How to use Google Calendar to get things done: 31 powerful Google Calendar settings you should be using today

We wrote our first comprehensive guide on how to use Google Calendar back in 2019. But a lot has changed since then!

With so many teams going remote, an efficient calendar is a must-have tool. So we rewrote this guide from scratch using the latest Google Calendar settings and features that protect your focus and make you more productive. Enjoy!

Jump to the guide

Most people live and die by their calendars. If it isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t get done.

But more than just a record of your obligations, tools like Google Calendar are a gatekeeper for your attention. We all have limited time each day, and your calendar lets you (and your team) know exactly what deserves your focus 

Yet despite their importance, few of us give our calendars the respect they deserve. 

We let them overflow with tasks and meetings and reminders. In the end, instead of being a tool we use to control our time and attention each day, they become another source of stress and busyness. 

The basics of how to use Google Calendar have been covered all over the place. (If this is what you’re after, your best bet is to go straight to the source and read Google’s own documentation). 

However, what these guides miss are the under-used or hidden Google Calendar settings that will turn it from a source of chaos to a place of calm and control. 

In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to use specific Google Calendar settings and features to take back control of your time, protect your focus, and spend more time on the work that matters. 

How to use Google Calendar to actually get things done

Google Calendar default settings: Optimize your calendar for focus and calm

Using and sharing multiple Google Calendars: Get more visibility into your team’s availability

Google Calendar events: Create and run better meetings and appointments

Google calendar power features: Get more out of your calendar

*Note: Some of these features require you to have a Google account through your work or school. If features still aren’t visible, contact your administrator.  

Google Calendar default settings: Optimize your calendar for focus and calm

There are two things that can happen when you look at your calendar:

Either you feel calm and in control of your day… 

…Or, you break down at the sight of meetings stacked on top of meetings. 

While a lot of this comes down to your meeting culture at work, your calendar’s default view doesn’t help. 

The Google Calendar settings below will help you transform your calendar into a clean and organized map of your week.  

Use the “Compact” view to see a clearer picture of your week

Settings > Density and color

Calendar real estate is incredibly valuable. Especially when yours is packed to the brim with meetings and tasks. Google Calendar’s “Compact” view gets rid of extra white space so you can see more of what matters most. 

How to use Google Calendar's Compact View

Change your default view to show only the “workweek” 

Date view > Show weekends

You most likely use Google Calendar just for work events (which hopefully don’t happen over the weekends too often).

By switching Google Calendar’s default view to only show your workweek, you’ll have more space to focus on your most important tasks and more room overall.

How to get Google Calendar to only show the workweek

Add your productivity data right into your calendar

Download the RescueTime for Google Calendar app here!

Your calendar shows an ideal version of your day. But productivity data–like the kind you get in RescueTime–shows how you actually spend your time. With the RescueTime Google Calendar integration, you get your most important insights right in your calendar, including:

  • Total time spent working, progress on your biggest goals, and productivity “score” for each day
  • Insight into how long you’re spending in meetings with other people
  • FocusTime–schedule your deep work sessions and we’ll automatically block all distracting websites for the duration of the event
RescueTime for Google Calendar integration
The RescueTime Google Calendar app brings all your productivity data, meetings, and goals into your calendar!

This way, you get an accurate picture of how you spend your time so you can plan and build a better daily schedule.

Create “Custom views” for short- and long-term planning

Settings > View options > Set custom view

Google Calendar’s default views are what you’d expect: Day, week, month, year… But sometimes it’s more powerful to zoom in on just the next few days or zoom out and see your meetings and tasks over the next few weeks. 

How to set a custom view in Google Calendar

Custom views allow you to create your own default views you can quickly switch to right from your main calendar.  

Reduce the brightness of past events to focus on the future

Settings > View options > Reduce the brightness of past events 

Your calendar works best as a planning tool. This Google Calendar setting automatically makes past events a different color to help you focus on the future. 

How to dim past events in Google Calendar

Use the three-line menu icon in the top left corner of your calendar

Keeping up with focusing on just the most important parts of your calendar, you can quickly toggle Google Calendar’s sidebar off and on when you don’t need it. 

How to hide Google Calendar's sidebar

Change your notification settings for this or other calendars

Settings > Event settings > Notifications

For other calendars: Settings for my calendars > event notifications & other notifications

We’re firm believers in reducing as many notifications as possible. And while Google Calendar reminders can be helpful, they can also become huge sources of distraction. Use your Event settings to change notifications to Alerts (email) or Desktop notifications.

How to change Calendar notification settings in Google Calendar

If you have multiple calendars, you can change their notification settings as well. 

