Tool time: Calendars

In addition to the one on useful reading, you’re going to get another monthly post from me. This is the first. I’m going to blather on about some tools you might find useful or should definitely be using. As with the suggested readings, feel free to ignore.

Calendars:

You all use a calendar, right? If not, don’t admit to it, just start now. It doesn’t matter whether you use a calendar app or a paper version, this is something you should be, and probably are, using daily. Smart phones and computers generally come with calendar apps for free, and there are more that you can download than you can poke a stick at. Maybe you’ve immersed yourself in the Google app ecosystem - that has a decent calendar app. It’s worth taking the time to find one that works for you.*

Are you using your calendars to their full potential? At the minimum you have things like lab meetings, student seminars, faculty seminars, etc. recorded in your calendar. University holidays should be in there (labeled IMPORTANT! of course). Personal stuff (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). That’s what you should have at a minimum.

Here’s something to try as a way to maximize productivity (this is discussed in the “Deep Work” book I recommended). Use your calendars to schedule every minute of your work day.** Seriously. The idea here is that you’re never at a loss for what you do next and you don’t waste time watching cat videos on the web. That means taking the time (which you’ll block out in your calendar) to plan out your days carefully in advance. Okay, research doesn’t always stick to timelines. Often you’ll find an experiment takes longer (or shorter) than planned. That’s okay, just be flexible about it. And plan carefully. If possible, don’t schedule that absolutely crucial, must be done today, task as the last thing of the day just in case thing don’t go as planned.

Most (all?) calendar apps I’ve looked at let you set alerts to remind you of upcoming events. Those are very useful. For example, if I have a meeting the other side of campus, it’s good to be reminded to start heading over there in advance. It’s good to have advance warning of cookie time so I can grab some coffee to take with me. Important stuff like that.

Maybe try using different colors (actually different calendars in the app I use) for different types of events. Don’t laugh, I do that. With a glance I can tell whether the next thing on my calendar is something to do with research, teaching, DGS duties, etc.

Finally, there’s no point in putting all this stuff into a calendar if you don’t look at it. Make it a habit to go through your calendar first thing each day. Maybe set up an alert in your calendar to remind you.

* I’ll be typing that sentence a lot in these Tool Time posts.

** An important benefit of maximizing productivity while at work is that it frees up time you can spend doing things like having a life.