Time is the only non-renewable resource we have. Unless we use it well, how can we do anything in life? A weekly calendar is a tool that can help us do the things that matter to us. It helps us achieve our long-term goals because long-term begins in the short-term.

We use a calendar for a few reasons:

  • It helps you keep track of your time so you can see where your time is going and if you’re spending this time by doing things that matter to you.
  • It allows you to manage your expectations with yourself first and with others second. It gives you a realistic view of how much you have on your plate.
  • It helps you keep track of things that you have agreed to. And because you have said yes to these things, implicitly, you’re saying no to everything else in these time blocks. This goes back to having focus and doing one thing well.
  • It’s all about thinking about things, and then doing them; just not doing them both at the same time. I wrote about this process in Thinking and Doing. We need to think about things before we can do them, otherwise all we’re doing is living in reactionary mode, and that is no way to live. If there are things worth doing, it’s worth thinking about first. Unless we plan for things, how will we do them? When we fail to plan, we plan to fail.

Why use a weekly calendar? I wrote about the importance of planning weekly because we think in terms of weeks, not days, and a week is generally a universally-agreed upon unit of time. The idea is to plan weekly while adjusting daily because even the best laid-out plans need adjustments.

I just want to note one thing: a calendar is not meant to be your master. Your decisions will always supersede what you have committed to in the calendar, and you should be okay with that. Just because you have something scheduled doesn’t mean you have to do it for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes you have to deviate from the schedule to respond to circumstances as they come up, which is fine because people are more important than efficiency in your calendar. Don’t be afraid to give yourself the freedom to peacefully sacrifice your schedule to higher values. Don’t be afraid to deviate when circumstances call for it.

If you’re not already using a calendar, how do you get started using one? Well, we need to pick a calendar tool. Some knowledge workers use weekly paper planners. Others use a hybrid, meaning they use digital devices for planning, and then they print out their work calendar for the week, which they use until the end of the work week. I prefer using digital calendars because I use multiple devices (notebook, tablet, phone) based on context, and any change I make in one device reflects in the calendar on all the other devices sans duplication.

Some features to look for in a digital calendar might include custom calendar views, weather support, time zone support, Exchange support, mail invitations, contacts integration, and calendar sync between your other devices. A lot of people prefer Google Calendar. I’ve been happily using BusyCal for years; it has all the aforementioned features and more.

Once you have chosen your calendar tool of choice, take some time to go through its Preferences to make it your own, just the way you want it. Pick the weekly view as the default view in your calendar application. Use Monday (instead of Sunday) as the start of your week, review the past week, and plan for the upcoming week. A weekend is a good time to do that. Set a default alert time for new events so you don’t miss your events. You can have different default alerts for stock events, birthdays, and other all-day events. Once you have customized your calendar application, the last step is to plan your week.

Finally, here are some best practices for using your calendar. Please note that not everything will work for you. Pick what works for you and then do that.

  • Have as many calendars as you need and as few as you can get by with.
  • Color-code your calendars. This way, you know exactly where your time is going at a glance. For instance, you could use blue for work, green for meals (fuel), red for exercise, etc. Whatever you do, keep it simple.
  • Have separate calendars for all-day events such as birthdays, anniversaries, upcoming film releases, holiday calendars, etc.
  • Take some time at the end of each work day to review your calendar and make adjustments.
  • Use recurring events for things you do every week at the same time. Potential events might include morning and evening routines, meals, exercise, sleep, etc. Only after you do this do you have a realistic view of how much time you actually have during the course of a day to do the things you want to do.
  • Schedule meetings with others by adding attendees to an event and sending a meeting invitation.
  • Use calendar groups to organize and consolidate your calendars.
  • You can have calendar groups based on the kind of energy: physical, social, mental, and spiritual. I covered physical renewal earlier. For instance, I have two calendars under Physical: Fuel and Renewal. Fuel is the meals I eat in green. Red is the renewal that I do at the start/end (as part of routines) and during the day. It includes time for rest/relaxation and movement/exercise.
  • Review your calendar weekly; adjust daily to accomodate for small changes. All you need is an hour every weekend to do a review. Even better if you do it at the same time every weekend, and block time for it in your calendar. Set it up as a weekly repeating event. Always review the past week before planning for the upcoming week.
  • Make time for work and play. Decide on a time that you’ll work and play. Then, honor those boundaries.
  • Schedule down-time in your calendar. Often, it’s one of the first things I do when planning my week. It’s the only way to ensure that I work and play consistently.
  • If you find yourself procrastinating, schedule only recreational time in your calendar while taking credit only for hours that you actually work. You can use a timekeeper application to keep track of times during the day, and then at the end of your work day, mark the hours you worked in your work calendar, and note what you accomplished in that time.
  • Have a shared family calendar to plan family events.
  • When you plan your week over the weekend, look for birthdays in the upcoming week, and schedule email greetings in your email application for those days. This is an easy way to keep in touch with people who matter to you.
  • Avoid double-booking/over booking your calendar.
  • Don’t schedule every minute in your calendar. That will just lead to burnout and stress, which isn’t sustainable. The point is to have a good idea of where your time is going without being too granular. Also, leave space between events; this way you have some breathing room and you’re not living hand-to-mouth in terms of time.
  • When planning events in your calendar, account for buffers in your events to get more space for yourself because we all suffer from planning fallacy — we vastly underestimate how much time we require to do things, even if we have done it before. For instance, block 30 minutes (accounting for buffer) in your calendar for each meal even though it won’t take you that long to eat. Then, any extra leftover time feels like a bonus.
  • You can subscribe to a US Holidays calendar using iCalShare to keep track of national holidays. You can look for your country’s calendar; just make sure it’s updated for the current year.

When you learn to use your calendar effectively as a way to plan your week and review daily, you’ll be so much farther ahead in doing the things that matter to you.

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