Friday, 28 October 2016

Using Google Calendar as a To Do List

Over the past week I have read two posts by people about using a calendar as a productivity tool instead of a "To Do" list.

And, although I have subconsciously known why, Srinivas Rao managed to articulate exactly why a calendar is often the most useful way to go when scheduling.

Rao (12 June 2016) said " the major difference between a calendar and a to-do-list is that the calendar accounts for time. You’re forced to work within the constraints of the 24 hours that you have". We cannot, unfortunately, schedule in more hours where there aren't any. So things that are time-bound need to go in a calendar.

"Reminders, on the other hand, are great for things like paying bills, sending follow up emails and other low-value tasks. The great thing about reminders is that they keep popping up until you’ve actually crossed them off" (Rao, 12 June 2016).

We tend to be deadline-oriented creatures. Once we started measuring time, it started measuring us. The other great advantage of using our calendar for tasks is that we get to choose what we do with our day: if it is in our diary, then it is more likely to get done.

We put meetings into our calendars, but forget to diary things that are equally important like writing, or exercising, or thinking. It is most likely that all those important unstructured hours of the day will take up close to ten hours. The things in your diary get done, and those that don't make it down don't.

Our day can get filled with things that we don't want to do so much as the things we actually get done. As Tor Refsland pointed out, we can spend lots of time in meetings, have poor private professional life boundaries, and end up with lots of To Do lists.

My trouble is that I have three incarnations: my phone, my work PC and my home PC. I need a master list of daily tasks, and the only freebie tool I have found that seems to fit without extra bolt-ons is Google calendar.

Since migrating to Google calendar a year or so ago, I schedule daily tasks into my diary , inviting all three of me, instead of using a To Do list. Scheduling a regular time each period the task needs to be done (a) increases the likelihood of the job getting done, and (b) means there is space in each period allocated to getting it done.

It also means that I realise how busy I am, and start to bail on some things. When I don't have the task in my diary, I don't see - realise - how overburdened I am.

Refsland nailed it on what we need for really good time management:
  • A due date & time with a reminder (either pop-up, chime or email)
  • Dependent sub-tasks
  • Ability to compare actual time to plan
  • All our tasks in one place
  • Colour coding

Google calendar delivers all these things.

I can block out time to a master task (eg, administration), then cluster smaller tasks as subordinate tasks in project clusters using Google calendar. When I have completed the task, I don't delete it: I simply change the duration to match the time the job actually took.

That gives me a history of actual time taken, which I can use to more accurately plan next time. Using a calendar this way lets me plan in detail a few days - or even weeks - ahead. It allows me to find free blocks of time in my calendar.

Rao (12 June 2016) mentioned another key aspect of having our diary blocked out for the tasks we want to be doing: we can give a tool like Calendly access to our diary to prevent those to and fro emails in teeing up meeting or appointment times. As Rao says, "With rare exception, people happily pick a time on my calendar and it doesn’t take 20 emails to schedule a meeting".

That is so much easier!



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