Are you constantly unimpressed by how much you get done each day? Always expecting to accomplish more? Or maybe you are forgetting appointments. Or double booking yourself. Or not giving yourself enough time to get where you need to go.

If that’s happening it means that you don’t have a calendar you can trust.  Or maybe you’re not using a calendar at all.

I don’t make promises very often and I promise you that having a calendar you can trust is key to aligning your day-to-day actions with your higher level purpose. It’s also the key to more peace and presence in your daily life.

Last week I had a blissfully full day. I had a 90-minute client session in the morning and then I was leading a half-day purpose discovery workshop in the afternoon.  I got into the office around 8:30am that day.  With my client session at 9:30am I knew I had an hour to get some work done.

Screenshot of my blissfully full day.

Having an accurate visual of your day makes life easier.

My client session would wrap up around 11:00am and then I’d need to get to the workshop location by 11:45am to set up.  It was going to be 30 minutes of drive time to get there. Which meant I had just 15 minutes between wrapping my client session and leaving for the workshop. And that’s it. The rest of my work day was going to be consumed by that workshop.

There was nothing else on my calendar except for a client appointment, drive time, and the workshop. Being able to look at that, I knew exactly how much time I had to do anything else, which then would allow me to go to my action list to see what I could get done in this hour before my first client, and then these 15 minutes between my first client and having to leave the office to go to that workshop.

So I got some good stuff done in that first hour. As for that 15 minute window? Realistically, what happened in those 15 minutes was I went to the bathroom, I heated up a burrito for the road, I packed everything up and got out of Dodge and headed to the workshop.

At the workshop I was all there, all in. Just one quick glance at my calendar in the morning and I knew exactly what my day looked like and exactly where I had time to work on things other than what was on my calendar. Which allowed me to let go of everything else. There was nothing else I could do that day. Which meant I got to be present with my workshop clients. I knew exactly what WASN’T getting done and that was ok.

I could only do that because my calendar is one that I trust. It is one where only what actually has to be done that day is on there.

Really, a calendar is intended to show the hard landscape of your day. The stops and starts to your day. The hard edges of your day. The things that actually have to get done. It really should be the first place that you go to see what is happening in your day because it tells you not only where you should be and when, but it also shows you how much time you actually have to do anything else.

When your calendar is trustworthy, you can look at it and know when you’re going to be occupied, what actually needs to get done that day, and then any open space, is time where you can get anything else done.

 

Just like I did on my blissfully full day.

Let’s talk about how you can have a calendar that you can trust. It’s taken me years to figure out how to do this, which may seem silly to you. But, let me just give you my tips and see if they might help you.

Ready for my first tip?

 

1. Get everything on one calendar.

What the heck do I mean by this? Perhaps you have a calendar through your personal gmail account, an Outlook calendar at work, your calendar on your phone, etc. If you have appointments and reminders scattered across multiple calendar tools/apps/platforms, get them all into one app.  Pick your favorite app and get everything synced with that app.  I happen to like Google Calendar. Everything I do for work or the rest of my life goes on my Google Calendar. I can access it via the web or through the app on my phone or tablet. No more “work calendar” and “home calendar’. Sometimes life stuff happens during work hours and vice versa. Why go to two different calendars to figure that out?

It is really important to get everything into one place where you can see it all in one view. That could be overwhelming to see it all at once, but it is reality. And though I may be a dreamer, I know that dealing with reality is super important. Otherwise you are bouncing back and forth between calendars, missing appointments or always doubting how much time you actually have to get stuff done. 

 

2. Color code your calendar.

Color coding is really helpful for me because I’m super visual.  My client sessions are dark green, networking appointments are purple, personal appointments are yellow, etc.  It makes it easy to look at my day or week to see what it holds. 

