We’re willing to bet that you use some type of digital calendar to manage your time. Chances are, you might even use more than one. Digital calendars have gone beyond a standard place to keep track of appointments, and are now a vital part of maintaining a busy and full life. In fact, research shows that a whopping 70% of American adults rely on some form of digital calendar. Paper calendars are still relied on by less than 30% of the study respondents.
Savvy start-ups have created entire products and apps around calendars, and we see constant innovation in the space. From the standard Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendars to more specialty options like Clickup or Todoist, there’s a digital calendar option for everyone. Digital calendars provide a simple yet powerful roadmap to guide your day, month, and year. Having a well-organized calendar is essential for prioritizing tasks, checking off to-dos, and keeping your family or work team on the same page as far as scheduling.
That being said, too many tools can sometimes make things more complex than necessary. How can you take advantage of all of the features offered by modern digital calendars, without becoming bogged-down? You don’t want managing your calendar to be just one more to-do item on an already long list. Here are some of our top tips for organizing digital calendars and increasing efficiency.
Tips for Optimizing a Single Calendar Option
If you use one calendar for all aspects of life, things will be a little simpler. Of course, this isn’t always possible, so these tips won’t be entirely applicable to everyone. As of right now, Google and Outlook are the most popular calendar options. While many people take extra steps to integrate these calendars, or use other apps alongside them, it’s also common to choose one digital calendar and do what you need to from there. In that case, here are a few basic tips for keeping that calendar as organized and streamlined as possible.
Related Article: Google Calendar Hacks for Maximum Productivity
Create a list of categories
As you plot your time, you’ll find that several events, appointments, or meetings tend to fall within a certain category. It will make your life easier to decide ahead of time which categories you’re going to use, and then consciously block time off within those categories. Some people just use general “work” and “home”. Other people might use a different category for each family member. You have to decide how detailed you want to be. If you are in a client-facing role, does each client have its own category? What about things in your personal life? Are doctor appointments included in a broad “personal” category, or are you going to narrow things down to a more specific “medical” category? We recommend dividing your categories into the following at a minimum: personal life, work meetings, and work deadlines. In most cases it makes sense to get a bit more specific than these categories, but they should provide an effective start.
Use color coding
Making your calendar easy on the eyes is one of the best things you can do to ensure you keep up with it properly and get the most from your chosen tools. After you’ve narrowed down the categories you’ll be using, assign each one a color. This is essential so that when you view your calendar in its entirety, it's easy to understand without feeling overwhelming. Most calendar programs have this functionality in place already. For example, Google lets you color-code different parts of your life so you can better organize everything in your calendar. For instance, you might use red for work-related items, blue for social engagements, and green for kids’ schedules. This way your eyes will go toward what is most pressing - for example, work deadlines - while you can still absorb whatever else is going on that day or week. Many people actually find this to be a really fun part of organizing their calendar.
Your calendar can be as full or as light as you want it to be - after all, you are the one it has to work for. Chances are your schedule will be full of work obligations, important appointments, kids’ sport practices, etc. Some people like to schedule reminders for their favorite TV shows or fun happy hours. How much you want to pack in is really up to you, but the key is to prioritize everything so necessary things get attention first. Start by adding in everything that you can think of that requires a reminder. Things like meeting times, key appointments, or important deadlines come first. Many programs have the option of making an event “optional” (or private), making it possible to view your calendar without those events showing. This functionality is helpful for prioritizing what you can and cannot miss. Don’t make the mistake of entering everything into your calendar as though all appointments are equal. Whether you use color-coding, “optional” events, or another differentiator, you need to be able to understand at a glance what is mandatory and what is helpful information only. After all, you wouldn’t treat your annual review with your boss with the same importance as picking up your dry cleaning on the way home. It’s essential to have a way of differentiating appointments based on importance.
Use the correct view
Most platforms make it easy to customize the view you use calendars. You can choose from options like day, week, month, schedule, or four days. Most people find that customizing their calendar view helps with avoiding distractions. For instance, selecting a day view means you can focus on what you have going on that specific day without thinking about what else you have going on that week or month. At the same time, keeping a calendar view open to your week will let you see where you have lighter days, making it easier to schedule future events. The point is you can choose the view that works for you and the way that you like to do things.
