There are few workday tools people use more than their calendars. Tools like Google Calendar act as a gatekeeper for your attention—broadcasting when you’re available or when you’re busy.
In fact, one of the most common pieces of advice we hear from time management experts is to schedule every aspect of your day. As ‘America’s organizing queen’ Julie Morgenstern, told us:
“A to-do that isn’t connected to a ‘when’ rarely gets done. So don’t have a separate to-do list from your calendar. Schedule what needs to get done and when.”
However, there are downsides to scheduling everything. Humans are notoriously bad at knowing how long tasks will take to complete. And so our calendars often represent how we’d like our days to go (not how they actually do).
Luckily, there are some specific features and settings you can use to turn your calendar from a source of chaos to a place of calm. Here’s how to set up Google Calendar for focus, productivity, and peace of mind.
In this Guide you’ll learn how to:
- Set up Google Calendar for focus and calm
- Create (and run) better events, meetings, and appointments
- Get the most out of Google Calendar’s power features
*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.
Before we start: Get the RescueTime for Google Calendar Integration
One of the biggest problems with relying too much on your Calendar as a productivity tool is that it’s an idealistic view of how you spend your time. Your calendar shows how you want to spend your time. Not how you actually do.
The new RescueTime for Google Calendar integration shows your productivity stats like hours worked, total time in meetings, productivity pulse and streaks, and daily goals, right in your calendar. This way you get an accurate picture of how your day actually went so you can plan and adjust your daily schedule.
The Ultimate Google Calendar Guide
Section 1: How to set up Google Calendar for focus and calm
Your calendar can either be a source of calm and control or total chaos. And a lot of this comes down to how you set it up. While the default view is fine for the most part, it can quickly become overwhelming as you add more meetings and calendars.
The settings below will help transform your Google Calendar into a clean and organized map of your expectations.
1. Increase your display density to “Compact”
Why? Screen real estate is at an all-time high when it comes to packed calendars. To get a quick view of all your obligations, you need to get rid of Google Calendar’s default white space and go into “Compact” mode.
How? Click the settings (gear icon) in the top right-hand corner and select Density and color. You’ll then be able to change your density to Compact.
2. Change your default view to “work week only”
Why? Even if you schedule your weekend events on the same calendar, you’re most likely using Google Calendar mostly for work events. Again, you want to be able to have the most space for your most important tasks. By switching the default settings to only show your workweek, you’ll be more focused on what work responsibilities you have.
How? Click the View settings (directly next to the gear icon) and de-select Show weekends. If you still want to see weekends but still want the focus on your workweek you can start your Calendar on Mondays by going to Gear icon > Settings > View options and then changing the Start Week on setting to Monday.
3. Hide Google Calendar’s sidebar for even more clarity
Why? Calendars already try to pack too much information into a small space. By getting rid of the sidebar when you don’t need it (that shows your monthly view and all your calendars) you free up more space to focus on what’s most important.
How? Click the three-line menu icon in the top left-hand corner to collapse or expand the menu bar. For even more space, get rid of the right-side menu (with Google Keep and tasks) by clicking the small arrow in the bottom left-hand corner.
4. Create custom views for short- and long-term planning
Why? The different View options in Google Calendar can help you zoom in and out on your meetings and tasks. However, they don’t always give you the flexibility you need to properly schedule your time. By creating custom views, you can zoom in on 2-4 days at a time or zoom out to see the next 2-3 weeks when booking meetings or sprints.
How? To get to your View settings head to Gear icon > Settings > View options and then create a custom view of anywhere from 2 days to 4 weeks. You’ll now see your custom view in the same dropdown you use to switch from daily to weekly/monthly views.
5. Organize different tasks, projects, and roles on different calendars
Why? It might seem counter-intuitive or just plain messy to add more calendars to Google Calendar. But with all the options for viewing multiple calendars (which we’ll cover below), it can actually be incredibly beneficial to use different calendars for different tasks, roles, or projects.
How? In the left-side menubar, click the “+” symbol beside Other calendars and select Create new calendar. You’ll be taken to a new screen where you can name your calendar, add a description, and set the default time zone.
As a bonus, you can also color code your calendars to easily tell them apart. Hover over the calendar you want to change in the same menu, click the three-dot button that appears and select the color you’d like to use.
