For most of us, calendars and productivity are integrally linked. But, that’s only possible if you’re correctly managing and organizing your calendar every day. While that may sound like a daunting task, it’s achievable if you implement the following 25 tips to be productive every day.
1. Map out your week on Sunday.
I’d rather spend my Sunday vegging out. I’d be perfectly fine with watching football and munching on pizza. But I’ll be honest with you. By Sunday evening, I’ve had my fill of football — unless the night game is worth paying attention to. Even though I’ve found that this is the best time to plan my week.
Write down everything that you need to get done this week. Then, filter your list. Determine what’s most essential and add them to your calendar. For items that aren’t as important, schedule them when you have the availability. You may also be able to hand off specific tasks to others or drop them entirely from your schedule.
Also, review what you already have penciled in. For example, let’s say you booked an appointment or meeting months ago. Then you’re going to have to plan your day around that event.
I’d also add that you can use your Sundays to prepare for the week. If you want to watch football, then run your errands during the morning. And, you can still keep tabs on the games while cooking your meals for the week, doing laundry, or tidying up. These are all small items that you can knock out on Sunday so that they’re not distracting you throughout the week.
2. Set your intention for the day.
Benjamin Franklin began each day with a question: What good shall I do this day? He asked this question before he did anything else each day. And I love it.
Setting intention brings you back into the moment. It forces you to identify and live by your values and virtues. It also has the power to increase your emotional and physical energy.
Most importantly, intentions will direct and remind you where you want to go for the day. As an example, you have a meeting today at one. Your intention is good to make it valuable and productive for attendees. Determining this first thing in the morning will get you in the right mindset to achieve this. It will also keep you focused and encourage you to knock the meeting out of the park.
3. Have your daily agenda sent to you.
Do you use Google Calendar? If so, you can have your Daily agenda sent directly to your Gmail account. Just go into Google Calendar and then “Settings for my calendars.” Scroll “General notifications” and choose “email” under “Daily agenda.”
Outlook users can also take advantage of this feature. Go into your web app and head into “Your app settings” and choose “Calendar.” Under Reminders, select the checkmark next to “Get daily agenda email for calendar and tasks.”
4. Don’t underestimate the power of simplicity.
Search for “how to be productive.” The Big G will return a whooping 240,000,000 results.
Here’s the thing you’re going to find plenty of useful advice. But, you’re also going to come across several complicated productivity secrets.
Want to know the secret to be efficient and effective daily schedules, though? They’re simple.
Go back and look at Franklin’s daily schedule. It’s so open and straightforward, while also providing structure and encouraging a routine.
Franklin’s schedule only included six blocks:
- Getting ready for the day: shower, breakfast, personal study, and prepare for work (3 hours)
- Morning work (4 hours)
- Review of current projects and to eat lunch (2 hours)
- Afternoon work (4 hours)
- Dinner and rest and wrapping up the day (4 hours)
- Sleep (7 hours)
That’s it. It’s so straightforward that anyone could use it as a template if they want to have a more productive day.
5. Take into account your circadian rhythms.
“Humans have a well-defined internal clock that shapes our energy levels throughout the day: our circadian process, which is often referred to as a circadian rhythm because it tends to be very regular,’ writes Christopher Barnes on HBR. “If you’ve ever had jet lag, then you know how persistent circadian rhythms can be,” he adds. “This natural — and hardwired — ebb and flow in our ability to feel alert or sleepy has important implications for” everyone.
How does this affect your calendar and productivity? When planning our day, we should take into account our own circadian rhythms.
“The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness (within an hour or so of noon and 6 pm),” recommends Barnes. “The least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower (very early in the morning, around 3 pm, and late at night).”
6. Block out proactive and reactive blocks.
“Time blocking is simply a time management technique where you set aside a specific amount of time for a particular task,” writes Howie Jones in a previous Calendar article. “For example, instead of checking your phone every time you receive an email or social notification, you would do this at clearly defined times.” Howie does this before diving into his work in the morning. “There’s another block after lunch. And, the final one is later in the afternoon before calling work a day.”
