Personal Productivity

Master Your Calendar

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
tags Advice Organization Tools
"There is nothing so intractable as a calendar." ~ Margery Sharp

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Master Your Calendar

The calendar is a widespread organizational tool because everyone understands perfectly well what a calendar is. Calendars have always been with us. They were used by our parents and grandparents. When I was a kid, we had a calendar hanging on the kitchen wall where my parents wrote things to do on some of the days, and circled important events in red. I remember my grandfather had a similar calendar in his office, and he would religiously cross off each day that ended with a big “X”.

Calendars can be great management tools, as they allow us to externalize part of our commitments, those that must be done on a specific day or at a specific time. We can get them out of our heads and forget about them until the time comes.

But calendars can also become real tyrants. We often do things just because the calendar tells us to do them. It tells us to do them because at some point we have written them there without clear criteria, or worse because other people have written them there (by the grace of modern shared calendars).

The calendar is very easy to understand and use. It’s so obvious that we almost always misuse it. It’s very tempting to fill in the gaps with things we’d like to do, without proper order or coherence. This causes several problems for your effectiveness:

  • By mixing things of different natures (desires, urgent tasks, non-urgent tasks, projects, events, important things, unimportant things, etc.) the calendar has no clear meaning and you end up not paying much attention to it.
  • By writing things in the calendar that shouldn’t be there (because they don’t have to be done on a specific date), you need to reconfigure all the entries every time something new appears or your priorities change.
  • Since we tend to estimate badly the time we need to get a task done (yes, you too), every time you fall behind on a task it messes up all the subsequent planning.

These problems only generate inefficiencies in your productivity, and anxiety and stress in you.

Protect your time

For calendars to be useful tools within your personal productivity system, you must follow rules of use that prevent you from having to live enslaved by them.

Shared calendars are totally detrimental to the effectiveness of workers. Deliberately taking someone else’s time should be forbidden, unless it is for something really important.

Unfortunately, some companies and bosses don’t feel that way, so if you have a shared calendar where your colleagues can indiscriminately place meetings on you, you’ll have to be more protective of your time.

One way to do this is to set aside time in your calendar for yourself. That time is for doing your work well, thinking strategically, getting organized, being more productive and not having to work on weekends. Having a continuous block of two hours without interruptions every day can be a good start and I dare say it will make a radical change in your productivity.

You should also take care of your breaks, because they are good for your work. If they aren’t respected, you may also need to block in the calendar your lunch break or any other break you need after a few hours of work (exercise, socializing, etc.). Rest is essential to be able to perform your activity in the most effective way possible.

Contrary to what it may seem, taking time to think and taking time to rest will allow you to do more things and, moreover, to do them better.

Block your time early enough so that others don’t invade it. You probably have more control over your time than you think.

The calendar is sacred territory

The calendar should be a tool that you follow because you trust it completely. That’s why, in GTD, the calendar is “sacred territory”. It’s only used for actions you need to perform at a specific time, actions you need to perform on a specific day, and for information you need to keep in mind on a specific date. For the rest of the things, there are other lists more suitable for their management.

By using the calendar this way, you only need to think about things once and not renegotiate commitments over and over again. This allows you to make confident decisions about what you can do throughout the day.

If you are not the one in charge of most of your time, it’s impossible for you to work calmly and be productive. Master your calendar and you’ll master your time.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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