Sometimes you need to have things on your calendar that you don’t need to attend, but you need to know about and be aware of.  For example, my girlfriend is a massage therapist and sometimes works with clients in our home. I need to know when that’s happening so I don’t come home during those times for any reason. So, she lets me know when that’s happening and I put that on my calendar and color it gray. That’s a great color because it just fades that appointment to the background. I don’t have to be at that appointment, I just need to know about it.

And then there’s the color red.  I use this to flag my travel time.  Speaking of which…

 

3. Add travel time to your calendar.

I mean the time spent driving in your car from one appointment or event to the next. Adding travel time to my calendar has been something that I’ve been hit or miss on. But over the past couple of months I’ve been better about it. And it has been super helpful for a few reasons:

  • It helps me be more intentional about WHEN I leave for an appointment because I’m blocking it off on my calendar. Doing that has led to fewer late arrivals on my part.  And I hate being late!
  • It helps me be more realistic about how much time I have in my day to work on other things. Without travel time I would have looked at my calendar on my blissfully full day and thought I had an hour between my client session and my workshop to get other stuff done. I mean, really, I would have known I didn’t really have a full hour but with travel time built on my calendar I had a stark visual of how little time I actually had.
  • It can change your business. Even when I was inconsistently capturing travel time on my calendar, it became clear how much of my workday was spent driving. Ugh! This led me to start using Zoom for most of my client sessions. Which means I get to work with more people, impact more lives and grow my income.

Try it out. Add travel time to your calendar and see what you learn from it.

 

Screenshot of a calendar that has to-do list items on it.

This calendar is part calendar, part to-do list. How overwhelming!

 

Are you with me so far? Getting everything on one calendar (including drive time!) and try so me color coding. Do this and your calendar trust score just went up 200%!  (Um, I’m not exactly a math person, but I feel pretty good about that % increase!)

In other words implementing these first 3 tips will change your trust in your calendar for sure, but you aren’t done yet.

This next tip is a little bit harder for people to do…

 

4. Stop using your calendar as your to-do list.

 

I might need to rephrase that. Stop using your calendar as your “I’d like to do” list. You know what happens. You just fill your calendar day with a bunch of stuff that you want to get done. It doesn’t HAVE TO get done that day. You just wishfully think you will get it done.  Let’s see if this sounds familiar:

It’s Friday afternoon and you are wrapping up your week and you think “I’d like to get this done on Monday.” So you add a bunch of things to your calendar on Monday. Realistically, you don’t know what Monday’s gonna look like, lots of things could happen which means you’re just shuffling things from one day to the next and that’s not helpful. And it feels crappy to constantly be reminded of all the things you haven’t done by moving them to the next day.

It’s a matter of getting your to-do list off your calendar and treating your calendar as sacred territory. As I said earlier, what is on your calendar should be the hard landscape of your day. The hard landscape (or hardscape) of a yard is the sidewalks, decks, retaining walls, etc, and then you fill in the rest of it with whatever plantings you want. Calendars are the same way. They show you the hard edges of the beginnings and endings of appointments and travel time. Those are the things that you have committed to. The blank places are where you pick the other things you are going to work on.

Let’s dig into this a bit more. We’ll start by looking at the hour-level of your calendar.

The only thing that goes in the hour level of your calendar is appointments. That’s it. Just the stuff you have to do at that specific time on that specific day.

In my line of work I get to see lots of client calendars and I have definitely seen on calendars “water plants” as an appointment at 10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  First off, that’s probably too much watering. More importantly, I doubt you must water your plant from 10-10:30am.  Now, if you happen to have a super special plant that really does require watering at exactly 10:00 a.m. or at exactly the same time on every other day, then sure, that’s an appointment. But if not, then it should not go in that hourly level.

Again, the only thing that should go there are commitments you’ve actually made. Meetings that you have. A doctor’s appointment. Drive time. Buying Hamilton tickets as soon as they go on sale at 10am.  Seriously.  You don’t want to miss out on that!

