8 Ways to Maximize Calendar Productivity

8 Ways to Maximize Calendar Productivity
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If you naturally get a kick out of labeling things with your label maker or arranging your closet by color, then we don’t have to explain the power of organization to you. But, even if you don’t think of yourself as an organizing aficionado, you can still take small steps that make a huge difference in how you manage your day.

It all starts with your calendar.

Knowing how to effectively use your calendar isn’t about staying organized for the sake of it (although, like we mentioned earlier, many people fall in love with it). Effectively managing your calendar also helps you stay productive and less stressed. Who wouldn’t want that? Here are our top eight ways tips for becoming a calendar expert.

1. Sync your calendar across all your devices.

If you use more than one device (let’s say a phone, laptop, and iPad), be sure your calendar automatically updates on all of them. The easiest way to do this is by picking a calendar app that works on all your devices and syncs to the cloud.

By syncing to the cloud (instead of the device itself), your calendar is always the same whether you’re looking on your phone or computer. Not only does that help you stay on top of your schedule, but it also saves you time since you don’t have to manually update your calendar on every device whenever you want to add or update an event.

Pro tip: If you’re an iPhone or Mac user,  Apple Calendar is a great tool because you can manage multiple calendars from various accounts (iCloud, Google, Microsoft Exchange, and more).

2. Connect your calendar to your most-used apps

Kind of like our first tip about syncing your calendar with all your devices, it’s also a good idea to sync your calendar with all your favorite apps. For example, Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook work wonderfully with task management apps like Todoist, project management apps like Trello, and video conferencing apps like Zoom.

Why integrate? One study found that people who work from home use an average of four to five programs each day. By integrating your tools so they “talk” to each other, you minimize context-switching, which happens every time you redirect your attention from one thing to another (such as leaving Gmail to open Google Calendar). Context-switching negatively impacts productivity and cognitive function.

When you integrate your tools, you also spend less time manually entering information into more than one place. Let’s take a look at a few more Google Calendar integrations in action:

  • When you sync up Gmail and Google Calendar and get emails about events (e.g. flights), those events will automatically add to your calendar.
  • With the Slack and Google Calendar integration, receive daily rundowns of your schedule right from Slack (and more).
  • With the Zoom Scheduler for Google Chrome, schedule Zoom meetings right from Google Calendar.
  • Let’s not forget Zapier is a great option if you’re looking to create a more customized workflow between apps.

Pro tip: Clockwise is an easy way to connect Google Calendar, Slack, and Asana!

3. Don’t forget about extra cushion between items

Although it’s tempting to pack a tight schedule and fit in as much as you can, don’t forget to put space between items. If your event involves travel time, use your maps app to get an ETA — then tack on some extra time. Or, skip the extra steps and use Clockwise. Clockwise is a time orchestration tool that uses machine learning to identify which of your events require travel time, then automatically reserves that time so you don’t have to.

We also want to add some breathing room into our schedules to allow for life’s curveballs — maybe your best friend is visiting from out-of-town and you want to go for brunch. Or maybe your kid or fur baby needs you.

And if that isn’t reason enough to schedule in cushion time, science also tells us that humans tend to underestimate how much time a task will take (something called “planning fallacy”). Not to mention that it’s important for us to leave extra time for thinking and reflection. 

4. Save time on scheduling

If you’re someone with meeting-heavy workdays, then you probably spend a lot of time coordinating schedules with other people. Instead of relying on email to get this job done, adopt a scheduling tool like Calendly, Doodle, or Clockwise to make the scheduling process hassle-free. Google Calendar even has a time slots feature that’s better than scheduling through email. Our pick? At the risk of sounding biased, Clockwise hits all the marks as a scheduling tool.

What makes Clockwise unique from other popular calendar tools is Focus Time. Have you ever had a meeting at a really disruptive time (perhaps when you were writing, coding, or doing another task that required deep concentration)? With Clockwise, you never have to worry about that again. Clockwise’s scheduling assistant automatically suggests best times for meetings — not only based on availability but also based on meeting preferences (such as preferring to hold meetings first thing in the morning) and your Focus Time blocks. Rest assured that the coders on your team always have enough time for deep work, even as you schedule that all-important team meeting.

5. Pencil in email time like you do meetings

To prevent getting sucked into your inbox when you have other (more important) things to do, decide ahead of time when you’ll take care of any emails. Even better — save your first inbox check of the day for after you’ve completed an important item on your to-do list. Think about it — checking your email first thing in the morning is practically an invitation for other people’s requests to dictate your day. Sure, it’s important to be responsive (especially when you’re part of a team), but it’s even more important to be crystal clear about your priorities.

Before you get pulled into the dozens of items waiting in your inbox, do something for you. That could mean doing something work-related that you’ve saved for that morning, or it could mean stretching, meditating, or reading something inspiring to set the tone for your day.

And when you do inevitably sit down to clear out your inbox, keep the following tips in mind. First, boost efficiency by creating email templates for your most common messages. If you find yourself typing similar content in many of your emails, make a template instead. Many email clients like Gmail and Microsoft Outlook let you create templates that you can customize before pressing send. Another one of our favorite email tips comes from Cal Newport. Cal Newport recommends writing longer, “process-centric” emails. The core idea is to resist the urge to send quick emails like “What day works for you?” and to instead send longer emails that “close the loop” and reduce the need for back-and-forth communication. You can find a more in-depth explanation here

6. Automate Do Not Disturb mode

Have you ever joined a meeting and forgot to turn off Slack notifications? With the Clockwise for Slack app, you don’t have to worry about that ever again. This app automatically enables Do Not Disturb whenever you’re scheduled to be in a meeting or in a Focus Time session, making it easier for you to focus on your meeting or slip into flow. It’s one of our favorite shortcuts for a streamlined workday.

