9 tips to get more out of your calendar

9 Tips to get more out of your calendar [PMP #177]

My calendar is probably the most important productivity tool I use (even more important than Asana). It’s how I organise my life, see what’s coming up and ultimately how I plan what I should be doing.

But when I work with clients, I’m often surprised by how little or how much they have on their calendar. Or I see they’re not using basic features that can help you to get more out of their calendar.

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The calendar you use really doesn’t matter that much. Most people use either the Apple Calendar (like me), Google or Outlook Calendar. They’re all pretty similar and the advice I’m going to share isn’t specific to any one tool.

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1. Use multiple calendar categories

It always amazes me when people don't do this. But you can set up multiple ‘Calendars’ in your calendar (the terminology gets a bit confusing). Think of a calendar as a category. For example, I have calendars for:

  • Appointments – For client bookings.
  • Work – For planning my tasks and work.
  • Family (shared with my wife) – For planning family events.
  • Sport – For booking classes at our gym.
  • Social – For social events with friends.
  • Random – For miscellaneous stuff.
  • Busy – To block off time that I don’t want to be booked via Calendly.
  • Apps – For syncing events from Pipedrive to my calendar.

Each calendar can have a different colour and using multiple calendars is a great way to differentiate the different types of event on your schedule. Using multiple calendars is also really helpful when you start setting up reminders or using a scheduling tool like Calendly and want to avoid being booked at certain times when you’ve scheduled an appointment on a particular calendar.

calendar categories

2. Use recurring events

We all have things that we do at the same time each day or week. Adding these events to your calendar and setting them to repeat is a great way of defining your routine on the calendar.

For example, I know I need an hour in the morning to get through my email. So I have this set to repeat each day. That way I can’t be booked by clients and give away all my available time.

I also go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Adding this to the calendar helps me to build consistent habits.

Even things like giving the cat his flea treatment goes onto the calendar so I know when it’s time for a top-up.

3. Block out time for tasks

I have a whole article on time blocking so I won’t spend long on this. But blocking out time for your tasks is a great way of taking the items on your todo list and creating a plan around when you’re going to do everything and how long it should take. If you struggle with procrastination or get distracted easily, try blocking out time for your tasks and see how this helps. You could even start by blocking time for the types of work you do e.g. ‘client work’ instead of specific tasks.

time blocking

4. Don't allow overlap

Unless there’s a good reason, the appointments on your calendar shouldn’t overlap. How can you do two things at once? When you avoid overlap, it’s much easier to make sense of your calendar to see what’s going on and what you should be doing next.

The exception would be if you have access to a colleagues calendar and can see their appointments, naturally, these will overlap with your own. But the nice thing about having multiple calendars (mentioned above) is that you can toggle them on/off to show/hide them.

5. Share your calendars

Sharing your calendar with colleagues or a spouse can be really handy. You can normally specify a person to share the calendar with, or create a public URL to share with others. You can also subscribe to these URLs for things like annual holidays or the games of your favourite sports team.

My wife and I have a shared ‘Family’ calendar which either of us can add appointments to. Whether it’s a doctors appointment, family event, or if one of us is going to be out and the other needs to look after our son, it’s great having all this on the calendar.

shared calendar

Sharing calendars with a colleague is a handy way to see when you’re each available should you need to schedule a meeting.

When sharing a calendar, you’ll want to pay attention to the visibility settings if you don't want people to see the details of the event and only that you’re ‘busy’.

6. Use notifications sparingly

You can set reminders about an event to appear before the appointment starts. I wouldn’t recommend you get a reminder before every event, but it can be handy to get notified before events of a certain type.

For example, with my ‘Appointments’ calendar, I’ve set the default alert for all events in this category to appear 5 minutes before the start of that appointment. This is great as it means when I do get a calendar notification, I know it’s related to a time-sensitive event like a meeting with a client.

7. Don’t forget buffer time

As you plan out what you’re doing on the calendar, don’t forget to add buffer time throughout the day i.e. don’t schedule your appointments back to back for 8 hours straight. This allows you to plan in some free time to go to the toilet, have a drink, catch up with a colleague or answer email.

If you have to travel to your next appointment, you may want to factor this in. The Apple Calendar even has a travel time buffer that can show before an event based on your location and travel preferences.

I actually schedule ‘Walk & Lunch’ for an hour each day so I can allocate time for taking a break during the day. This is another way I use the calendar to establish my routine and build healthy habits.

8. Remember to use locations

When scheduling appointments, you can set the location of an event. This could either be a Zoom URL if it’s a virtual meeting or a physical location. Some apps will surface this information when it’s time for the event.

calendar location

For example, on the iPhone, you’ll be alerted when it’s time to leave for your next appointment based on the location and if you open the Maps app, it’ll suggest the location of your next calendar event.

9. Pay attention to time zones

When you schedule an event, you can choose the time zone.

Often if I’m having a call with a client in another time zone, I’ll schedule the appointment in their time zone so that when they receive the invite they aren’t confused by the email showing the event in my time zone. (which is normally a day ahead).

Even though I’m scheduling in the recipients time zone, it shows up on my calendar according to my time zone. So 3 pm Pacific time shows at 10 am the following day for me.

What calendar tips have you picked up over the years? Leave me a comment below!