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How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space

How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space
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There has been plenty of discussion online and off about how a calendar fits into one’s productivity system. The general rule of thumb is that scheduled appointments should go in your calendar, while tasks and the like should go into whichever task management system you use.

What often gets lost in the discussion is what appointments should go into your calendar in order to best maximize your time and ensure you’re making progress on the things you really want to be doing. One of the best ways to do this is to get a bit more granular with the definition of appointments so that you can use your calendar more effectively as part of your overall productivity system.

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Types of Appointments

1. General Appointments

These are appointments in the most traditional sense. They may be doctor’s appointments or business lunches. Either way, they are fairly general in terms of what we define as appointments, so they should be treated as such. These types of appointments can be moved to different dates if given enough notice and both parties are able to make it happen, although you should try to keep them “as-is” in most cases.

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2. Self-Appointments

These are appointments you make with yourself. They can be time blocks that you schedule so that you can work on tasks or projects without interruption – by yourself or others through distraction. These types of appointments are also transferable, but I would recommend you try to build a framework so that they stay as static as possible. Pick some time where you can work in 90 minute intervals as a self-appointment regularly so that you can create a habit and improve productivity. Break these times up with breaks where nothing is set in stone. You can even take the larger blocks and break them down into smaller chunks using The Pomodoro Technique if you’d like so that you can move from task to task.

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Keep these amount of time sacred, but be nimble enough that you can move that amount of time to other hours of the day.

3. Team Appointments

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These are appointments where a team is needed to come together. The best way to schedule these is after the other two types of appointments are locked in your calendar. While it might be hard to schedule these after doing so, there are tools like Doodle, Tungle.me, and even Google Calendar that can help pick optimal times where most can be present. When it comes to these types of appointments, the needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few, so self and general appointments may have to be adjusted in order to make them work. But only adjust those as a last resort – your time is important and your teammates need to realize that.

Conclusion

I’ve heard some productivity types say that scheduling time blocks works against you – that it goes against the grain and is nearly impossible to do. But John Cleese has brought forth the argument that people need two things in order to create: time and space. I couldn’t agree more with that assessment.

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If you keep in mind the types of appointments you have at your disposal, your calendar becomes a tremendous tool that allows you to create this time and space for yourself.

(Photo credit: Close Up of a Calendar Page via Shutterstock)

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Mike Vardy

A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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