It is that time of year again. Summer is coming to a close and fall is almost upon us. It is time to get your schedule in order. And get on top of your time before chaos reigns.
I love starting the fall with a clean slate. The student agendas have always been my favorite because they start in September. It must be a holdover from my school days and starting fresh every year.
I have always enjoyed a pretty good relationship with my calendar. I rarely miss or am late for appointments even the ones that I book months in advance. This is because I have a good system and have built some good habits over the years.
Select a Calendar Systems
These days there are many alternatives for keeping track of your calendar. If you have a system that works for you, then skip ahead, otherwise let’s look at a few of them. You need to keep a few things in mind as you consider your system. Technically, I use all of the styles below, each for different reasons. Does anybody share your calendar? What visual cues do you need to make you successful. How are you comfortable accessing and updating your schedule?
Shared Digital Calendar
This is currently our favorite solution. Our family has a shared digital calendar account; we use a shared Gmail account, although many other technologies provide the same capability. This account is setup on all of our phones and tablets in addition to our personal accounts.
It’s rather simple to setup; you go to the settings of your device and add the account.
Then you will have it available on all of the core apps: email, calendar, notes, etc… Just make sure that you are paying attention to where you log your meetings and emails, otherwise you could be sending messages from the wrong email account.
Bonus: The email address that came with the calendar account has given us the perfect account to sign up for family updates and accounts. As a result things like our phone bill go to a family box we can both administer.
Whenever we are booking any appointments about which the other needs to be aware, we book it in this calendar instead of our personal one. All of our appointments are booked in one of four colors:
- We both need to be there
- One of us needs to be there
- I need to be there
- He needs to be there
I book the stuff that is irrelevant to him in my personal calendar so that it doesn’t clutter up his calendar.
This was very helpful when John had to take me to my doctors appointments. It let me see his schedule and book him without the usual ordeal.
The real benefits of this are with kids and all of those obligations and appointments. There are less phone calls and emails required to get things done. I know one family who has a shared family tablet for the older kids to put in their own appointments and reminders.
Individual Digital Calendars
This works great if you don’t have a lot of shared appointments. It is pretty straightforward to invite each other to any appointments. Just make sure they receive and accept your invitations. If not, you could end up missing each other. You can also give them access to write to your calendar, so they can put the appointments directly in, although then they have access to your calendar.
A lot of couples I know do this using their work calendars; it is their primary calendar and they just invite each other to any appointments. The only major downfall of this happens if you change jobs either planned or not. It can be very time consuming to transfer everything, if you even get a chance. If you are going to use this method, export your calendar (and your contacts) regularly to a file and take it home. That way if anything does happen, you have only lost a few days worth of data.
This was our last solution, when all of my medical appointments started cropping up. I kept the master calendar and updated it whenever something came up. This was somewhat manageable, but I know John had to keep the key appointments duplicated on his work calendar.
We used to sit down every week or so and go through the schedule to keep it updated, and to make sure we knew what was coming up. If you are still attached to the paper version, I would highly recommend making sure you sync these at least once every week or two. They get out of date fast.
We still use a paper version for our daughter and sit down with her every week or two to sync it with ours. We find it is easier to teach using the more tactile methods.
I still like the visual reminder of our physical calendar on the wall. Especially with the stickers, pictures and colors. It makes for a great reminder of the week ahead.
If you like a physical calendar, consider using some of the wonderful printables out there. They will give you an abundance of choice in styles and colors to make your calendar sing. You can buy them pre-printed or download them and head to your local copy shop for color printing, if you don’t own a color printer.
Now It’s time to Develop some Good Calendar Habits
Once you have selected an appropriate calendar choice, it is time to develop some good habits. This means reviewing you calendar seasonally, weekly and daily to ensure you are on top of everything. This is not very time-consuming if you stay on top of it. Large reviews take less than an hour and daily ones less than five minutes.
Calendar Habit 1: Seasonal Reviews
I do a review of my calendar at least four times per year. In doing so I can make sure I minimize conflicts and block certain periods that I know will be busy or where I need personal time. The most important part of a calendar review is knowing what needs to be done or booked.
Examples of things to book:
- Doctor and dentist appointments
- Blocks of days for vacations
- Child care, camps, activities, etc…
- Family gatherings and parties
- Outsourcing appointments and maintenance
- Personal time, following chaotic periods
How to Review Your Calendar
Go through your calendar in a weekly view for the period of that day until at lease a month into the next review window. This means that you will probably be looking at 8-20 weeks, depending on the review. Monthly views make it impossible to see the conflicts and daily views don’t give you the big picture.
- Look for conflicts, and address them. Reschedule or decline any calendar events as necessary.
- Book any holidays or vacations for the period. Even if you are not sure, it is usually worthwhile to tentatively book something in your calendar. You may want to setup a reminder to actually confirm the trip a few weeks or months out as appropriate.
- If you are due to make any appointments, make them. Even if it is Saturday night, you can usually call and leave a message that you need an appointment and ask for them to call you back. Otherwise, schedule an hour the following week with a list of phone calls to make and appointments to book. (Alternatively, this is a good time for outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant.)
