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The Keys to Time Management (Part 3): “The Best Calendar”

Calendar Management is another important element of time management where many of my clients struggle.

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 for our ADHD tribe, 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”? People ask me all the time, What’s the BEST calendar to use? Paper? Electronic? Day-at-a-glance? Week at-a-glance? Something else? And 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 a truth that you need to accept. 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 more important than the calendar itself.

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 ADHD 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 solution to end 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, energy and money 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 time, money, and anguish right now: Stop trying to find the perfect calendar! It doesn’t exist. It’s 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: Capture; Retrieval; and Trust.

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. Each of them

Again, the 3 Essential Behaviors are:

1. Capture.

Include All Commitments in Your Calendar. If you’re not consistently putting every single time-based commitment in your calendar, it can’t support you sufficiently. 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 apointments and time-specific commitments make it into your calendar.

2. Retrieval. 

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.

3. Trust.

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.

So, let go of perfect, and grab a ‘good enough” calendar to use right now, and focus on those 3 Essential Behaviors until they are truly solid before you worry about what kind of calendar to use. It truly has to be a process. Over time, you’ll need to tweak and individualize your calendar into something that works for YOU with your own style, your own needs, and your own strengths in mind, but 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 week, 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.

Take care,

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. 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 15 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 creating the habits 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.

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.

And if you need more help, feel free to schedule a Complimentary Phone Consultation to see how I can help You Make the Most of Your Time!

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  1. I have discovered that I either write too many comments in my calendar or too few. How can we best break down what is actually useful. Are there any best practices? I suffer from the problem that everything seems important. I have trouble weighting what I really need to write down.

    1. That’s a good question, Nancy, and a rather complex one! That’s the kind of stuff I work through with my clients and in my programs, but it’s a hard question to answer universally because it really depends on the individual. How you process information naturally, how you use your calendar and your other tools/systems, and your personal threshold for what I call “visual overwhelm”, and more all need to be taken into consideration. It’s actually very individual and nuanced, but it really does matter. If it feels like it’s too much, or your calendar feels cluttered or overwhelms you, then it probably is too much detail. Finding another way to accommodate/externalize the details outside of but somehow connected to your calendar could help. Like keeping details in another part of your calendar, your task management system, etc. I hope that gives you some ideas! It’s not an easy question to answer without knowing you, personally.

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