This is Part 3 of my five-part Keys to Time Management series. (If you missed parts 1 or 2, start here: Foundations . )
This time, we’re focusing on on your Calendar. It’s all about…
Using a calendar in the most effective way is another important element of time management where many of my clients struggle. Most of my clients are grossly under-utilizing their calendar as the time-management powerhouse it can be. But, like, every other part of the Pillars of ProductivityTM, unless your calendar is good and solid, none of the more advanced calendar strategies are going to help you for the long haul. It’s really important to lay a solid foundation here!
Calendar Management itself is also not a single skill, but a set of behaviors and tools that need to come together to be effective. And, like so many things related to Time Management, although this sounds simple enough, you know that it is not!
For starters, every single time I talk about calendars, someone asks me…
“What’s the BEST calendar to use?”
Paper? Electronic? Day-at-a-glance? Week at-a-glance? Something else?
My answer is always, and always will be, The Best Calendar to use is…
The one you use consistently.
I’m sorry, but it’s true! It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s an important truth to accept.
If your shelves and your hard drive are cluttered with calendars you’ve tried and discarded because you’re continually looking for that magic, fits-like-Cinderella’s-glass-slipper calendar that’s going to fix all your time-management woes, you just may need this reality check.
Bear with me as I explain…
When it comes to effective Calendar Management, the behaviors with which you use whatever calendar you have are much, much more important than the calendar itself. In fact, they’re foundational, and no calendar is going to serve you as the time-management powerhouse that it can be until you accept that truth.
The Perfect Calendar for Time Management
There is no perfect calendar—there never has been, and there never will be. If there were, instead of writing this post, I’d just be giving you a link to buy that perfect calendar on my website! Then, I’d go sit on a beach somewhere sipping exotic drinks in the sun all day because I’d have solved one of the biggest problems for our tribe with the click of a mouse! (If it were that easy, don’t you think I’d be all over that after all these years?!)
I know you want the magic keys to your time management woes–but there really is no such thing as the perfect calendar. Deep down, you know it’s true.
How many calendars and planners have have you tried and let go over the years? If you’re anything like my clients, you’ve likely already spent a small fortune in time, money and hope investing in different planners, journals and calendar systems, only to end up frustrated and dejected.
It’s true that a lot of this frustration and disappointment comes from thinking, to begin with, that there is some perfect calendar with some magic trick that the rest of the planet has figured out while you weren’t paying attention.
So I’m going to save you a lot of future time, money, and anguish right now:
Stop trying to find the perfect calendar! It doesn’t exist. What makes a calendar Work Best is all about the behaviors!
In fact, there are 3 Essential Behaviors for Effective Calendar Management, and when you focus on those three behaviors, any calendar can be the right calendar.
The best calendar for you is the one that you use consistently with these 3 Essential Behaviors for Effective Calendar Management below.
These behaviors are like gears in a machine: if any one gear gets out of sync, we’re sunk. Our calendar management falls apart. We miss commitments. We’re late. We don’t follow-through.
The 3 Essential Behaviors for Effective Calendar Management
You need to always include All time-specific Commitments in Your Calendar. If you’re not consistently putting every single time-based commitment in your calendar, it can’t support you sufficiently and effective Time Management is impossible. You’ll be trying to use your less-than-reliable memory to manage those commitments, which causes a lot of stress. Exactly how you capture those commitments and what they look like matters as well, but that needs to be personalized for you once you have the Capture behavior down pat. For now, focus on making sure all of your appointments and time-specific commitments make it into your calendar.
You need to Refer to Your Calendar several times each day, and look ahead regularly. Capturing everything in your calendar is not going to be very helpful if you’re not checking and retrieving what you’ve captured regularly. Again, regardless of whether you choose a paper or electronic calendar, it does you no good to become aware of an appointment or commitment after the fact or when it’s too late to prepare or follow-through. The behavior of referring to or checking your calendar regularly is what puts you in control of your time. It’s what enables you to be proactive rather than reactive. And, really, this is a form of Planning.
