Do you control your calendar or does your calendar control you? Calendar management may seem impossible as crazy as working mom life is normally, much less in the middle of a pandemic! Time management may feel like a joke at times, but we can choose to conquer the calendar and drastically reduce our calendar and schedule stress.
We can manage our calendars proactively, or reactively, letting our calendars manage us. I don’t know about you, but life is much calmer, peaceful and happier when I do proactive calendar management. Even better, I can manage my calendar with time-tested, effective time management strategies.
All of us have external time pressures put on us. Often it’s meetings scheduled by bosses and those higher in the hierarchy, or important family commitments and activities.
I joke that my job is to spend my days in meetings. There’s more truth in it than I’d like to admit. As a people manager who works on large cross-functional projects, aligning with other teams and managing my own team requires a lot of intentional time spent with people. And that’s without getting into the kids’ school, taekwondo, therapies, dentists, doctors, and other activities and appointments.
Note: While this article is focused more on managing a corporate calendar or office-based calendar, the same tips and tricks can be applied to any activity – personal or professional.
Six effective calendar management strategies to proactively manage your time
1. Set regular intentional time to review your calendar and adjust as needed
Block time once a week to look at the next two weeks and do a thorough calendar review making any larger adjustments needed. Set aside a few minutes daily to take a look at what’s coming and make sure nothing’s changed or needs to adjust.
For the weekly calendar review, I find that Friday afternoons work best, as those tend to be naturally quieter times for me. Monday morning tends to start with a blaze and doesn’t slow down! Maybe that’s different for you. Take a look at your week and find a time that’s naturally less busy. Time that you know you have less mental energy also works well. That can be a great time to fill with a productive task like proactive calendar management. Once you identify a weekly time block for calendar management, schedule it! I have a recurring meeting with myself for 15 minutes on Friday afternoon.
For a quick daily review, I spend about one minute at the end of each day looking at tomorrow. Then first thing in the morning, I check my calendar to remind myself what’s scheduled.
2. Rank and prioritize meetings on your calendar
As part of your weekly calendar review, look strategically at what’s booked and whether it works for your schedule and productivity or not.
Look at where you are double (or triple!) booked. What can be moved? What can’t?
If it’s a meeting scheduled by my boss’s boss, or a meeting with more than four people in it, I know that I likely can’t move it unless I am an absolutely critical attendee. If I’m not absolutely critical, is it a meeting that I can get an update from someone else? Or do I need to attend anyway?
I used to have a bad habit of not looking at my calendar and rescheduling at the last minute. This wasn’t how I wanted to show up. While I did work in a culture where meetings were frequently scheduled at the last minute, that was not an acceptable excuse for me. Be respectful of other people’s time in the same way you would like them to respect your time.
If I do need to reschedule, I tend to follow the following prioritization:
Meetings with higher up people on the organization chain and urgent deadlines should be prioritized by necessity.
Next I prioritize anyone I’ve already had to reschedule on. Unfortunately, 1:1 meetings are the easiest to reschedule logistically. Be careful about the message this sends to the individuals you’re meeting with though. While there are times it makes sense to reschedule, be very careful that you aren’t sending a message that they, and their time, aren’t important. I recently had a meeting on a busy day that wasn’t critical, but it was a person that had already been rescheduled twice. My values dictated that while I would have preferred to work on more urgent work, respect for others took precedence.
3. Limit recurring meetings
If you find yourself cancelling on a meeting frequently, ask if you should be on the invite, or if the meeting should even happen. I work with one individual who schedules 1:1s with people weekly. These are moved, skipped, showed up to so late so often that the intention of having regular consistent time blocked backfires.
If a meeting moves so frequently that people don’t trust it will actually happen, it shouldn’t be scheduled that way. Does the meeting need to happen less frequently? On a different cadence? At a different day and time to better accommodate attendees? Does it even need to be a meeting? Could it merge with another meeting? Be email / electronic updates?
Tip: Mark recurring meetings as a separate color on your calendar so you can see at a glance how much of your time is taken up by recurring meetings.
4. Group similar meetings together
Wherever possible, group similar types of meetings together and try to schedule meetings in blocks so that you can leave larger blocks of time free for focused work time.
I have individual, or 1:1, meetings with some of my team every other week, and some every week. This depends on the type of work someone does and how much updates they need from me.
I also have an open-door policy (or free chair policy when I had an open desk), and (in normal, non-pandemic times) people drop by frequently. It can take some trial and error to balance between scheduled meetings and 5-10 minute drop by conversations. I can fit 3-6 drop by conversations in the same block of time as one 30 minute meeting, but people rarely/never schedule time for less than 30 minutes. At the same time, as busy as everyone is, planning time to talk can feel easier than “hoping” you’ll have time with someone.
With working from home during a pandemic, the 5-10 minute drop-by conversations become much more difficult. I’ve taken to scheduling 15 minute quick touch bases, or using Slack as a virtual drive by to message or request a casual phone call.
I try to schedule 1:1s on Mondays, have multiple recurring meetings on Wednesdays, and plan Fridays for looking ahead to the following week.
This is easier said than done for a lot of us. We may or may not have control of who schedules time for us and when. It’s not perfect, and isn’t always possible, but it’s much more balanced than it was before I tried with intention.
4. Schedule appropriate meeting time and stick to it
How long does a meeting need to be? Research has shown that 30 or 45 minute meetings are equally if not more effective than 60 minute meetings.
Tip: A well-crafted meeting agenda can keep meeting time focused and productive.
Allow for transition times. It’s easy to schedule a meeting for 2:00-3:00 and have another scheduled from 3:00-4:00. Often the first meeting will go right up to the last minute. This means that you either have to duck out early, or show up to the second meeting late. Even better, meetings often run long.
5. Schedule blocks for deep work and focused project time
Too frequently, I look at my day/week to realize that the only “free” time I have is in 15-30 minute chunks scattered throughout the day. This is enough to get fragments of work done, but not enough for deep work. Blocking time for deep work is key (and finding a way to do that during business hours is even better! This often ends up being early am, evening or weekend work!).
By grouping similar meetings together, it’s easier to free up larger chunks of time for deep work and focused project time. The weekly calendar review time allows you to look ahead and suggest rescheduling any one-offs that may be inadvertently blocking a larger block of available time.
6. Use calendar management hacks to share more nuances about availability
It’s possible to ‘code’ your calendar so that people scheduling time with you know what’s flexible and what’s not.
Depending on how busy my calendar is and how many meetings I know others are looking to schedule with me, I may block my focused project work time as ‘tentative’ on my calendar rather than blocked off.
This is because in my corporate email account, my co-workers can see if I’m free, tentative, or busy, but cannot see what that time is for. I let key team members and admins know that ‘tentative’ time can be booked for important meetings that don’t fit in free times, but to try to catch a window at the beginning or end of that tentative time, not the middle. For example, if I have 8am-noon blocked as tentative, I’d prefer someone to book at either 8am or 11am, not at 10am. This still protects a block of time, even if it’s shorter than originally planned.
Above all, keep the focus on what you can control. While you likely don’t have full control of your calendar, you do control more than you may think. Using these tips, you can consistently show up well, be more effective with your work time, and free up time for your priorities – including actually taking a lunch break!
Which of these calendar management strategies will you try this week? Email and let me know.