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The Asian Efficiency Guide to BusyCal for Mac

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BusyCal Guide

We’ve discussed different ways to effectively use your calendar before at Asian Efficiency – like how to use your calendar, or why you need to color-code your calendar, but let’s get specific today and look at our favorite calendar app for the Mac – BusyCal.

This brief guide will cover:

  1. Settings.
  2. Display and layout.
  3. Differences in calendar types.
  4. Basic usage.
  5. BusyCal Views
  6. Advanced usage.

1. Settings

Here at Asian Efficiency we like to get to know our applications from the settings – even if we often don’t know what all the different options do at the start. Think of it as having a flick through the instruction manual before using a new device for the first time.

Here’s what we set up with BusyCal.

General Tab

General Tab

We prefer to start our weeks on a Monday (who starts work on Sunday anymore?).

We also start our days at 6am (assuming you wake up at 5am and spend an hour on your morning ritual), and end them quite early – 8pm.

We’ve left the BusyCal defaults for default calendar, default start time but have changed the default event duration to 30 minutes, to encourage shorter meetings and commitments.

You’ll notice that Birthdays and Anniversaries have been deselected. This is because these two things typically clutter up the calendar interface, especially if you are syncing across Facebook birthdays and have a large friends list.

In the above screen I’ve also disabled “Show BusyCal Menu in the menu bar” is it’s from a Macbook setup and the menu bar space is limited. If you’re on a desktop you can/should enable this and it will put a menu bar icon that drops down your agenda when selected, like this:

BusyCal Menubar

Accounts Tab

Accounts Tab

In general, you’ll want to leave this tab alone and set up your accounts through System Preferences > iCloud and System Preferences > Internet Accounts.

Probably the only thing you’ll want to change here is to make sure that iCloud is set to Push and to make sure that any other calendar services (e.g., Google Calendar) is set to refresh every 5 minutes.

Note that you can also set your default meeting calendar (more on that later) – mine is set to the Social calendar.

To Dos Tab

To Dos Tab

Your to dos should really be stored in a proper task manager like Things, OmniFocus, Todoist or Wunderlist.

As such, you’ll see from the screen above that all the options for to dos have been disabled in BusyCal – as much set to None and Unchecked as possible.

Alarms Tab

Alarms Tab

There are 3 things of note here.

1. You can change your alarm sound if you want – this is just a matter of personal preference.

2. You can add default alarm times to all sorts of different event types. For the most part, we just like to disable these.

3. You can request that BusyCal manage calendar alarms instead of piping them to OS X. We’ve spent some time experimenting with both, and the BusyCal Alarm window tends to be a bit better. OS X will show you alarms in the top-right as dialog boxes or banners (depending on your Notification Center settings), but BusyCal will pop up a window that looks like this:

BusyCal Alarm

This window will allow you to select Snooze as an option (useful if you’re in the middle of a call) and also let you command + click/command + A select multiple/all items to clear at once, which is useful if you’re using strategic reminders.

Info Panel Tab

Info Panel Tab

This settings tab lets you set up your info panel.

Don’t worry about the first setting (Open Info Panel for new events) as you’ll set it to be permanently open in a bit.

As for the fields, it’s really a matter of preference and use. We recommend:

  • Location. This can be a physical location or an online location like a URL or Skype.
  • Date picker.
  • Start time zone. Very useful if you have to book an event in a different time zone.
  • Multiple alarms. Useful if you want to be reminder before an event and then when the event starts as well.
  • URL.
  • Attendees. Needed if you want to be able to send meeting invites (more on this later).

Appearance Tab

Appearance Tab

The appearance is all about how BusyCal looks.

Day number size governs… well, the day number size. I like Medium on laptops, Large on desktops.

Day number colors sets weekdays to black and weekends to red, though you can change it if you want.

Banners are how you display all-day events and all-day events that span multiple days. Standard works quite well, but if you want a flatter iOS 7-style look then you can try Show as Events as well.

Event times can be set to your preferred time format.

The default font settings are about how large the fonts for events and stickies appear in your calendar. I like 16 for laptops, and 18-24 for desktops.

Show week numbers is useful if you do weekly or quarterly-based planning.

Animate transitions just makes navigating around BusyCal look a little bit nicer.

Weather Tab

Weather Tab

If you like, you can get little weather icons and forecasts to show up in BusyCal.

Personally I find these distracting and disable both weather and moon phases.

Backup Tab

Backup Tab

BusyCal can create a local backup copy of your entire calendar for you if you like.