How to use and share multiple Google Calendars: Get more visibility into your team’s availability 

It might seem counterintuitive to make more calendars when we’re talking about how to use Google Calendar for focus. However, setting up specific calendars or sharing them with coworkers is an easy way to gain visibility into what’s going on and quickly zoom in on your projects and tasks–especially with so many teams going remote.

These Google Calendar settings will help you avoid the “Calendar-pocalypse” that happens when you cram too many events onto one calendar. 

Create multiple calendars for different projects, teams, or priorities

Other Calendars > “+” > Create new calendar

Let’s start with the basics. You can create a new calendar in Google Calendar and use it for a specific project, team, or priorities. Each calendar gets a name, description, and default time zone.

How to create a new calendar in Google Calendar

As a bonus, you can color-code your calendars to quickly tell them apart when you’re viewing multiple ones at once. Hover over the three dots beside the calendar and pick a color (this is also where you can quickly view/hide this calendar or access its specific settings).

How to change calendar color in Google Calendar

Use a “template” calendar for time-blocking your workday

Create new calendar > time blocking template

One of the best things you can do for your productivity and focus is to time block your calendar.

Time blocking is when you create an underlying “structure” to your day where each block of time has a purpose. For example, you’ll schedule blocks for deep work, emails, meetings, etc… (Read our full guide to time blocking here!) 

It’s a powerful strategy. But it can make a mess of your calendar. That’s why I like to create a “template” calendar where each block is set as a recurring event. This way I can quickly toggle my “Template” on and off as I schedule my day. Here’s what it looks like in practice: 

How to create a time blocked schedule in Google Calendar

My day doesn’t always follow this exactly. But it’s a great way to make sure I’m scheduling my day according to my highest priorities

Prioritize different calendars using number prefixes on events 

Event naming > add number prefix to events in order of priority

If you have multiple all-day events or conflicting meetings across multiple calendars, Google Calendar defaults listing them in alpha-numerical order. But this isn’t always how you want to view your events. You can force a different priority of events by adding a number to the beginning of each event.

Or hide low-priority calendars by default

Open sidebar > My calendars > Toggle on/off

Another option is to just hide calendars you don’t need to see regularly. This is as simple as going to the calendar list in your sidebar and toggling them on and off.

Share your Google calendar with coworkers (or add theirs)

Hover over the calendar you want to share > three dots > Settings > Access permissions or “Share with specific people”

Adding a coworker or manager’s schedule to your own Google Calendar lets you see when they’re available for meetings or out of the office. You can also share your own calendar, make it public to your company, or give your assistant permission to edit and manage your calendar.

How to share calendars in Google Calendar

Learn how to delete a Google Calendar

Hover over the calendar you want to delete > three dots > Settings > Delete 

If you went overboard creating calendars or don’t need one anymore, it’s a good idea to delete it.

How to delete a calendar in Google Calendar

If you’d like to keep your old calendar but don’t want to see it, you can always hide it from your list. You’ll still be able to access it through your settings page.

Google Calendar events: Create and run better meetings and appointments

Now that your main calendars are set up and optimized to show you just your important work, it’s time to add some events. 

But this is equally as important when it comes to keeping yourself and your team focused. 

According to studies, the average US worker spends more working hours in meetings than they do on email. (And we already know just how much time we spend in our inbox!)

How you create Google Calendar events not only keeps you organized but also sets the tone for the rest of your team. These Google Calendar settings and features will help you create better events and show your teammates you value focus

Add your “working hours” to limit your availability for meetings (business only)

Settings > Working Hours

The Working Hours Google Calendar setting lets you choose when people can book meetings with you. This is an incredibly powerful tool for protecting your most productive hours and can also work with your time blocked schedule. 

How to add working hours to Google Calendar

(Note: This feature is only available to G Suite for Business customers)

Use “appointment slots” to block out available meeting time

Click anywhere on your calendar to create a new event > Appointment slots

Appointment slots are another way to create specific times where you’re available for meetings. These events are banks of time where people can auto-book specific meetings with you. 

How to use Google Calendar's appointment slots feature

Think of these as a professor’s “office hours” you had in school. You’re telling your teammates that you’re available for specific types of meetings and they can go ahead and grab a time. 

Schedule meetings with multiple people using “find a time” or “suggest times”

Create new event > Invite attendees > Suggested Times

Finding a meeting time that works for multiple people is a chore. Google Calendar’s “suggested times” setting shows you all times where event invitees are available to join (based on their own calendars). 

Alternatively, you can click on more options and then “find a time”, which will show your calendars side-by-side and let you pick a meeting time for yourself. 