OK, let’s move onto the day level. On a lot of calendars, like on Google Calendar, you have the hour level but things can also be saved at the day level. The day level is meant for two things:

  • Day-level actions: Action that MUST happen that day, but not necessarily at a specific time
  • Day-level reminders: Something you need to be reminded of on that day

An example of a day-level action might be that you told Cher that you would call her on Tuesday but you didn’t agree on a specific time.  “Follow up w/Cher” would be added to the day level on Tuesday.

Things at the day level are actions that have to be taken that day, not action you would like to take that day. I’ll tell you where that stuff goes later.

A day-level reminder would be something you want to know about on that day but you don’t have to DO anything about it. For example, one that’s commonly on my calendar is “Barley and Baxie”. Barley and Baxie are my two dogs and I don’t have them all the time, they primarily live with my ex. So whenever I know I’m going to have them I put “Barley & Baxie with us” at the day level of my calendar.  That way I’m careful about how I schedule my days so that I can get them out for walks (most days…let’s be honest) and be home to feed them.

That’s a day level reminder. It’s not action I need to take, it’s just something I need to know about. Another example is that we have a friend coming into town in a couple weeks so she’s at the day level of my calendar for each day that she’ll be staying with us.  No action required. Just good to know so I can be careful about not over scheduling myself when she’s here so that I can spend time with her.

Again, the day level of your calendar is only for things that have to happen or that you want to be reminded of on that day, nothing else. When you do this, it allows your calendar to show you what MUST get done each day AND the blank spaces where you can actually get other work done.

Speaking of other stuff. Where does all that other stuff go? Stuff that doesn’t necessarily have to happen on a specific day or at a specific time goes on to a task list. The tool I use to manage my projects and tasks is GQueues.  I talked about how I do that in a previous blog post. GQueues is where I capture any “to do” that pops into my email, text, my head or is requested by someone else. If there is no true deadline, it goes in GQueues.

So,here’s what my day looks like with a calendar I trust (and my complete task list):

  1. I look at my calendar and I see how much time I have before my next appointment.
  2. I look at the day level of my calendar and do what needs to be done there first.
  3. I go to GQueues and work on things there. 
  4.  Plus some checking in on my email inbox here and there.  Let’s be real.

Screenshot of a calendar I can trust

This calendar only has appointments and drive times at the hourly level and must do actions and important reminders at the daily level. This is a calendar I can trust.

When you create a calendar you trust it allows you to become more realistic about what you can actually get done on any given day.

Like my blissfully full day last week. I had an hour at the beginning of my day and after that, I only had 15 minutes.  Knowing this (trusting this!) allowed me to say, “Okay, nothing else is getting done today.” That’s it. I’m gonna meet with my client. I’m gonna have 15 minutes to transition. I’m gonna get in the car and maybe make a couple phone calls but after that I’m gonna be with my workshop group for the rest of the day. Which is great. It allows me to be present with them which is really important. That the whole point, right?  To have be present with the people you are with.

The more you can turn your calendar into something that you can trust, the more that you can have some peace about what’s getting done (and what’s NOT getting done), and the more you can be present with the people that you’re with and the activities that you’re actually doing.

In order to do that, you gotta:

  • Get everything in one place.  Get it all on one calendar (including your travel time).
  • Make it visually helpful by using some color coding. 
  • Make sure that your to-do list is NOT on there. Treat your calendar as sacred territory and only put things on it that have to happen like appointments at the hour level and must-do activities and must remember information at the day level.

When you do do these things you will then have a calendar you can trust. And with that you’ll be much more peaceful and present in your work and your play.

Tell me, what are you best calendar tips? How does your calendar help you? How could your calendar help you more?

PS: If I didn’t put all of this stuff in my calendar, it would have to be in my brain. And our brains weren’t meant for remembering all this stuff. So, I use my calendar (among other tools) as my external brain. That way my brain can be used for creativity, problem solving, reflection and dreaming. If you want help creating your external brain you should check out GYST.

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