Now you should be syncing your calendar with iCloud/Google Calendar so it’s “backed up” there anyway.

But if you want, you can also have BusyCal back it up daily, select the number of backups to keep (10 is fine) and pick a location (a Dropbox folder is good).

Advanced Tab

Advanced Tab

If your team works across multiple time zones it’s useful to enable both time zone options here. This will let you quick select different time zones from the toolbar and your events will be shown as-if they were running in that time zone – it doesn’t change the event time, just for display in that timezone. e.g., my 8am meetings in Indochina Time show up as 2am when viewed in British Summer Time.

The next 3 settings have to do with shared calendars (e.g., a shared Google Calendar) and will usually be set by IT policy.

If you have multiple email accounts associated with your own contact card in OS X’s Contacts app, then be sure to pick the email here that you want to be sending the most meeting invites from. For me, it’s my Asian Efficiency email account.

Most people can safely ignore the LAN sharing name setting.

You can/should also set the Default calendar app to BusyCal.

2. Display and Layout

There are a few other settings that we recommend changing in the default BusyCal layout.

The first is the right-side info panel and to-do list.

By default it looks something like this:

Default Info Panel

Default info panel.

Now because you’re well-organized and efficient, you don’t have any to-dos in your calendar program. In fact, you have them in an independent task management app.

And so you can take the divider, and drag it all the way up to hide the To Do view.

Move Default Info Panel Up

Move the info panel up.

Changed Info Panel

Changed info panel.

The next layout setting you can tweak is the left-side month view. By default this shows only the current month, but if you have enough screen real estate, you can drag it up to show more months.

More Months

Above those monthly overviews you have your actual list of calendars. If you’ve implemented a multi-calendar system (which we recommend), then you can selectively uncheck the calendars that aren’t in active use – like the Reminders calendar.


Within the main calendar view itself you can pull down the divider between the Banner events and your schedule in Day and Week views.

Banner Divider

I like to adjust this so that all banners are showing, but make note that if you have any hidden banners, BusyCal will indicate this by using this little dotted bubble:

Dotted Bubble banner

3. Calendar Types


Calendar Types

You’ll notice that BusyCal automatically groups your different calendar types for you in the left-hand sidebar.

The most common ones we’ve seen (and use ourselves) are:

  • iCloud. If you have an iPhone/iPad as well, then these should be your personal calendars. Even if you don’t have any other devices, we advise against using “On My Mac” local calendars, as they won’t be automatically backed up to the cloud.
  • Google. Any Google accounts you add that have calendars enabled will appear here. This is useful if your organization is on Google Apps or if you have an Android phone and are on Google’s ecosystem.
  • Subscriptions. Any calendars that you subscribe to will appear here. These can be holiday calendars, a calendar feed from TripIt and any calendar feeds from other business systems.

Note: As mentioned, all these accounts are set up under System Preferences > iCloud and System Preferences > Internet Accounts, not within BusyCal itself.

4. Usage

Using BusyCal is very intuitive – simply double-click where you want to add events.

New Event

Be sure to fill out:

  • The event name.
  • The event location, if there is one.
  • The start/end time.
  • Set an alarm (or two) if needed. “At Start” is a good option for strategic reminders or things you just need to be aware of as they happen.
  • Anything important you need to know about the event you can put into the Notes section. You can also paste Note Links from Evernote into here.

5. BusyCal Views

The different views in BusyCal is what makes it such a powerful program.

Day View

Day View

To be perfectly honest I don’t find day view all that useful, unless there are a lot of concurrent and overlapping events happening during a given day.

Week View

Week View

This is where BusyCal really shines, and Week View should be your default, standard view.

It’s great for seeing each day of the week, and your entire week at a glance.

If you need to, you can also set week view to display 2 weeks at a time.

Month View

Month View

The monthly view is best used to view Banners (all-day/multi-day events) and works best if you show only the calendars you want to see events for.

Year View

Year View

Year View shows you the entire year, which makes it good for planning and highlighting longer multi-day events.

List View

List View

List View is great for finding upcoming events.

Search Function


BusyCal comes with a search function which acts as a filter across all the different views as well.

You can also save these searches for future use.

6. Advanced Usage

Let’s get into some of the more advanced ways to use BusyCal.

Increment Arrows

Increment Arrows

You’ll notice that next to the Day/Week/Month/Year/List selector there are two sets of arrows.

The outside arrows move the calendar view forward/backward by a time increment equal to the current view. This means that if you’re in day view, it moves things a day. If you’re in week view, a week, and so on.