You need to always have Access to your Calendar when you need it, and it needs to be accurate and up-to-date for you to be able to trust your calendar and stop trying to manage your life with your wonky memory. Regardless of what kind of calendar you choose, you need to always have it with you so that you can put things in it, and it needs to be what I call your “Single Source of Truth” so that there’s no doubt that what’s in it is correct.
Of course, each of the 3 Essential Behaviors must be personalized to work for you with your own unique strengths, tendencies and your life, but if you focus on solidifying these behaviors, as is, first and worry about customizing later, you’re going to be way ahead of the game in becoming more proactive than reactive, and taking control of your time.
Let Go of the Perfect Calendar
So, let go of perfect, and grab a ‘good enough” calendar to use right now.
For the next weeks, focus on those 3 Essential Behaviors until they are truly solid before you worry about what kind of calendar to use. This really has to be a process! I know most of you don’t want to hear that. (After 15+ years of helping professionals take control of their time and to-dos, I can almost hear the groans and see the eyerolls as you read that! But just try to trust me if you’re still reading this!)
Once those three essential behaviors are good and solid for you, then you can tweak and individualize your calendar into something that works for YOU with your own style, your own needs, and your own strengths in mind. And you can learn how to really leverage your calendar as the time-management powerhouse it can be with more advanced strategies like time blocking and task batching (just to name a few things I teach my clients).
But, I promise you that None of that will help you Without those Solid Behaviors!
Any calendar will serve you well and help you take back control of your time when you focus on those behaviors. And that’s the bigger reason for all of this anyway, right? The goal of improved Time Management is to have More Time and More Energy for what matters most!
In Part 4 of this series, next, I’ll explore how you manage your To-Do List to improve your time management skills, and give you some simple strategies to help you get those to-dos, done.
Until next time …
The clock keeps ticking, but you’re getting closer to making the most of it.
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach
*A few words on Electronic vs. Paper Calendars*
A common dilemma I hear from many of my clients is whether use a paper or an electronic calendar. And, really, it is a matter of preference! Both have advantages and disadvantages, but whether or not you choose to use a paper calendar or electronic is much less important than whether or not you use it with those 3 Essential Behaviors!
So, briefly, here are the benefits of one over the other, as I see them myself and for my clients:
Electronic calendars on our phones or computers can be really helpful because we can set alarms and reminders and notifications for events. Of course, this can be really helpful unless we’re over-using them or not using them well.
Bells, Alarms & Reminders
Too many bells and alarm tones will make you start to ignore all the sounds your device makes, so it’s important not to create too much clutter with alarms and reminders. And reminders can be really helpful, but not if they’re not used carefully. A reminder for a Dr. appointment can be really, really wonderful, for example, but not when it goes off fifteen minutes before the appointment and you are 20 minutes away. Also, not if it goes off 30 minutes before the appointment (from which you are 20 minutes away), but you don’t have the insurance referral for the Dr. Appointment because you weren’t checking your calendar in advance.
The long and short of it—reminders and alarms can be helpful, but they’re not a substitute for the behaviors, habits and systems we need to create!
Electronic Calendars can also be synchronized across a variety of platforms, and accessible or “shareable” with others. For some of us, this is an important feature. For others, it adds an element of unwanted complication.
Paper is great for some of us because the act of writing things down reinforces the information for us. Some of us also like the tactile feel of paper, and being able to lay the calendar out in front of us, visually. That’s hard to do with some electronic calendars—but there are ways to work with that, too. And, there are ways to integrate both a preference for hand-writing and processing, and the convenience of an electronic calendar.
What’s important at the outset is that
Choose for now!
Pick whichever one seems most practical for you for starters. If you’re already using one, stick with it. Focus on solidifying your 3 Essential Behaviors, and then make small tweaks as you go. Once those 3 essential behaviors are solid, switching from one format to another and leveraging more advanced calendar-management strategies can be seamless.
But you don’t have to figure all that out alone! If need help making your calendar work for you and leveraging it as the time-management powerhouse it can be, check out my Unleashed! 90-Day Time Management Mentoring group at www.UnleashedPotential.group