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The Evolution of the Calendar: How to Use a Calendar Today

The Evolution of the Calendar: How to Use a Calendar Today

There is a major migration underway that you need to be aware of, lest it overtake you without your knowledge. Your calendar is being re-shaped, but it’s not only because of new technology…it’s because of your new habits.

Up until 20 years ago, your calendar was only a paper item that was either stuck to your wall, found in your diary or sitting on your desk where it collected appointments. It was designed as an object on which you recorded meetings with other people using a pen or pencil. The dates were arrayed in columns, lists or as a matrix of boxes, allowing you to represent a time demand as an occupied space on the page. (A “time demand” is a commitment created by an individual to complete a task in the future.)

Fast forward through the innovations of the past 30 years. Spreadsheets, email programs with electronic calendars, Palm PDAs, Blackberrys, iPads, Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange…and when you arrive in 2012 you find habits and technologies that were inspired by what a calendar used to be, but are still limited by our old concepts.

You can see these limits in today’s most popular time management and productivity books – written, as they were, by “baby boomer” authors. For them, changing an item on a calendar has traditionally been a hard task to perform. It’s involved finding the right page, using an eraser or White-Out to remove an entry, finding a pen or pencil, and writing in a new appointment. Neatly.

Only a few big-paged calendars would allow you to record activities in 15 minute increments, due to the size of your handwriting, so you’d focus on recording only major appointments. Also, the fact that these calendars were on paper meant that they could tear, get wet or be left on a plane. You definitely didn’t want to store your whole life on a paper calendar.

Out came a rule that fit those times, and it’s embedded in today’s productivity books:

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“Only put appointments with other people in your calendar.”

(Its corollary is: “don’t put anything else in your calendar.”)

Some have modified this to say that you should only put major commitments that “must” happen on a particular day and time in your calendar. (The weak definition of “must” makes the rule a hazy one.) There are problems with this approach. If, as a student, you don’t have to study tonight for an exam next week, you might not bother to schedule that early review session, and end up watching a movie instead.

These were reasonable guidelines for a time when the term “in your calendar” meant that a time demand that you had created was being literally written on a paper document as an appointment. It’s an old way of thinking that just doesn’t fit the technology that we have available today. In today’s world, as David Allen of GTD fame puts it, a calendar is just a special kind of list.

He’s right.

The only difference between a generic list and a calendar are the dates and durations that are included in the latter.

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When you add this information to the items in a list, it’s called “temporal tagging” and this act transforms an action such as “Pick up the milk” into “Pick up the milk at 5 pm on Monday, taking 20 minutes”. Once time demands are assigned temporal tags, they can be laid out in neat calendar views corresponding to days, weeks, months, years, etc.

This isn’t altogether new. My old DayRunner Diary abandoned in 1997 offered multiple ways to look at the time demands in my life, in the form of different paper inserts.

What has changed is the way we use technology to manage time demands, and craft these views.

Today we have a windstorm of time demands blowing around our life each day. They may be captured in the following ways:

  • Mental: These only exist in your mind (e.g. a mental note to yourself to have pasta for dinner tonight.)
  • Paper: These are written (e.g. a to-do list that includes the actions assigned to you in a meeting.)
  • Electronic: These exist in bits and bytes (e.g. the time demands buried inside your email inbox.)

A subset of the electronic items have been assigned temporal tags. When you pull up your calendar, you are simply asking to see a slice, or view, of all electronic time demands that happen to be temporally tagged.

A calendar, then, is a view. Because it’s electronic, you can ask for a number of different views that have nothing to do with the limits of the written or printed page. You can tag as many time demands as you want without ever running out of space.

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    In fact, if you had a magic genie, you’d probably attach a temporal tag to as many time demands in the windstorm as you could. When a time demand gets triggered by an email, for example, you’d have the following conversation with your genie:

    1. “I need to work for an hour on a new blog post. Show me my calendar for tomorrow.”
    2. “Thanks, genie. There’s no space tomorrow. Show me the calendar for next week.”
    3. “Thanks, genie. Book it for Friday, next week, at 3 pm.”

    Today, we don’t need to get our own genie to follow the steps listed above if we change our mental model of what a calendar is, and where it sits.

    Mental Model #1: What the new calendar is

    By seeing a calendar as a slice of time demands, or a view, the act of looking at your calendar is transformed into a dynamic activity in which you alternate between views, while changing items around. Creating, rearranging, rewording, lengthening, shortening and deleting time demands becomes easy. Almost imperceptibly, we are moving in this direction as the latest technology in the form of tablets, smartphones, and laptops make it easier to perform these changes every day.

    With greater ease, comes the ability to manage greater number of time demands as we develop the habit of temporally tagging a greter percentage of more time demands, and master the elegance and power of using different views to see only the information that we need at just the right time.

    Mental Model #2: Where the new calendar sits

    Time demands in this new world don’t sit on paper, in a hand-held gadget, or on a hard drive. Instead, they reside in an electronic cloud which is accessed by a screen that provides us with a real-time view. Getting stuff wet is no longer a problem, and neither is a battery failure or a crash, due to the presence of fail-proof backups. We are never without our cloud of time demands, even when we forget our favorite device at home, because other methods can be used to pull up different views. One day, we’ll even have watches that can pull up a calendar view.

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    New technology has enabled the adoption of these new mental models, but it’s our daily habits that are driving this migration. We are steadily pushing the envelope on how we manage time demands, and are only limited by technology innovators who are slow to understand what we are trying to do, and how we are trying to do it.

    Unfortunately, researchers are slow to catch up also, although some of it does show that temporal tagging and calendar views are used by those who are more skilled at time management. These techniques enable them to manage a greater number of time demands: an even bigger windstorm.

    That shouldn’t be a surprise. The resistance hard-coded into the time management books was based on a paper paradigm. With the redefinition of a calendar as a view of time demands, and the cloud as the ultimate storage location, we can use our own magic genie to make us more productive.

    Featured photo credit: Calendar and Pencil via Shutterstock and inline photo Calendar Card by Joe Lanman via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on March 21, 2019

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

    Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

    You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

    But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

    To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

    It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

    “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

    The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

    In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

    Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

    1. Start Small

    The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

    Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

    Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

    Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

    Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

    Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

    It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

    Do less today to do more in a year.

    2. Stay Small

    There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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    But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

    If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

    When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

    I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

    Why?

    Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

    The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

    Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

    3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

    No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

    There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

    What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

    Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

    This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

    This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

    4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

    When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

    There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

    Peter Drucker said,

    “What you track is what you do.”

    So track it to do it — it really helps.

    But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

    5. Measure Once, Do Twice

    Peter Drucker also said,

    “What you measure is what you improve.”

    So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

    For reading, it’s 20 pages.
    For writing, it’s 500 words.
    For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
    For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

    Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

    6. All Days Make a Difference

    Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

    Will two? They won’t.

    Will three? They won’t.

    Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

    What happened? Which one made you fit?

    The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

    No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

    7. They Are Never Fully Automated

    Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

    But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

    What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

    It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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    The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

    It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

    It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

    8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

    Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

    Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

    When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

    The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

    Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

    9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

    The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

    Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

    You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

    But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

    So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

    If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

    This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

    The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

    Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

    10. Punish Yourself

    Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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    I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

    It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

    You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

    No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

    The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

    But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

    11. Reward Yourself

    When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

    Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

    The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

    After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

    If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

    Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

    If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

    In the End, It Matters

    What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

    When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

    And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

    “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

    Keep going.

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    More Resources to Help You Build Habits

    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
    [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
    [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
    [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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