Calendar Control

Perhaps you’ve been reading along in this series nodding in sympathy or shaking your head in disagreement. Maybe you’ve even discussed some of the deeper time management issues like time use as a reflection of our values or the badge of busyness with colleagues or students. Then again, maybe you’re still struggling with your schedule and saying, “Just tell me what to do.” If you’re in that last group, this is the article you’ve waited for so patiently. If you’re a new reader and this is your first taste, welcome. Let’s get down to the work of calendar control.

While written goals are essential to career success, and to-do lists can provide a bit of prioritization and satisfaction (especially when we check things off), a calendar of some type is still essential. A calendar, whether it’s a traditional paper planner, a poster pinned to the wall or a smartphone application, provides a visual representation of how we spend time. An up-to-date calendar delivers valuable structure for your day as well as for those who work with you.

Record ALL of your appointments, tasks and events on your calendar. This does more than aid you in keeping your schedule under control. We subconsciously perceive calendar items as unbreakable appointments, so this can be useful for holding yourself accountable for tasks like exercise, relaxation time or research that we often neglect because they don’t involve others. It also holds true that when we tell others we are “blocking time off in my calendar for you,” they are more likely to show up on time and prepared. For most of us, this is a welcome change from office drop-in visits with no clear aim or end.

As you schedule your meetings, appointments and events, keep these core principles in mind:

  • Use 15-minute blocks for personal meetings whenever possible. Most people can address their main issue in that amount of time, and this keeps you from having long open-ended discussions in the middle of your workday. When needed, you can always block out several 15-minute time slots.
  • Schedule mentally demanding tasks during your “best time of day” whenever you can. For example, if you’re a morning person, things like sales calls, document editing or strategy sessions should happen before noon. You may not always have this option, but when you can, tailor your day to your natural rhythms.
  • Include commute time on your schedule. Nothing screams unprofessional like showing up late and frazzled for an important meeting or event. No, you don’t need to have your entire day planned out to the second. However, for high-stakes meetings or appointments in distant or new locations, it’s important that you build adequate travel time into your schedule.

It’s not enough to simply record upcoming meetings or events on your calendar. A calendar should serve as a forward-looking tool for scheduling and as a reflection tool to examine time use and goal progress. Therefore, as part of your overall time management strategy, review your calendar weekly to make sure all the important happenings for the upcoming period are scheduled and to examine how you spent your time the previous week. This reflection and review time allows you to make changes in your routines and plans to avoid making the same time management mistakes over and over.

Working with students on time management and scheduling requires some additional strategies. When working with students, encourage them to create a master schedule at the beginning of the term. This helps them see how much time they will have in each day and week to study and do assignments between classes and other commitments. Having a master schedule also creates a framework within which students can tackle longer projects and avoid last-minute, adrenaline-fueled and poor-quality work.
A master schedule for students should be constructed by first entering all the nonnegotiable and nonflexible items like classes, regular job hours and childcare commitments when applicable. Then students should be encouraged to block out time for study and to complete assignments. After including all their college-related commitments as well as time for family, rest and exercise, then students should look to see if they have time left for entertainment and social events. Creating the master schedule in this manner helps students understand priorities as well as the actual amount of time needed for coursework. In addition, the master schedule helps students see if they have overbooked themselves for any given term. Students who begin the academic session with more commitments than they have available hours are doomed to suffer. We have successfully used this master schedule coaching through the tutoring department at my technical college for several years.
Despite the appearance of smartphones and scheduling applications, the concept of the calendar remains essentially the same at its core. This is because it has proven so useful. Whether or not you and your students choose to use electronic means or pen and paper, the impact is the same. A physical representation of how much time you have each day and week — and how you intend to spend this time — allows you to get more done with less aggravation. Get control of your calendar, and experience a less stressful and more productive life.

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