There’s nothing quite like the start of the new year. With its promise of fresh starts, blank slates, and renewed optimism, it’s the perfect time to take stock of your time and how you’re spending it. Your calendar is the best place to start. In this blog post, we’re taking you step-by-step through decluttering and organizing your schedule.
- The easiest way to get a clear snapshot of your current time management habits (and what needs to change)
- How to unlock your focus and productivity through time-blocking
- How to cut through the clutter (and stress) by color-coding your calendar
- Why the greatest tool you aren’t using is a shared calendar
Plus, we’ll be sharing apps and other tools that make all of this as easy as pie. If you’re ready to set yourself up for success in 2023 (or any time for that matter), keep reading!
Let’s kick it off with a calendar audit
Your calendar is a physical (or in some cases, digital) representation of your time management habits.
When you’re spending your time intentionally — saying ‘yes’ only to the things that are important to you, being careful not to spread yourself too thin, etc. — that shows in your calendar. On the other hand, when you’re overwhelming yourself with commitments, that also shows in your calendar — often as clutter.
That’s why your first step is to conduct a calendar audit, also called a time audit. A calendar audit is an examination of what you currently do to manage your time. It involves documenting your activities over a period of time, in order to see where you can make improvements. (Tip: There are tons of time audit templates online, but ours is the simplest to use. You can find it here.)
But, we also have a shortcut version. Just look at your most recent monthly calendar to take stock of your habits. Then, go through the following steps:
- Write down your goals and values. (example: health and wellness, being present with family)
- Evaluate your calendar, while using your goals and values as a benchmark. Do your goals and values align with how you’ve spent your time in the last month?
- Pinpoint areas for improvement. Think small tweaks — not huge, monumental changes. Small changes are easier to implement, and they can still carry a lot of weight!
The point of this exercise is to start where you are. Although it’s tempting (and seemingly easier) to jump right into new habits, it’s better in the long run to get a feel for what you’re working with.
Pick your scheduling tool
Now that we’ve cleared the decks, it’s time to choose what type of calendar you’re going to use. You might stick with what you know, or opt for something new. Here’s a quick overview of the types of calendars available to you:
- Paper planner -Starting off with the most straightforward of options, we have the basic paper planner. If you’re someone who enjoys the process of planning out your days, weeks, or months by hand, then this option is great for you! Not only can it be a great addition to your routine, a way to slow down and prepare your headspace ready for the days ahead, but research also shows that handwriting enhances cognitive recall. However, if you’re looking for something with more functionality, consider our next option.
- Calendar app - A calendar app lets you schedule meetings and other calendar events right from your phone, laptop, tablet, or even your smart watch. The primary benefit of using a calendar app is the convenience factor. You never have to enter a calendar event more than once, thanks to automatic syncing. For example, if you create an event on your iPhone, it automatically gets added to your iPad. Plus, it’s more portable than a paper planner and includes notifications and integrations. The best apps include well-known favorites such as Google Calendar (great for Gmail users), iCloud Calendar (a.k.a. Apple calendar), and Microsoft Outlook Calendar. But Fantastical is another great option. Bonus: Take a look here and here to find the best calendar app for your unique needs.
- Project management platform: calendar view - It’s true that the humble calendar app comes with advanced features these days. But if you want a digital calendar with even more functionality, try a project management platform. With a project management app, you can keep track of your projects, break them down into tasks and subtasks, and add start dates and end dates. Think of a project management app like an advanced to-do list that lets you switch from list view to calendar view with a simple click. Popular project management tools include Asana, ClickUp, Trello, and Todoist.
Up-level your scheduling technique with time blocking
Now that you’ve picked your calendar tool, let’s start scheduling. One of our favorite scheduling methods is time blocking. Time blocking is a planning process where you block out time for your activities and events. This is different from traditional planning where we typically only block out events like meetings and appointments — things with a clear start and end. It doesn’t involve blocking out time for specific tasks. Traditional planning says to instead organize all your tasks on a to-do list, and check items off as you go.
Time blocking encourages accountability when it comes to your tasks. It also invites you to properly estimate how much time you’ll spend on a given task. The more you time-block, the more familiar you become with how long it takes you to accomplish the items on your to-do list – and thus, the better you become at planning!
Time blocking also helps to relieve the mental tiredness that comes with making decisions, otherwise known as decision fatigue. By making your decisions ahead of time, you wake up every morning with a clear gameplan.
Some extra tips to help you with time blocking:
- When blocking out time for your activities, group similar items. This is a technique called task batching. An example of this is creating back-to-back time blocks for Slack and email, or scheduling both in a single time block. Time batching could also look like reserving certain days of the week for leadership one-on-one meetings, and other days of the week for highly collaborative meetings (which is how Clockwise CEO Matt Martin personally handles his work schedule). By batching similar tasks, you avoid context switching, which is known to harm our ability to focus.
- Don’t let meetings get in the way of your Focus Time. We’re big believers in blocking out long stretches of time for deep work, otherwise known as Focus Time. Whether you’re digging through data, writing code, or writing a blog, Focus Time can transform your workday. Cal Newport, productivity expert and author of Deep Work, personally reserves 2-3 hour stretches for cognitively-demanding work. Here at Clockwise, we created a time orchestration platform that automatically rearranges your calendar to create Focus Time of two hours or more. We might be a little partial here, but Clockwise is one of the best productivity tools out there — especially for people with meeting-heavy schedules who just want to focus.
Now that you’re a time-blocking pro, let’s move on to the next step: color-coding.
Color-code your calendar to turn chaos into order
Color-coding is the process of organizing by color. And for your calendar, it can do wonders — not just aesthetically, but also pragmatically. You can assign colors based on priority level (such as labeling priority tasks on your calendar as red), or you might go by task type (i.e. green for personal wellness, blue for weekly standups).
Here’s why we love color-coding (and why you should, too):
- It enables you to see, at a glance, what’s on your schedule
- It facilitates task batching, since you can assign the same color to similar tasks
- You can incorporate color psychology (i.e. using red to inspire action on important tasks, using orange to evoke dynamic energy and creativity)
- Lastly, because we all could use some more color in our workday!
If you’ve opted for a paper planner, it’s time to break out your colored pens and highlighters. If you’ve chosen to use a digital calendar, look for color options in the app’s settings (most apps have it). Google Calendar users can bypass the manual work by integrating with Clockwise, which automatically does all the color-coding for you.
Do shared calendars the right way
With so many companies going hybrid, it’s safe to say that a wall calendar in the team’s common area just isn’t cutting it anymore. If you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace a digitally shared calendar.
With most calendar apps, you can share your calendar with your colleagues, choosing exactly what’s visible to them and what’s hidden. For example, if you want to block out time for a doctor’s appointment and you want to keep the details private, you can make it so your colleagues only see ‘Busy.’ They know you’re unavailable for a meeting, but you get to keep the specifics to yourself. Plus, many calendar sharing apps automatically sync across time zones — a welcome feature for many of today’s distributed teams.
Clockwise syncs your personal and work calendars, so that you and your team are always on the same page. Click here to read the quick guide.
From entrepreneurs to stay-at-home parents, anyone can benefit from an organized calendar. Spruce up your schedule for 2023 by conducting a calendar audit, leveraging productivity apps, time blocking, and color coding. Don’t feel the need to go all in, either. Even adding some minor tweaks to your current habits can help you set yourself up for success in the new year.