The one thing that’s keeping you on track at work, ensuring you prioritize the right tasks, and helping you remember your appointments is your calendar. Everyone who has a busy schedule — from entrepreneurs all the way up to top executives — needs to practice good calendar management. It’s the only way to prevent double bookings, missed deadlines, and forgotten appointments. But what is calendar management and how can you improve your calendar management skills?
What Is Calendar Management?
Simply put, calendar management involves organizing your schedule. This sounds easy enough, but if your to-do list is constantly changing, you have unexpected meetings popping up at the last minute, or you’re just unable to focus, it’s anything but. Calendar management requires great organization skills and discipline.
One of the most famous examples of excellent calendar management is the time-blocking strategy of Elon Musk. In addition to being the CEO of two industry-changing companies, Musk has enough time to spend with his family, exercise regularly, and partake in hobbies — all because of his strategy.
Musk’s time blocking involves dividing the day into five-minute periods. He assigns a specific task to each of these blocks, including free-time activities and meals. This means he never needs to decide in the moment what to do next, he never ends up procrastinating important tasks, and he wastes absolutely no time.
Splitting your time down to five-minute blocks may be too extreme for you — most people want (or even need) more flexibility. It also requires superb focus to stick to such a tight schedule. However, the main principle of organizing your time like this is certainly effective.
Calendar Management Tips
Just deciding that you’ll start blocking out time is not enough — you need to have a well-formed strategy. These calendar management tips will help you learn how to better manage your time.
1. Stick to a Routine
Instead of creating a completely different schedule for each day, establish a routine. This means you’ll often know what’s coming next on your agenda without even looking at your calendar. Plus, it will help others (at your company or in your family) know when you’re most likely to be available.
2. Consider Your Energy Levels and Focus
Some people are able to focus best in the morning. Others work better late in the day. Most people don’t work well right after eating. Consider your own work habits and preferences when creating your calendar. Do you prefer to get stuck into work right away at the beginning of the day or do you prefer to warm up with some simple tasks like correspondence?
3. Use Just One Calendar
It’s common to have one calendar for work and another for personal commitments. This allows you to separate your job from your home life. However, a major flaw in this system is that it’s easy to double book. For this reason, it’s much better to stick to a single calendar.
4. Color Code
If your calendar is becoming cluttered, use a color-coded system. Such a system works whether you’re using a paper calendar or software. Assign tasks to different categories and give each category its own color. Just make sure to write down a key to ensure you remember the system and to help others understand it.
Possible categories include:
- Phone calls
You’ll likely also have some categories specific to your job.
5. Allow for Changes
Once you’ve drawn up a calendar, it’s essential to remember that nothing is set in stone. A calendar is a strategy rather than a solid plan. If something more important comes up, if the order of activities you originally assigned later feels illogical, or if you just need a break from a certain type of task, change your calendar. A calendar should make your life easier, not lead to more stress.
In fact, it’s a good idea to review your calendar at regular intervals, such as at the start of the month, then at the beginning of the week, and finally first thing in the morning or in the evening the day before. You may find that you’ve forgotten to include something or your priorities have shifted. You may also realize that you’ve misjudged how long certain tasks will take. It’s far better to make adjustments ahead of time than right before you start working. After all, if you’re changing everything as you go along, you may as well not have a calendar at all.
6. Dedicate Each Day to a Different Type of Activity
There are some tasks you need to complete every day, but it may be a good idea to dedicate the rest of the day to a particular type of activity. For instance, you could allot one day to returning phone calls or catching up with emails and another to checking the progress of your team or providing coaching. Yet another could be for creative work, such as developing your latest offering.
If it’s not possible to dedicate an entire day to one type of activity, at least split days into blocks of a few hours. Either way, spending large chunks of your time on similar activities will help you maintain your focus. For instance, you won’t be tempted to switch to something else that doesn’t fit the theme of what you’re currently working on.
7. Add Reminders
It’s easy to become so engaged in a task that you lose track of time. This could mean you miss an appointment — or it may even mean you forget your lunch break. At a minimum, add reminders to your calendar that let you know about important activities an hour before (and perhaps also at the start of the day). You may also like another alert 15 minutes before it’s time to change task.
8. Schedule Slightly More Time Than You Need
For every task, give yourself slightly more time than you think you’ll require. This means that if the task does take longer than expected, it won’t ruin the rest of your schedule for the day. When the task takes the amount of time you expected (or, even better, less time), you’ll have time to breathe and reflect.
