Being productive, working on the right things, and not letting busywork take over your day often comes down to how you schedule your work. As productivity expert Cal Newport says, scheduling your week in advance “allows you to spread out, batch, and prioritize work in a manner that significantly increases what you accomplish and goes a long way toward eliminating work pile-ups and late nights.”
Try out these tips for improving the way you schedule your work to make sure you’re spending your time on what’s most important.
1. Categorize events
Even if you have a separate calendar for work events, you might have various types of events on that one calendar. Etsy engineering director Lara Hogan suggests creating separate event categories and using a color code to distinguish them on your calendar.
For instance, you might have:
- 1:1s with your team
- 1:1s with your manager
- team meetings
- office hours
- client meetings
By color-coding your events, you can easily glance at your calendar and get an idea of what’s coming up for the rest of the day or week.
Here’s what Hogan’s calendar looks like with her color-code in place:
Hogan also suggests grouping events from the same category whenever possible. If you have a full day of 1:1s, for instance, you can stay in the same mindset all day. But a jumbled schedule with 1:1s, office hours, and client meetings will require more context switching throughout the day.
2. Make a boilerplate daily schedule
SuperBooked CEO Dan Mall suggests starting with a full schedule, rather than an empty one waiting to be filled up with events. Mall says he picked up this idea from designer Jessica Hische :
I love the idea that she starts every week with a full calendar, as opposed to an empty calendar that needs filling. I’ve always defaulted to the idea that my main work would fit in the empty slots, after everything else has been scheduled.
As Mall says, writing down this way of thinking about your work schedule makes it obvious how silly it is. Though most of us do approach our calendars this way: we start with a blank slate, and make our most important work fit in around any appointments and events that pop up throughout the workweek.
Mall’s solution is to create a boilerplate daily schedule and update it with extra details for each day. This way, you start with a calendar full of important work, and extra events have to fit in around your work. Here’s what Mall’s schedule template looks like:
At the end of each workday, Mall spends half an hour updating the template with specifics for the next day’s work. Any calendar slot with square brackets around the event is replaced with something more specific. So “daily work” slots, for instance, get renamed to specific tasks or projects to be worked on during those times, and re-colored to orange once their details are set.
Since Mall has two possible slots for calls each day, he can confidently schedule calls knowing they won’t affect his work, and turn down call requests that don’t fit those times. And any unscheduled call slots are simply switched to daily work slots instead.
This approach means Mall always has an hour of meaningful work scheduled first thing in the morning, as well as scheduled periods of focus time for daily work. Mall also makes sure to schedule periods for checking email, Slack, and social media, and keeps those apps closed at other times so he can focus more on his work.
3. Let others do the work
Although using a calendar to schedule your work can help make sure everything important gets done, it can also create even more overhead as you end up with longer email chains to create and reschedule meetings throughout the workweek.
To avoid this, Hogan suggests blocking out periods of time on your calendar when you’re available to meet with others, and letting them book those times. You can use an app like Calendly for this, setting time blocks when you’re available and simply sharing a link to your calendar where others can book appointments. Or if you use Google Calendar with your colleagues, you can use the built-in appointment slots feature to let others book appointments on your calendar.
Hogan also suggests making events editable by attendees wherever possible, and adding a note when scheduling an event to let attendees know they’re free to make changes, as your schedule will update automatically. This way, you save the back-and-forth of email chains figuring out when everyone’s available and if it’s okay to move an event, and you leave the hassle of rescheduling to those who need to move the event in the first place.
4. Fix your Mondays
We can’t talk about schedules and calendars without talking about Mondays. They may just be the most tricky days to plan for.
Freelance designer Jessica Hische suggests avoiding setting deadlines for Mondays :
If there is a deadline on Monday, and you are prone to procrastinating/procrastiworking like me, you are most definitely working on the weekend.
Instead of setting deadlines for Mondays, Hische sets aside Mondays for doing admin work and keeping her business running. This way, she’s confident that she’ll get her admin work done every week, and she can ignore those tasks on other days when she’s doing more focused client work:
If I give myself one day to do the bulk of my emailing/interview answering/file organizing/scheduling etc, I feel WAY less guilty about ignoring all of that stuff for large periods of time during the rest of the work week.
Hogan agrees that Mondays should be treated carefully. She points out that recurring meetings that fall on Mondays tend to create a rescheduling nightmare anytime a long weekend pops up. If you have recurring team meetings or events, Hogan suggests scheduling them for other weekdays and keeping Mondays for one-off events only.
Whether you like to schedule everything, including periods of focused work, or just use your calendar for meetings involving other people, try these tips to keep your schedule under control and get more important work done.
What’s your best tip for managing your calendar? Let us know in the comments.