Automatically give yourself space between meetings (speedy meetings)

Settings > Event settings > Speedy meetings

No one likes back-to-back meetings. The Google Calendar “Speedy meetings” setting automatically shortens the default length of meetings by 5-10 minutes to give you room to breathe.

How to use Speedy Meetings in Google Calendar

For example, 30-minute meetings will become 25. While hour-long ones will end after 50 minutes. 

Change your default meeting time to 30 minutes (or less)

Settings > Event settings > Default duration

This same screen is where you can change the default meeting length as well. One of the best ways to run effective meetings is to only use the time you actually need. And defaulting to a shorter meeting means people have to justify why it should be longer (instead of just filling up space). 

How to change your default meeting time in Google Calendar

Activate secondary time zones so everyone’s on the same page

Settings > Time zone > Secondary time zone

There’s nothing worse than missing a meeting because you forgot about time zones. To make things easier, you can add a secondary time zone to your Google Calendar settings. 

How to add a secondary time zone to Google Calendar

This way, when you’re booking a meeting time you can quickly choose which time zone it should be in.

How to change your meeting time zone in Google Calendar

Add attachments to meetings (like agendas)

Create new event > More options > Add attachment

The most productive meetings only happen when people are prepared. One of the best ways to do this is by sharing a clear agenda, questions, and context so people can come in and make decisions instead of waste time getting caught up. 

How to add an attachment to a Google Calendar event

Use this Google Calendar feature to save people from searching through their inbox or Slack looking for an agenda. 

Automatically add a Google Meet or Zoom link to every meeting

Options > Get add-ons > Zoom for GSuite

With more and more teams going remote, the humble video call has become a quintessential part of our day. But how many times have you panicked trying to find a link or password at the last minute?

By adding Zoom’s plug-in to Google Calendar, you can automatically add all video meeting details to any event with one click. 

Add Zoom to Google Calendar

And if Zoom’s not your thing, you can always use Google Meet as an alternative.

How to automatically add a Zoom link to a Google Calendar event

Note: Google Calendar will sometimes automatically add a Meet link making it confusing whether you’re supposed to use this or not. If you’re an admin on your G-Suite account, you can disable this under settings > event settings > Automatically add video calls to events I create. 

Email all event attendees right from Google Calendar

View event > Envelope icon in the top bar

If you need to quickly email everyone coming to a meeting you can do it directly from Google Calendar. Even better, all event information will be included so people know what you’re talking about. 

How to email all attendees from Google Calendar

Set recurring meetings or duplicate events

Event > More options > Repeat

Or, Past event > More options > Duplicate

Manually setting weekly stand-ups or monthly check-in meetings is a big time waster. In Google Calendar, you can either set recurring meetings or duplicate past events for one-off situations.

How to create recurring meetings in Google Calendar

Just remember that recurring meetings can quickly take over your schedule. Be sure that a meeting really needs to happen on a regular basis and try to audit your calendar on a monthly or quarterly basis.   

Make events “private” to hide sensitive details, links, and attendees

Event > More options > Visibility

Public calendars are a great way to stay connected and efficiently book meetings. But you don’t always want your entire team to see the contents of your meeting. The event visibility Google Calendar setting lets you choose whether a meeting should be “private”. 

How to make a Google Calendar event private

This means no one viewing your calendar will see the event details like name, attendees, attachments, etc… (The public label will just show you as “busy”.)

Google calendar power features: Under-used Get more out of your calendar

Google Calendar does a lot more than just organize your daily schedule and meetings. 

With the right settings and certain power features, you can turn Google Calendar into a full-fledged personal assistant and task manager. Here are a few power Google Calendar settings to get familiar with.

Get a daily agenda sent to you each morning

Settings > Choose calendar > Other notifications > Daily agenda

You can’t have a productive day if you’re constantly reacting to reminders and meeting notifications. Instead, Google Calendar has a great feature that sends you a rundown of your meetings for the day each morning so you can plan accordingly.

Get a daily agenda sent from Google Calendar

Use these Google Calendar shortcuts to quickly switch views

While many app shortcuts usually aren’t worth the time it takes to memorize them, Google Calendar shortcuts are genuinely useful when you’re scheduling your time.

Here are a few you should know:

  • 1 or d for day view
  • 2 or w for week view
  • 3 or m for month view
  • 4 or x for custom view
  • 5 or a for agenda
  • 6 or y for year view
  • G will let you go to any date using either a standard date format (“4/13/06”) or a text-based description (“April 13, 2006”)
  • Esc to go back to the main view
  • T to return to today’s date

View your and a coworker’s calendars side-by-side 

Settings > View options > View calendars side by side in day view

Want to quickly see if you can grab 15 minutes with your CEO or managers? You can view any Google Calendar that is shared with you right beside your own to quickly see where your free blocks line up.