- Confirm that any large shared events on your calendar are on your family’s calendars as well. You don’t want a last minute change of schedule due to technical difficulties.
- Coordinate your work, school and personal calendars. It is worth marking crazy weeks on your personal calendar if you know you are going to be out of town, off site or working late for a period. Don’t put every work appointment on your personal calendar, it creates too much visual clutter. But it is worth putting nights that you won’t be home or that your child has no school in. It will also prevent you from booking doctor’s appointments and dinner parties during these times.
Make sure that all of your big personal appointments are booked in your office calendar with commute time as well. That way your team will know you are unavailable and you don’t get double-booked.
One great trick for keeping your personal and office lives straight is to view them all in one view. You can set your google calendar to see your work calendar and vice versa. This will cut down on confusion.
First you need to share your work calendar, here’s how to do it in Exchange. Make sure you skip to The User Experience section. Then you can view it in your google calendar. Then setup work to see your google calendar.
When to Review Your Calendar
Mid-August – Big Review – Getting ready for fall.
Before kids, all of my vacations were in fall and winter: September road trip, Holidays to family and Winter beach getaway were our stock vacations. Updating my calendar during the last few quiet weeks of summer, before everybody got back into the swing and I took holidays always put me ahead of the game. While everybody else was scrambling to catch up, I was on top of my schedule, with everything organized right through November. I also find this is a good time to make appointments because it is relatively quiet around the office.
After kids, the same rule applies. Things are relatively quiet, school hasn’t started and most people aren’t thinking ahead yet, so it is a great time to setup plans and make appointments.
Mid-November – Small Review – Survive the Holidays
This time of year tends to be chaos. Special events for work and school, gatherings of family and friends, never mind all of the things to do. I find this is a good time to step back and take stock of the schedule; set aside some personal time, maybe block a day for errands or chores, if I can.
Mid-January – Small Review – Back on Track
This update is similar for me to what I do in September. I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions (it will take a whole post for me to explain that one), but I do believe in seasonal cleanups and fresh starts. This is a big one for me. As soon as the holiday chaos comes to a close, I like to put things back in order again. This is my opportunity to do so. Get all of the things that slid off my plate in the last few months back on track.
Mid-April – Big Review – Spring Cleanup
Spring is a time for renewal and fresh starts and that is my favorite time to take on new projects and goals. It is a great time to organize summer plans and think about the year ahead. The other nice thing is that if you do this one well, you likely won’t have to think about it much until your fall review. Allowing you to relax through the lazy days of summer.
Calendar Habit 2: Maintaining Your Calendar
Pick a day of the week and check the upcoming schedule. Do the same day every week. We do Sunday morning over coffee. Last year it was Monday nights over the phone during my daughter’s swim class. John and I go over the week ahead and make sure we are on the same page. Who is doing driving and pickup duty, who makes dinner, who’s out what nights. We also look at the following week and see if there is any conflict or prep necessary. John sometimes works shifts, so this is especially critical for us. I may need to leave work early or we might have to go shopping. This week we had to buy a hockey stick for camp, better to know that a week ahead.
I highly recommend this become a habit every night. While making dinner, at dinner time, after the kids go to bed, whatever works for you. Make sure you know what’s up tomorrow, and who’s got what. I hear stories all the time of kids forgotten, or appointments missed purely because one person thought the other ‘had it’.
Good Habit 3: Managing Your Calendar
You are at the doctor’s office and they want to see you in a year? Set the appointment up with them now. Put it in your calendar right away. See if they can send you an email, if not log it yourself. They can’t do it yet? Put a reminder in your calendar for 3 months, 6 months, whatever makes sense to call the office and setup the appointment. Make sure you take a minute to make sure you have the booked it properly. I have booked more than one appointment in my calendar for PM instead of AM when I am rushed.
Your calendar is not a task management system. You may be the one individual in a hundred who is ruled by their calendar, who does what it says when it says to do it, and, if that works for you, great. If you are everybody else, skip the tasks. Keep them somewhere else. You can create time blocks in your calendar in order to block time to get work done. No problem. Make sure they 1-4 hour blocks that you are reserving to tackle a project or a series of them. Don’t use a bunch of 15-30 minute appointments or the important cross-town meeting will be lost in the noise and you will not realize it until it is too late.
The same thing applies to reminders. Beware putting too many reminders in your calendar. If you find you are starting to ignore or constantly “snooze” a reminder, delete it or move it. There are habit and task management systems whose sole purpose is to make sure you take your vitamins, use them. For example, whenever we are starting the school year, I put the pickup and drop off times in my calendar for the first month; after that I find they are noise that I don’t need.
Use the right alerts and notifications. It is a good idea to setup appropriate default notifications and alerts on your calendar. Most appointments are better to have the wrong notifications than none at all. But it is well worth your time to customize them as appropriate. For example, my notifications are set at 2 hours and at 10 minutes. Ever since I realized that I had a meeting an hour away in ten minutes, I default everything to let me know 2 hours ahead. But, I try to turn it off on things like John’s shift schedule and full day events. Then I use my daily review as my reminder anyway.
There you have it. Follow these suggestions and you will never miss another appointment.