However, you decide to block out your time is up to you. But, I suggest that you block out both proactive and reactive blocks. Proactive blocks are reserved for your most important tasks. These have to get done — no exceptions. Reactive blocks are unexpected occurrences, like an emergency meeting.
To achieve this, make sure that you set hard boundaries when it comes to your proactive blocks, such as turning off your phone. To address the reactive blocks, leave a couple of time slots in your calendar free.
7. Use the 52/17 Rule.
After tracking the habits of their top 10 percent most productive users, Desktop found that the most productive people work for 52 minutes, followed by 17 minutes of rest. The reason? We need these breaks to help us recharge and refocus.
So, in your calendar, block out around an hour for your most important work. Then, schedule a break for around 17-minutes and so forth. Don’t be afraid to adjust these times, however, to suit your own rhythms. Some people might be able to work for 90-minutes before having to take a break.
8. Schedule “no meeting” time blocks.
Meetings, while necessary, can be a massive waste of time. Even worse, they can pry you away from more important matters or interrupt your flow. To counter this, make sure there are specific chunks of time where you never accept a meeting. For me, I never take a meeting in the morning since that’s when I’m most productive. Instead, I book them in the afternoon.
You could also take this a step further by banning meetings altogether on specific days. I also prefer to schedule all of my meetings on the same day so that I don’t have to bounce between work mode and meeting mode.
9. Theming your days.
Theming your days is a simple productivity technique. As opposed to switching between tasks all day, you would focus on one theme for the entire day. For instance, Mondays could be spent developing and creating content ideas like blog posts for the week. Tuesdays would be for your most challenging work, and so on. Because energy begins to dip, and we can’t wait for the weekend, Fridays are perfect for meetings or tying up loose ends.
After you’ve identified your themes, add them to your schedule. So, on Monday, you could brainstorm from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Following a 15-minute break, your next block would be writing, following by lunch.
10. Be realistic with your time.
So many of us have fallen prey to this. We create ambitious and lengthy daily to-do-lists. The problem? These lists never account for time. As a result, you end biting off more then you can chew.
Focus on only between 3-5 tasks per day. These should be your priorities. They should also be scheduled in your calendar so that they become a priority — it also helps you weed out distractions. The key, though is to block out the right amount of time. So, if you only need an hour for a specific task, then don’t block out two hours.
Review past calendars to see how you spent your time. If that’s not helpful, then track your time for a week or two.
11. Don’t be a captive to calendar defaults.
When you create a new event in a calendar, you’ll notice that the default time is an hour. Just because this is the default, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. If you only need 30-minutes for a meeting, then change the event time. Remember, time is your most valuable resource. So make sure that not wasting it be being tied to default times.
Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. And I did not forget to add a title here. I left it intentionally blank to illustrate a point: the importance of scheduling nothing.
As opposed to booking every minute of your calendar, leave some slots blank. It’s a technique championed by people like LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. He used this buffer “to think big, catch up on the latest industry news, get out from under that pile of unread emails, or take a walk. ”
For me, it’s an opportunity to escape temporarily. I go for at least a 15-minute walk with my dog. It gives us both a chance to stretch our legs. But, it also allows me to clear my head and think. I usually leave my phone behind, too, as a way to disconnect.
As an added perk, you can use those blocks of nothingness to handle any unexpected circumstances that may have landed in your lap.
“OOO” is short for “out-of-office.” These are blocks when you’re unavailable. Examples would be when you’re traveling, taking your lunch break, on vacation. Add these blocks to your calendar so that they don’t get filled by something else.
And, it wouldn’t hurt to also create an out of office message — which is easy to do if you use Google or Outlook. Now when someone tries to book you during this time slot, the message will automatically let them know that you’re out of the office, and when you’ll return.
14. There’s an app for that, so use it.
Yes. As you already know, your online calendar also comes in app form. If you haven’t done so yet, download it to your phone. Now your calendar will always be with you. Just make sure to sync your calendar across all of your devices to prevent confusion.
Also, like peanut butter and jelly, pair your calendar with the right tools. For example, Calendar integrates with Google, Apple, and Outlook calendars. It uses machine learning to figure out your schedule to make smart suggestions on how and when to plan meetings. Most online calendars can also connect with Slack to streamline communicating with others. And, they even work with voice assistants like Alexa and Google Home so that you can quickly add new events as they appear.
