite for the 7th. I'm happy to attend, but I'd like to know if you can give me more information on the main purpose of this meeting. Can you share the agenda with me, please? I'd love to prepare properly and have all the valuable information I can provide in hand. Thank you very much!"
10. Color code.
I like to use different colors to differentiate the types of appointments. For example, I like to color-code recurring meetings in green. For one-time meetings, I choose yellow. And for personal stuff, I use purple.
It feels good to look at your calendar and, from one glance, be able to tell what your day or week is looking like.
Google Calendar also has a pretty good setting option for that:
11. Treat people's invites and calendars the way you'd like them to treat yours.
Wouldn't it be great if people looked at other attendees' calendars before scheduling meetings? And if the "free" time shown were the moments when they were actually free? Well, the change starts with you. Lead by example.
You're now ready to lead the charge and encourage everyone else to take control of their calendars. Go out there and spread the word. Let's make the world a better place, one invite at a time.
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