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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 June 22, 2018

    How to Nix Your Credit Card Debt in Less Than 3 Years

    How to Nix Your Credit Card Debt in Less Than 3 Years

    Debt is never a fun thing to be in. But, there are many actions that you can take that will help you rid yourself of the burden of debt once and for all.

    By coming up with a set plan, eliminating your debt can feel much easier than constantly thinking about it.

    This post will provide some tips on how you can do this to help you nix your credit card debt in less than 3 years.

    Hint: there are ways that are easier than you think.

    1. Consider consolidating multiple credit cards if possible

    This may not be applicable to you, but if you have multiple cards – it is something to consider. Keeping up with multiple bills is time consuming.

    It will depend on the balance you have on each. Consolidate ones you can but do not do it to the point that you get too close to the maximum limit. Also, it is ideal to pick the card with the lower interest rate.

    Consider if there are any fees or alternatively, rewards, with transferring a balance to another card. Watch out for fees. Note that some cards offer rewards for transferring a balance to them. This is extra cash that can help go towards paying off your debt.

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    Having one or two cards can make nixing your debt much simpler than keeping up with the balance of a bunch of cards. Keeping track of paying the minimum towards a bunch of cards is time consuming. Spend the time to consolidate instead to make the overall process simpler going forward.

    My tip: Have one main credit card. Have a second one that you use for necessities – such as groceries or gas – that offers rewards for those purchases (a lot of cards do) and set the second one on auto-pay. You should be able to pay off a smaller amount on auto-pay if it is a necessity. If you think you cannot, then you may need to cut down a lot on expenses.

    Why do I suggest doing this? Having one thing set to auto-pay is one less thing to think about. One less thing to waste time on. Same idea with consolidating to one main card. Tracking down too many is a hassle.

    2. Try to pay the full balance you spent each month at the very least

    You need to pay off the amount you are spending each month when that bill comes in. This is the amount you spent THAT month.

    Do not let the debt keep accruing while you work on paying any unpaid debt that has accrued. It will become a never-ending battle. Try as best as you can to be current on paying for each month’s expenses when that month’s bill comes out.

    If this is a strain, consider why. You may need to cut expenses. Or you may need to consider other cards. Or look at where this money is going.

    3. Pay extra when you can – every small amount counts

    This cannot be emphasized enough. If you are looking at a lot of credit card debt, it can look daunting, but each extra amount that you can put towards the debt will really add up – no matter how small it is.

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    It does not just reduce the principal amount that you have left to pay off, but it reduces the amount that is collecting interest. You will always save money with that reduced interest.

    4. Create a plan on how to pay extra

    Back to the main point, having this plan is giving you one less thing to think about.

    This plan should be a plan that works for you. If it does not work for you, your spending habits, and your views on debt, then it will not be an effective plan.

    For instance, if a set plan of an extra $50 (or another amount that you know you can afford) works for you, then do that. Set that aside every month and pay that extra amount. Treat it like a bill. Choose an amount that works for you and pay it like clockwork as though it was a bill you had to pay each month.

    Little amounts will not nix it entirely, but they will help tackle it and having a set plan can make it less of a chore. Creating a new plan of how much to put towards it each month is an unnecessary added stress.

    5. Cut out costs for services you do not use

    If you are signed up for subscriptions that you do not use because of some free trial or for some other reason, cut it out. Your overall financial position will look better.

    In turn, that will make cutting your credit card debt easier. Look at your statements to find these expenses. If you do not use them, you may forget you are paying some unnecessary amount each month. Cutting it out can really add up in savings that you can put towards other needed expenses.

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    6. Get aggressive about it

    Consider these points:

    Depending on the interest and the level of debt, you may need to give up a few indulgences. For example, instead of ordering delivery or going out to eat, cook at home. Everything adds up.

    Other things may be more of a sacrifice. It may be a trip you wanted to go on, or a daily latte habit you’ve picked up. In these instances, consider how important it is to you and if it’s worth the sacrifice. And if it is a costly expense, think whether you can wait to indulge.

    Cutting an extravagant expense can really help make a dent in your overall debt. Try not to add to debt when you are trying to pay it off. It will be a never-ending battle. Make it less of a battle with these tips and it will feel easier.

    Bottom line: Do what you can to make this process easier for you. Implement steps that do this. It takes time now, but will help overall. Also, keep track of your spending and paying down of your debts. Which is the next point.

    7. Reevaluate your progress at set intervals

    Doing a regular check-in can help you see your efforts pay off or maybe indicate that you need to give this a bit more effort. If you check every 3-6 months, it will not feel so much like a chore or feel so daunting.

    By doing this, you will be able to better understand your progress and perhaps readjust your plan. Bonus: if you see it pay off, it will feel great to do this check-in. You will get there.

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    Finally (and most importantly)…

    8. Keep trying

    Do not get discouraged. Pushing it off will make it worse. Just keep trying.

    Once your debt becomes lower, each monthly payment will reduce the balance more. Why? You are paying less towards interest. It will be a snowball effect eventually and it will become much easier to manage. Just get to that point. And know once you do, it will feel easier and motivating.

    Start knocking out your debt today

    The best way to eliminate debt is to get started right away. Begin by implementing the above steps and watch your debt just melt away. Try out some of the above strategies and see what works best for you. Soon you’ll be on your way to a debt free life.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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