15. Go light on the details.
“Adding details to your schedule is beneficial,” explains Calendar’s Angela Ruth. “For instance, when you just booked a conference call, it would help if you had some necessary information about the person on the other end of the line, such as their name, position, and meaning of the chat.”
“At the same time, you don’t want to include too many details, like their entire life story,” adds Angela. “Doing so will make your schedule too cumbersome to manage.” And, if you’re working with others and share your calendar with them, “it may annoy the daylights out of them. Like you know, they probably only need the most relevant information to complete a task or prepare for a meeting.”
16. Be more thoughtful about lunch.
When it comes to lunch, I’m a stickler about stepping away from work and making the most of this time. Personally, I get skeeved out by people who eat at their desks. It’s just so unhygienic. Besides, when you take an actual lunch break, you have the chance to do the following:
- Eating healthy and nutritious food will boost your brainpower.
- Taking a break will sustain your concentration and energy levels.
- Practicing mindfulness or taking a nap will clear your head and improve your memory.
- Exercising or walking outside reduces stress, improves your mood, and refreshes your attention span.
- Going outside the office can spark creativity.
- Lunch is a great time to meet with others.
17. Set reminders strategically.
Online calendars allow you to set reminders so that you won’t forget important dates and times. But, don’t roll with the default reminder setting. Be more strategic by setting reminders that more helpful.
For example, if you have a meeting this afternoon at 3, what’s the point of having a reminder go off five-minutes prior? Instead, you could set a reminder for 30-minutes ahead of time so that you have enough time to commute and prepare for the meeting.
18. Get rough with your schedule.
Not literally. Rough scheduling is simply not scheduling all of your leisure time. When you allow for spontaneity, like running into an old friend and grabbing a coffee, it makes you happier. Researchers state that this is because when scheduled, leisure tasks feel more like a chore. And, by the way, when you’re happier, you’re more productive overall.
19. Never accept last-minute time requests.
Unless it’s an end-of-the-world type of emergency, never accept a last-minute time request. It’s the best way to protect your calendar bt not letting less important items leapfrog your priorities.
20. Keep your calendar weird.
When planning a meeting or grabbing lunch with an acquaintance, consider scheduling the event at an odd time. For instance, meet at 1:13 p.m. instead of 1. Not only will the event stand out, but it will also encourage everyone to be on time. The reason? It’s so specific there isn’t time for tomfoolery.
21. Highlight important information.
Remember when you were back in school? If you were like me, you highlighted vital information in your textbook. Listen, I spent a lot of money on that book, and I could do with it whatever I wanted. I’m probably still paying it off!
Anyway, like your textbook, you should make essential calendar entries pop. For example, use different colors, all caps, or boldface for the daily entries that deserve most of your attention and focus.
22. Capture new information ASAP.
Whenever a new task or event pops-up, add it to your calendar sooner than later. Let’s say that you just agreed to meet a client for lunch two weeks from now. If you don’t create that event, you may forget about it and schedule something else.
23. Don’t be shy.
You don’t have to be like Cat Stevens and “let your feelings roll on by.” But, you shouldn’t keep your calendar to yourself. Share your calendar either through email or embed it on your site. Now people like your coworkers or family know when you’re busy or free to be interrupted. It also makes scheduling future events easier by eliminating those pesky back-and-forth exchanges.
24. Maximize your downtime.
Whether it’s during a break or when you get home for the day — make the most of your downtime. Learning something new, networking, reading, and just relaxing are all excellent ways to spend your downtime. The reason? These activities can help your destress or help you become more proficient.
Also, protect your downtime just as you would with an appointment or deadline. If you’ve set aside to attend a workshop, then don’t commit to something else during that time.
25. Reflect on your day.
Bear with here, but this is the last time I namedrop Ben Franklin.
At the end of every day, he asked: What good have I done today? He took note of what went wrong, as well as what didn’t. Franklin could then use this to improve his daily schedule going forward.
Also, when you reflect, you can see how you spent your day. From here, you can identify and eliminate any time-wasting activities from your calendar so that you can focus on what truly matters.