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This is how I use the calendar to organize my whole life

There was a time, around 6 BC (before the Confinement), when I got to have serious problems with my organization, both personal and professional. I often missed assignments and even forgot an appointment, or remembered it at the last minute. One day the situation got out of hand. That day I felt it was time to get serious about organizing my tasks and appointments before seeing myself at the INEM with a dismissal from under my arm.

The solution was twofold: on the one hand, to centralize absolutely all my tasks in —one minute of silence— Wunderlist, later replaced by Todoist. On the other hand, use the rough calendar. And over time, I progressively improved both measures. I went from writing down all the tasks in a single inbox, without further ado, to sorting them based on projects and contexts, adding deadlines, attaching URLs or files if necessary … And with the calendar, I was polishing a stone system and disciplined, like a German in a boarding school.

For people who have been using their calendar naturally for decades – perhaps like you, reader – this may sound like a complete platitude. But week after week I also find people who entrust everything to their memory, or limit themselves to notes on paper, or who even use the calendar on their mobile or computer, but in a superficial way. This article is for them: you can go much further.

Calendar 101

In the examples I’m going to give I have used the native macOS calendar, but practically any calendar has identical options, so even if you use Outlook or Google Calendar you can still apply them.

1. Use multiple calendars

This has a double utility: on the one hand, By associating different colors to each one, you can better understand at a glance what kind of events and appointments you have during the day or week. In my case, I use red for personal, blue for work, yellow for family and green for sporting events that I want to see.

Screenshot of my calendar.Screenshot of my calendar.

Capture from my own calendar. You can see the appointments and events of a whole week, the use of different calendars, the travel times of the events that need it, birthdays and holidays in Spain …

What’s more, I have shared the family calendar (yellow color) with my partner. What one adds, edits, or removes is reflected on the other’s devices. That is where I add all the appointments and events shared by both, but also those in which, even if they are only for one of the two, the other must be informed of it. This applies especially to events that are not exactly part of the day to day, but are a little more exceptional. In these cases, we put the name of the busy person at the beginning of the event name to know that this appointment only affects that person.

Nothing is as important on my computer as the expanding text application

2. Practica el time-blocking

This picturesque English name comes to mean something simple: do you remember school or university schedules, when each day was structured around subjects or recess time, rather than one big homogeneous daily event? Do the same as then, but with your current tasks.

Detail each of these tasks and make them as small as possible, without going to ridiculous extremes. In this capture I have filled in two imaginary days: Monday, without time-blocking. Tuesday, with him. Two different ways to organize a day. It is clear to me which one I prefer.

Calendar 02Calendar 02

On the one hand, a day without time-blocking or the use of different calendars. On the other side, a structured and detailed session.

3. Use as many fields as you need

A calendar event or appointment is essentially made up of a title and a time slot. However, in many events it will be a very good idea to go a lot further to take advantage of its possibilities. The less we have to trust our memory and the less we have to leave the calendar to find all the relevant information for that event, the better.

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An example with the dinner event. In addition to indicating that the event is a “dinner” in the title, and the expected time slot, we can also add:

  • An invitation for the person with whom we are going to share the event.
  • The address where the event will take place (Normally by entering the name of the city, the monument, the business, etc., the application will already be able to show us the full address). This is especially useful because then with a touch we can see the route and the navigation there by going by car, on foot, by subway …
  • Travel time. We can set a specific value, or let the application know where we are before and estimate that time for us. In this way, it will also warn us so that we can leave on time, and it will “block” the previous time so that we understand that at that time we will be on a journey, not free. For many events, where everything happens in the same environment or a few minutes walk from our house, it will not be necessary to use this field. – Other advance notice. Useful for events that we want to have in mind with special notice, such as the morning before, the day before, five minutes before, etc.
  • Notes, URL or files. In this example I add the address to the restaurant’s menu, which is no longer offered physically, but through its website.
Calendar 03Calendar 03

Calendar event with several fields filled in beyond the basic ones. The fundamental principle does not stop being that the calendar works for you saving you time and distractions for the future, not that you work for the calendar.

4. Complement it with a good management of your contacts

If your contacts have the format “first name, last name, phone number” without more information, you will not be able to take full advantage of the calendar, since the contact book and it work more closely together than it may seem. If instead have elements such as your birthday and the address of your home or work, both applications will feed back and they will be much more useful.

Calendar 04Calendar 04

A sufficiently complete contact card will also be helpful when using the calendar.

For example, with the date of birth entered in the card of each contact, the calendar will notify you of their birthday every year, also indicating how old they are.

And also, if you introduce a new event that takes place at the address of a contact or at their work, you will only have to write their name for the application to suggest one of those addresses, rather than having to remember them or look for them elsewhere.

5. Leave empty spaces and be aware of transitions

This seems like a trivial question, but I’ve learned it in recent months: for one thing, it is a very good idea to leave blank spaces, with nothing to do. The gridded organization is fantastic and necessary for people of a chaotic nature, but leaving room for improvisation is also great.

The blank spaces are used both to have moments of improvisation or rest and to be able to manage unforeseen events

A few blanks (as many as possible, as few as you need) complement that near-total time reserve well. Either to face an unforeseen event with a reservation of time, or to just improvise, rest, and do anything but productive tasks.

Secondly, the gaps between appointments and events are also important, beyond travel times. Finishing a three-hour task at 1 p.m. and not leaving five or ten minutes until starting the next one can sometimes be necessary, but planning it that way can backfire. Resting those five or ten minutes should be seen as an investment: thanks to them we will be able to continue performing during the next task. Without them, perhaps our level of concentration and creativity, in addition to the desire to continue working, can drop so much that it is no longer worth doing that task.

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6. Distinguish between appointments and tasks

It is a basic concept to understand what should go to the calendar, even in a system based on the time-blocking And why not. Appointments and events are everything that we have to do in a specific period of time, either due to an external need (such as a scheduled appointment with the dentist), or because although it only depends on us, we have decided to block that temporary space in order to do that specific task (like finishing a job report).

Chores: they do not take place in a specific time window, we will do them when we can or want. Other: it does not depend only on us when to do them, we cannot do them outside of that moment.

Some more examples to finish understanding:

Chores

Other

Unsubscribe from the gym

Meeting with Roberto

Buy train tickets to Zaragoza

Dinner with Sara and Sergio

Renew driving license

Ana’s birthday party

Buy socks

Appointment with the vet

Prepare documentation for the lawyer

Car check

Don’t be overwhelmed by that grid of colors, it takes less time than you might believe, especially once when you get used to that dynamic, and it ends up saving you time and preventing forgetfulness. If you have any idea to improve this system or use the calendar in a way that you think is better, I will be very interested (and surely the rest of the readers as well) that you tell us in the comments.