However, don’t go overboard and schedule far too much time, especially for meetings and phone calls. Giving yourself 10 minutes for phone calls and 30 minutes for group meetings will push you to get to the point. If you’re in control of the meetings, try to limit them whenever possible — your staff don’t want to waste time, either.
9. Be Smart About Scheduling Meetings
Meetings are actually one of the most complex activities to schedule, as they require everyone to be available at the same time. Add meetings to your calendar as early as possible to avoid scheduling conflicts. This will also give everyone involved enough time to prepare, subsequently reducing downtime during the meeting.
If someone invites you to a meeting that you know has no value to you, feel free to turn it down. Similarly, only invite employees who will benefit from your meetings. Many people are afraid to say no, but having too many participants only slows things down.
Finally, don’t schedule one meeting straight after another. Give yourself 15 minutes to process everything, write down notes, and maybe update your calendar.
10. Make One Day Appointment Free
Try to make one day a week (ideally the same day every week) free from meetings, appointments, and any other types of events that involve other people. Giving yourself a day to focus fully on your work will allow you to progress on your long-term projects and give you time to think without distractions.
11. Allow Yourself Breaks
If everything on your calendar ends up running even slightly over schedule, you’ll have no breaks in your day. Prevent this from happening by time blocking periods for rest. Use these to take a coffee break, have lunch, or just collect yourself. Never do any work during these blocks. In fact, it’s a good idea to step away from your desk and leave your phone behind (if you can).
The Best Tools for Calendar Management
Utilizing technology can assist you in better organizing your time. There are numerous calendar management tools available, but we think these are some of the best.
Project management apps are great for coordinating with your team. You can delegate tasks, check the progress of projects, and collaborate with employees. You have several options, but a top choice is Monday for its reporting features, customization capabilities, and integration with other tools.
2. Google Calendar
With Google Calendar, you can create multiple calendars in one place. This keeps your calendar from becoming cluttered, but it’s also easy to ensure you never double book. In addition, you can share individual calendars with anyone you want (such as family members and employees) to ensure they’re able to fit around your schedule.
If your schedule is made up of many small tasks, software like Wunderlist will keep you organized. It allows you to categorize tasks according to their priority, set deadlines, and receive reminders.
It’s worthwhile having a dedicated communication tool in addition to your project management system. An industry favorite is Slack, as it’s easy to use and allows you to create multiple channels for conversations. Best of all, it integrates with calendar apps like Google Calendar, enabling you to do everything in one place.
Employers with small to midsize teams can benefit from BambooHR. It allows you to create profiles for everyone, where you store key information and dates like birthdays, time off, and travel dates. With BambooHR, you can quickly check when your employees are unavailable — plus, you can surprise them with celebrations on their work anniversaries.
Instead of emailing back and forth let people know about an event and find out if they’re coming, use Evite. This tool sends out simple invitations and allows users to RSVP. It also makes it easy to track who will be attending.
Leave It to a Virtual Assistant
The problem with effective calendar management is that it takes a large amount of time. If you’re already pushing yourself to the limit, managing your calendar may be yet another routine task you need to fit into your schedule. For this reason, many professionals choose to hire a calendar management executive assistant.
However, if you’re an entrepreneur, a calendar management executive assistant may be out of your budget. Plus, if your schedule is reasonably consistent, it may not be worthwhile to hire someone just for calendar management. A better solution for you may be a calendar management virtual assistant.
What Does a Calendar Management Virtual Assistant Do?
You can contract a calendar management virtual assistant just for the hours you need, whether that’s a couple hours a week or even just a few each month. Your virtual assistant will provide you with a service that goes far beyond anything a computer could do: take into account your workload, priorities, preferences, and the extra commitments that come with every appointment, such as preparation and follow-up activities. Your virtual assistant will also calculate travel time and work out any logistics for you.
Of course, this will all come at a cost. You’ll need to decide whether the benefits of having a calendar management virtual assistant are worth the extra expense. You may decide to manage your calendar on your own for now and only contract a virtual assistant once your job becomes more complex.
Whether you decide to handle your schedule yourself or contract someone to assist you with calendar management, you’ll need to have a strategy in place. Just adding items to your calendar and moving things around as new tasks crop up is a recipe for disaster. You may have managed that way up until now, but you’ll find that, as your business grows, good calendar management will mean the difference between success and failure.