6. How to delete a Google Calendar
Why? If you went overboard with creating calendars (or don’t need one anymore) you’ll probably want to delete a few. It can seem scary to delete a calendar, but if your goal is clarity and focus, it’s important to get rid of extraneous or unimportant information. (You can also always just hide it if you’d like).
How? Hover over a calendar you’ve created and click on the three-dot button and select Settings and sharing. From there, scroll all the way down and select Delete.
7. Share your calendar with coworkers (or add theirs)
Why? Whether you want to bring together calendars associated with other accounts, add your coworker’s calendars to check their availability, or give your assistant permission to edit your calendar, Google Calendar allows you to share and change your permissions on a per-calendar basis.
How? In your left-side menubar, hover over the calendar you’d like to share and select Settings and sharing. From there you’ll be able to either make the calendar public (anyone can see it), choose to show it to your whole company, or just specific people (you can also change their permission settings).
8. Hide low-priority calendars by default
Why? Using multiple calendars is a great way to separate tasks and roles (or personal and family events from work-related ones). However, when you put everything in your calendar, seeing all those calendars at once can be overwhelming. Instead, tell Google Calendar to hide your low-priority calendars by default so you only see them when you need to.
How? Open your left-side menu (if it’s closed) and uncheck the box beside your low-priority calendars. This way, they’ll be out of sight until you enable them. If you want to just see one calendar at a time, hover over its name, click the three-dot button that appears, and select display this only.
Section 2: Create (and run) better events, meetings, and appointments
Now that your main calendar is set up in a way that’s easy to quickly see your most important information, it’s time to add to it.
How you create, share, and book events in Google Calendar not only helps keep you organized but can set the tone for the rest of your team. 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!)
These tips will help you create better events and set-up your calendar to only book meetings when you’re available.
9. Add “Working hours” to your availability
Why? As Hooked author, Nir Eyal told us, if you don’t plan your day someone else will. Google Calendar allows you to set “working hours” to your availability so coworkers can only request meetings during times you set aside.
How? To enable working hours in Google Calendar click on the Gear icon > Settings and then look under general for Working Hours. Once you select Enable working hours you’ll be able to choose the days and specific times where co-workers are able to book you. (They’ll get a warning if they try to book you outside of these times).
10. Use “Appointment slots” to save the back-and-forth of meeting booking
Why? Let’s say you work on a remote team and want to have open times for teammates to chat, ask for feedback, or pitch ideas. Rather than the back and forth of trying to find a time that works for everyone, you can create “Appointment slots” in Google Calendar and send a link where teammates can sign up for them.
How? Start by clicking anywhere on your calendar view to create an event. When the event options appear, select Appointment slots at the top of the window. From here you can set the date and time range as well as the appointment length. To share with other teammates, open the event and click Go to appointment page for this calendar. You should see your available appointment slots there.
11. Schedule meetings with groups using “suggested times”
Why? There’s nothing worse than trying to find a time that works for everyone who needs to be at a meeting. Luckily, you can get Google Calendar to suggest only times where everyone who is invited to a meeting is technically available (i.e. they don’t have any conflicts in their calendar).
How? Start by creating the event and inviting everyone who needs to attend. Below their names, select Suggested times and you should see a dropdown with a list of times where everyone (including you) is available for the meeting. Alternatively, click on Find a time (it’s the tab next to event details) to see everyone’s schedule side-by-side so you can find a time that works.
12. Activate “secondary time zones” so everyone’s on the same page
Why? Nothing screws up meeting bookings like trying to get people across timezones together. Instead of doing on-the-fly timezone conversions, you can activate secondary timezones in Google Calendar and book meetings in different timezones.
How? Head to your calendar settings via Gear icon > Settings and then look for Time zone in the left-hand menu. Select Display secondary time zone and choose the time zone you’d like to see. If you have multiple timezones to deal with, scroll a little further down and select Show world clock. You can then add as many timezones as you want.
13. Add attachments to meetings to keep everyone organized
Why? The most productive meetings only happen when people are prepared before going into them. This means sharing a clear agenda, questions, and context so people can come in and make decisions instead of waste time getting caught up. With this Google Calendar feature, you save people searching through their inbox and email chains for those docs by attaching them directly to the event.