Clockwise for Slack also syncs your calendar to your Slack status, placing status-specific emojis next to your name whenever you aren’t available. Not only will your co-workers be able to see — at a glance — when you’re in a meeting or in Focus Time, but they’ll also see when you’re outside of working hours. This is especially useful for distributed teams who work in different time zones and still need to collaborate!

7. View your work on a timeline.

If you use a project management tool like Asana, Trello, or ClickUp, get comfy with the calendar view. Calendar view is exactly how it sounds — it lets you put all your tasks and projects on a timeline, so you can better visualize how you should be managing your time.

P.S. Calendar view is available on the free version of ClickUp, but to use it on Asana or Trello, you may need to upgrade to a premium plan.

8. Take care of yourself.

Last but definitely not least, look after your well-being! It’s impossible to perform well unless you’re taking care of your mind and body. It can be easy to skip a meal or go hours without water for the sake of “productivity,” but don’t fall into that trap. Set reminders to drink water, have a meal or a snack, stretch, even go out for a walk. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and better able to tackle what’s next.

Literally build personal well-being habits into your calendar, maybe even color-code it! And remember that even resting is productive.

FAQ

For more tips about how to boost productivity and efficiency, check out our answers to some frequently asked questions.

How can you use Google Calendar for greater productivity?

You probably already know how to increase productivity with scheduling methods like time blocking, but there are a few more ways Google Calendar can help: 

  • Did you know you can track daily tasks and create checklists right from Google Calendar?
    For task management, use Google Tasks, which you can access from many Google Workspace apps including Calendar. Check out our in-depth article about Google Tasks here.
  • To set yourself up for success every day, ask Google Calendar to send you your daily agenda every morning via email.
    In Google Calendar, go to Settings. In the left-side menu under Settings for my calendars, click your name. Click Other notifications. Next to Daily agenda, select E-mail in the drop-down menu.
  • Set your working hours in Google Calendar.
    When an event organizer tries to set up a meeting with you outside your working hours, they’ll be notified to choose a different time. Click here to learn how.
  • Connect Google Calendar to Clockwise.
    Clockwise optimizes your team’s calendars to create more time for everyone’s day. Clockwise automatically fixes scheduling conflicts, creates calendar events for Focus Time, and lets you turn your preferences (e.g. when you’re most productive) into your ideal workday. It also syncs your personal and shared calendars, so you never have to input the same event twice.

How can you schedule your calendar for more productivity?

One of the best things you can do for a productivity boost is dedicate time for deep work. Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University and New York Times bestselling author, defines deep work as: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”

In other words, deep work activities take more effort, but they also produce more value. Developing a business strategy, analyzing complex data, writing a book — these are all things that require deep work. Compare them to activities like checking social media, sending an email, scheduling a meeting, which are all shallow work. Shallow work may be easier to perform, but it doesn’t necessarily help you create anything of novel value.

You might be thinking: but what if the shallow work is unavoidable? After all, we all need to check our email! That’s where batching comes in. By batching similar tasks, e.g. checking and responding to all emails at a specific time, you can avoid the negative effects of context switching.

Clockwise CEO Matt Martin even applies batching to his meetings, allowing him to schedule his calendar for increased productivity. For example, he tries to schedule all of his leadership one-on-one meetings in the mornings on Mondays and Tuesdays and leaves Wednesday and Friday for ad-hoc meetings and deep work.

How do you simplify your calendar?

When your calendar feels a bit chaotic, take these steps:

First things first, identify why your schedule feels hectic. It could be that you have too many commitments, your schedule is irregular, or maybe it’s a combination of these things. Understanding the problem will help you take the next right steps to solving it.

For instance, if you have too many commitments, prioritization is key. There are a lot of techniques and hacks you can use to prioritize your schedule, but the common thread is that they help you identify your most important tasks. When you know what your most important tasks are, that serves as your North Star for getting things done. Clear direction gives you confidence as you start each day and can help to prevent procrastination and burnout. You can check out our full article about how to prioritize your work here.

If your calendar is chaotic because of an irregular schedule, consider ways you can introduce structure into your day-to-day. Here, it’s all about focusing on what you can control. For example, if your work hours fluctuate often (let’s say you’re a freelancer or an on-call employee), then find areas in your life where you can create a routine, even if it’s a small one. Daily rituals —  like waking up at the same time every day, making your coffee, and a light stretch — can help you find your groove more easily, even when other aspects of your day are less predictable.

Do you need a primary calendar to sync across devices and apps?

It’s a good practice to rely on a primary calendar as a single source of truth, then set it up to sync across multiple devices and apps. For example, you might create a main calendar in Google Calendar, then sync it to the calendar app on your iPhone and Mac. With Clockwise, you can even sync your primary calendar with your shared team calendar, so your team is always on the same page. 

Going forward

Some of the best productivity tools are the ones you’re already using. Leverage your calendar app — you’re using one anyway! — by learning about its features and finding ways to enhance its functionality. Creating a system that works for you takes time, trial, and error. Give these tips a go, and don’t be afraid to refine and adjust along the way.

About the author

Judy Tsuei

Judy Tsuei is a Simon & Schuster author, speaker, and podcast host. She’s been featured in MindBodyGreen, BBC Travel, Fast Company, Hello Giggles, and more. As the founder of Wild Hearted Words, a creative marketing agency for global brands, Judy is also a mentor with the Founder Institute, the world's largest pre-seed accelerator. Judy advocates for mental and emotional health on her popular podcast, F*ck Saving Face. Follow along her journey at WildHeartedWords.com.

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