The inside arrows move the calendar view forward/backward by one time increment smaller than the current view. This means:

  • Day View – move a day. (Exception because this is the smallest display unit)
  • Week View – move a day.
  • Month View – move a week.
  • Year View – move a month.

Time Zones

BusyCal comes with fantastic time zone support and functionality.

The main way to switch time zones is in the toolbar in the top-right.

Time Zone Selector

You can set multiple time zones and it saves them to the recents list for you.

By using this method of switching time zones, you can easily put in appointments for when you’re traveling in a different time zone or for seeing your availability in different time zones.

Note that you can also set time zones on each individual event, but this is somewhat less practical.

Meeting Invites


If you’ve ever worked in a large team you’ll know about meeting invites (lots of people don’t though!).

Essentially, under the attendees field of an event you can type in someone’s email address and they’ll get an email or notification in their calendar program that you’ve invited them to an event. And when the accept/decline, you’ll be notified of that too.

I know that this feature definitely works with Google accounts of all sorts, and should work for other email services that have a built-in calendar feature as well.

Quick Events


BusyCal also comes with a “quick events” plus button that lets you use natural language to input events – e.g., “Dinner at 8pm on Saturday”.

We don’t use this all that much at Asian Efficiency.

Emoji and Images

Graphics Panel

If you like more graphical or visual indicator on your calendar, you can add stickers and emoji to your calendar events, titles and so on. This shows up in the info panel under Graphics.

Calendar Groups

Calendar Group

If you like, you can group together calendars for a calendar hierarchy – but this really shouldn’t be necessary.

Repeating Events

As with other calendar apps, BusyCal offers advanced repeating event functionality.

You can do the standard every day, every week (same day every week), every month (same date every month), every year (same date every year), and you can also do custom repeats:

  • Custom Day. This lets you set x number of days between events.
  • Custom Week. This lets you pick the same day or days every week.
  • Custom Month. This lets you pick the date of the month or dates of the month (by command + clicking) for an event to repeat. You can also set it to every third Monday or similar configurations.
  • Custom Year. This lets you pick the date within specific months and can also be set up to repeat every third Monday or similarly.

In Closing

And… that’s our brief guide to BusyCal.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed it – on the surface, BusyCal looks like a very straightforward app, but when set up and used properly, it is amazingly effective and considered best of class for a desktop calendar app. If you’re interesting in purchasing BusyCal, you can do that through this link.

Note 1: We didn’t cover all the BusyCal features (e.g., hiding options, tags, availability) – just the ones we thought were useful.

Note 2: On iOS, we recommend WeekCal and WeekCal HD as good complements to BusyCal.

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Posted by Joe Mills  | May 14, 2015 at 10:34PM | Reply

One thing that I kind of found out by accident is that you can link to a task in Omnifocus 2 as well.

After reading Procrastinate on Purpose, I really liked the idea of scheduling blocks of my day by category of work. This really helps because of the different hats/roles that I wear.

So, I create a block of time for, say, work from my day job. If I right click and copy on my Omnifocus task, I can paste that in the note section of the Event Info box and it comes up as a blue link.

That way, as I complete that task, instead of going back into Omnifocus, finding that task and then marking it as complete I can go straight from BusyCal to the task itself and mark it complete.

I call that being Asian Efficient!

Posted by Cito Giulini  | January 21, 2015 at 7:23AM | Reply

the ability to see 3 days prior in week view alone is what made me spend the money. funny how you say if you are organized you dont have todos in calendar… sooo true… with evernote,airmail, and busy cal you can keep up with todays busy life style. seeing three days into the past is crucial to make sure you move forward the things you might have missed.

Posted by James Kelly  | October 12, 2014 at 7:22PM | Reply

Thanks for the tips on BusyCal. I originally bought it based on your review – fantastic calendar.
Learnt quite a few extra things with this post – much appreciated.

Posted by Josh Gibson  | September 2, 2014 at 1:10AM | Reply

Just out of curiosity, what features of BusyCal make you want to use it over Apple’s stock Calendar app? The features listed here seem slightly different, but not necessarily better than the Calendar app. Just curious why people should spend $50 on an app that, at best, is just slightly better. I’d love to be enlightened though, and very often miss the most obvious stuff. I’d gladly drop $50 on an app that helps my productivity, so please convert me! :)

Posted by frank  | September 11, 2014 at 9:57AM

yeah, i don’t get it. What’s so special about this one ?
Besides, is there a good way to combine the tasks with OmniFocus 2?

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