A lot of people use their calendar as their daily to-do list. Most of us learned it ad-hoc that we put the things we need to do on our calendar, but we think that’s a bad approach to planning. We want to show you how to use your calendar more efficiently together with your to do list. Each has its own functions and responsibilities, but they can work great in harmony once you know how.
The first time I ever started using a calendar was when I went to middle school and it was mandatory for each student to have a planner. We would write down when tests were taking place and when had to complete our homework (I know, this middle school was awesome). This is a popular approach even today for professionals, because you can plan ahead what your week will look like.
However, there are some disadvantages to this approach. For example, what if you want to book a vacation but you don’t know exactly when. Where would you put this then?
Calendar management 101
Let’s first go over how to use a calendar. You can use a wall calendar or software, it doesn’t really matter. The functionality is the same, but we find that using software calendar will give more flexibility and is more efficient. Especially when you use it together with a to-do list, as you will read later.
Now what should go in your calendar? In our opinion, you should only put the following on your calendar:
- Appointments (dentist, classes, dinner with friends, meetings, etc).
- Deadlines (handing in report, filing taxes, etc).
- Events (pay day, birthdays, holidays, package arrival, etc).
- Time sensitive errands (buying something before store closing time).
- Focus time (when you set time aside to work on something important and no one can disturb you).
You should consider your calendar holy ground. Nothing goes on your calendar unless it’s a must and time sensitive. That is why we advise you to put appointments there (obviously) and deadlines because they are both items that occur at a specific day and time, where something has to happen.
Do not put things on there that have random or arbitrary deadlines. This will fill up your calendar unnecessarily. For example, you want book a vacation to Maui, but you have no clue yet when you want to do it so you just put it on Tuesday at 7pm. Try to avoid calendar items like this. Instead, put those items in your to do list and then plan when you can do them.
Again, your calendar is holy. Only put in the important and time sensitive items. Now we’ll quickly go over on how to use a to do list or task manager.
Task management 101
A lot of people aren’t used to using to do lists or a task manager. If you are complete new to to do lists and task management, I highly suggest to read our introductory guide to task management and to do lists.
In short, and for the purpose of this article, I want you to view your tasks on your to do list as things you need to do that have no strict deadline. In other words, your tasks have no specific date or time attached.
Nowadays we have so many things on our plate that there is no way we can do them all. Especially things that we cannot do within the next week(s) or month(s) but we still need to do the at some point. Where do you keep this information? That’s right, on your to do list.
The key to managing your to do list is that you have to review it at least once a week. That’s when you go over your to do list, and see which tasks need attention, which can be deleted, and which tasks can be added to projects. Maintaining your to do list is very important because you will use this information for planning your days and weeks ahead. Again, if this is all new to you I highly advice you to read our simple guide to task management and to do lists.
Calendar + To Do List
Now that we have covered how to use a calendar and to do list, it’s time to show you how powerful they can be together. The starting point of planning is knowing what commitments you have already. Once you know that, that’s when you can see which tasks on your to do lists can taken care of on which days. When you’re planning and you notice that on a Tuesday you have a lot of meetings and appointments, then you know planning a lot of tasks on Tuesday is a bad idea. Whereas if you notice that on a Wednesday you don’t have a lot of items on your calendar, you could schedule that you work on specific tasks that day.
This is how using a to do list and calendar together can be very powerful. You can plan how much you want to get done on specific days.
Make sure you review every week your to do list and calendar. Start looking first on your calendar how busy you are and supplement days with tasks that you have on your to do lists.
Getting started with the right tools
Using a calendar and to do list together is a great idea but it takes a little bit of practice. Doing this syncing between calendar and to do list on paper can be very tedious with a wall calendar. That’s why we recommend you use software as your solution.
There are many calendars and to do lists / task managers that can mash together really well. We tend to be a bit biased because we love Omnifocus (OS X) and iCal (built in OS X) so with that endorsement out of the way, here are some other recommendations.
To do lists / task managers
To get your feet wet on the Mac, you should try out Things in harmony with iCal. Ben Stewart wrote a great piece on how to use Things together with iCal.
For Windows users, Microsoft Outlook is the most popular option. It has a built in to do list manager and calendar. Plus it handles all your email too so these options can all work great together. The learning curve is pretty simple and Microsoft has a simple training course for managing Outlook with email, calendar, and to do list.
In case you want to manage your email better, check out our simple guide to managing email. Regardless of which operating system or mail client you use, the article also explains how to use email, to do lists, and calendars together (it includes a screencast too).
In case you don’t want to tie yourself to an operating system, there are great web based solutions too. Google Calendar is one of the best online calendar applications out there. It’s really good. For task managers, Remember the milk is the most popular. What if I told you that these two also work great together? Yes, it is true! That means you can access your to do list and calendar from any computer or device, as long as you have an internet connection. Sign up for RTM and it will show you how you can sync it with your Google Calendar. Update: As Bojan mentioned in the comments below, Google Tasks is a simple but effective task manager that integrates with Google Calendar. For anyone who wants a very simple to-do list manager, Google Tasks is a great option.
Now I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this lethal combination before, but for the advanced readers on Macs you should try Omnifocus and iCal together. They work really well together, especially when you put certain contexts on your iCal calendar. A better approach is if you have your iCal calendar synced with MobileMe so you can access and manage your calendar anywhere.
Yours truly uses Omnifocus and BusyCal (iCal on steroids) together Google Calendar. I love the interface and features of Busycal over iCal’s. It’s similar, simpler, and faster. Plus it can sync with Google Calendar which I use a lot in combination with other Google services. How I use this is worthy of another article.
- Pick a calendar and task manager software combination.
- Set aside 30 minutes and fill up your calendar with appointments, deadlines, and events.
- Sync up your task manager and calendar.
(Image courtesy of erix! under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)