How? Start by creating an event and then click More options (or, double click on your selected time). On the next screen, look for the paperclip icon above the text field and attach a PDF, image, doc or whatever else you need to.
14. Automatically add a Google hangout or Zoom link to your meetings
Why? Video meetings are a great way to bring remote teams together or even just save people from having to come into the office. But again, sending people searching for the link to an event beforehand is a waste of time.
How? Open your event page and select Add conferencing. By default, you’ll be able to add a Google Hangouts Meet. However, if you use a tool like Zoom, you can add it as an option by going to Gear icon > Get Add-ons and then installing the Zoom add-on.
Note: Google Calendar will sometimes automatically add a Hangout link to a meeting 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 Gear icon > settings > event settings and then unselecting Automatically add video calls to events I create.
15. Email event invitees right from Google Calendar
Why? If you need to quickly email everyone coming to a meeting you can do it directly from Google Calendar rather than heading to your inbox. You’ll be able to add a subject and select who the message goes to. Even better, the event information will be included in the message.
How? View any event with multiple guests and look for the small envelope in the header. Click it and you’ll be taken to a new screen where you can update and send your message.
16. Change default event time
Why? Not every meeting needs to be an hour long. Heck, most meetings don’t need to be 30 minutes. So why set defaults for the maximum set of time instead of the minimum?
How? Head to your calendar settings via Gear icon > Settings and then scroll down to Event settings. Here, you’ll be able to change the Default duration to anything from 15–120 minutes.
Section 3: Get the most out of Google Calendar’s power features
Google Calendar does a lot more than just organize your daily schedule and meetings. With certain power features, you can use it as a full-fledged personal assistant and depository for tasks and to-dos.
Here are a few Google Calendar power features to get familiar with:
17. Get a daily rundown of your agenda sent each morning
Why? 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.
How? Head to your calendar settings via Gear icon > Settings and then select the calendar you want to get an agenda from in the left sidebar. Click Event notifications and then enable Daily agenda. You’ll now receive a rundown of your events at 5 am each morning.
18. Use shortcuts to quickly switch Calendar views and jump to dates
Why? While many app shortcuts usually aren’t worth the time it takes to memorize them, the ones in Google Calendar are genuinely useful when you’re scheduling your time.
How? Shortcuts are automatically enabled in Google Calendar and there is a number you should be familiar with:
- 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
19. Use advanced search to find events
Why? 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? The main search bar is located at the top of your calendar. Click on it and then use the small down arrow in the corner to show more search options.
20. Uncover deleted events in Google Calendar’s Trash
Why? 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).
How? Head to Gear icon > Trash. That’s it!
21. Set recurring meetings or duplicate events
Why? Manually setting weekly stand-ups or monthly check-in meetings with teammates is for suckers. And while Google Calendar lets you set recurring meetings, you can also duplicate past events for one-off situations.
How? Open an event you want to duplicate and then select More options > Duplicate. Change the date and any specifics and then hit save.
22. Add to-dos and tasks to your calendar
Why? As we wrote at the top of this post, a to-do without an attached time is most likely not going to get done. And rather than keep your task list and calendar separate you can put them both together using Google’s Tasks. Not only can you create a list of what you want to do today, but you can add specific dates and times for each task as well as associated subtasks.
How? Open the Tasks menu in the small right sidebar and select Add a task. Once you’ve done that, use the pencil icon to Edit details and include a date/time and associated subtasks.
23. Use Google Reminders
Why? Sometimes you need to remember to do something, but don’t necessarily want to create an event or a to-do list item for it (say, “pick up the dry cleaning” or “register for French classes”). In this case, you can create a Reminder in Google Calendar that will carry over each day until you mark it as complete. Reminders stay private and aren’t shared with anyone else.
How? First, look at your left-side menu and make sure the box beside Reminders is checked. Then, click anywhere on your calendar to create a new event and change the event type to Reminder. You can now set a time and schedule for it to repeat.
24. Use “out of office” messages to auto-decline meetings
Why? 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” option, you can set dates and times where new and existing meeting requests will automatically be declined (with a message of your choice!)
How? Start by clicking anywhere on your calendar to create a new event and then change the event type to “out of office”. You can then select the duration, whether you want meetings to be automatically declined or not, and your specific message you want the event requestor to see.
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.