How to view two Google Calendars side-by-side

Just select which calendar you want to see under Other calendars and then change your view to by day.

Sync Google Calendar to your iPhone or Android 

Download the Google Calendar app or sync with Apple Calendar

If your calendar runs your day, you want to be able to check it at all times–even when you’re not at your computer. 

Syncing your Google Calendar to your Android or iPhone is as simple as downloading the Google Calendar app from either the App Store or Google Play

If you’re on an iPhone or iPad and would rather keep using Apple Calendar, you can add specific Google Calendars to it by going to Device settings > Password & Accounts > Add Account > Google

Enter your email and password and your emails, contacts, and calendar events will be synced to your device (you can also turn the others off and just see your Calendar events). 

Search > Down arrow (for more options)

Search becomes incredibly important when you start using your calendar as a time management tool. With the advanced search functions in Google Calendar, you can search by a specific calendar, keywords, participants, location, or even dates.

How to use Google Calendar's Advanced Search

Uncover your deleted events in Google Calendar’s trash

Settings > Trash > View by calendar

Sometimes you accidentally delete events (or remove past ones thinking you won’t need them). Luckily, Google Calendar keeps a trash bin so those aren’t totally gone (at least for a month after you trash it).

Add to-dos and tasks to your calendar

Right sidebar > Tasks (and add subtasks)

A to-do without an attached time is most likely not going to get done. 

Rather than keep your task list and calendar separate you can put them both together using Google Calendar’s Tasks. This lets you quickly see what you need to do today, as well as set tasks for the future, include related subtasks, and create repeating tasks.

How to use Google Calendar's task list feature

Use Google Calendar “Reminders” for private and important tasks

Enable “Reminders” in your left sidebar (under “My Calendars”) > New event > Reminder

Sometimes you need to remember something that doesn’t need a full event (or to be public to your team). 

In this case, Google Calendar’s Reminders are an easy way to add a task to your calendar (for example, “Register for French classes”). Set a schedule and the Reminder will carry over each day until you mark it complete.

How to set a reminder for an event in Google Calendar

Automatically decline meetings when you’re out-of-office

New event > Out of Office

We all deserve some time off. But nothing kills a well-deserved vacation like a bunch of meeting requests popping into your inbox. 

Using Google Calendar’s “out of office” setting, you can set dates and times where new and existing meeting requests will automatically be declined (with a message of your choice!)

How to automatically decline meetings in Google Calendar when you're out of office

These Google Calendar settings will supercharge your schedule

Your calendar should be a source of calm in the workday. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. We hope that by following these steps you lose the dread of checking your calendar and can use it as another tool for productivity and focus.

Did we miss any of your favorite Google Calendar features? Let us know on Twitter.

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

10 comments

  1. I don’t have some of the settings, like working hours… I suppose some of those tips only work with Google sevices for business, right?

  2. This is great – but I really need the same thing but for Outlook/O365 — is that in the works?

  3. Looking for some assistance…… Initially when i used the google calendar sidebar, it was in month view. I then added an event to a day, and it now only gives me the option to view ‘day’ and ‘schedule’, but not month. I have searched for help on this everywhere and cannot find a way to switch the google calendar sidebar view to month. Any help here would be appreciated. TYIA!

  4. I am very busy, very visual, and sometimes very scattered. It would be great if I could differentiate VISUALLY between meetings for which I’m “busy” vs “free.” I.e., my conference schedule is red with white font; sometimes there are 2 simultaneous/overlapping conferences on my schedule. I don’t want to delete one of them, because I want the reminder to follow-up about it (view the recording later), and just in case one of them gets cancelled, I can remember to attend the other. Wouldn’t it be great if… one of them could be displayed lighter or italicized or inverse color, etc. Can you think of anything like this? It would NOT be helpful for me to create another calendar in Google. I already have more than enough. Thanks for any ideas!

    1. Hey Lj! That sounds like something that would be useful but that I don’t think there’s a solution for yet! It seems like the only real option is the one you don’t want to take (creating a separate calendar). If it’s something specific like conferences you’re usually dealing with, why not create two calendars based on priority? That way you can toggle on/off the lower-priority events and have them display differently?

  5. Does anyone know if I can have a new and distinct Task function for each calendar I manage, not a new Task list, but essentially a separate Task account for each calendar?

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