Sharing your calendar can be surprisingly beneficial. This is particularly true when you’re working with others. Maintaining a calendar that you share with others on your team ensures that everyone is aware of important dates and deadlines. A shareable view on your calendar also reduces confusion that can lead to arriving late or missing meetings. How many times have you had someone schedule a meeting directly following an already scheduled meeting? You don’t even have time to get from one room to the next! If people can have a better view of your calendar they can account for small breaks and other scheduling courtesies. Many people also find shareable calendars valuable in their personal lives. For example, your family can view your travel itinerary while you’re on vacation. This is a popular feature among married couples, as they can quickly see what the other person has scheduled before making commitments. It’s perfect for seeing when people are available and when they are otherwise engaged. To share a Google Calendar, go into Settings and add the email addresses of those you want to share the calendar with. You can also pull a shareable link that you can copy and send via email. To share in Outlook, select Calendar → Share Calendar. Choose which calendar you want to share, click Add, choose the recipients, and then click “Add”. Select ok and then you’ll see a detailed list of people who have access to your calendar along with permission levels.
Consider appointment functionality
You can take things a step beyond just sharing your calendar and make it more interactive. For example, you may want to embed your calendar into a website. This is really helpful when you want other people to see when you are open or attempt to schedule something with you. Or, you may want to take advantage of functionality where people can block off time on your calendar. This is really common with sales professionals who have lots of leads and follow up activity. They often send a calendar so that people can simply view their calendar and book a time that works for them. This is also commonly used by teachers or professors setting up time with students, and can prove really beneficial in the medical community or beauty industry. There are countless use cases where it makes sense to let other people see your calendar and then book time based on what they view.
Working with Multiple Digital Calendars
For some people, a single calendar platform is not enough. It has become incredibly common for people to use one tool for work, and one for personal items, and then sync them. Plus, there are several other platforms which provide a lot of value in scheduling. Some of them are:
- ClickUp - Designed for task management, this productivity tool has intuitive calendar features for teams. It helps professionals across a group to stay on pace, manage projects, and collaborate. Users love the customizable views that help them to schedule and prioritize their work, and it has a great drag-and-drop user interface that is simple to use.
- Todoist - A powerful way to organize your workday, Todoist is a productivity software that offers plenty of tools for individuals or teams. Placing tasks into the platform gives entire teams clarity, and it can be used across a variety of devices so everyone is comfortable. Shift pairs really nicely with Todoist and we have a detailed tutorial on how to use them together here.
- Any.do - This mobile app helps people to plan their day quickly and easily. Its value is in letting users schedule meaningful action items based on larger goals. Any.do's dashboard consists of a to-do list, planner, and calendar, allowing users to plan while staying on top of their daily agenda. Simply drag and drop tasks into your schedule to produce an efficient daily plan.
- Calendly - This online platform is focused on improving the way the world schedules. Their goal is to provide an elegant, simple experience for customers. An automated calendar, Calendly works with Google, Office 365, and Outlook calendars and apps like Salesforce, Stripe, PayPal, Google Analytics, GoToMeeting, and Zapier for a seamless user experience.
- SavvyCal - Another online platform, this software helps users to find the best time for calls or appointments. It’s value is in removing the hassle of finding meeting times that won’t overlap with other meetings or activities. By syncing your schedule and the schedule of your recipients, it takes the guess-work out of finding a time that works for everyone.
Those are just a few of today’s digital calendar options. You can use Outlook along with Google Calendar, plus any number of these tools for the best scheduling experience. If you are going to operate within a few different calendars, though, you might want to take some extra steps. Here are a few other considerations to be aware of as you organize multiple digital calendars.
Related Article: How to Manage Multiple Calendars
One of the best things about online calendars is that you can import and export them to virtually anywhere. If you use multiple platforms - for example, Outlook for work and Google Calendar for personal - you can export your work calendar so that it syncs with your personal schedule. Then you can view your total schedule without having to bounce between apps. This is a really helpful tutorial about syncing Google Calendar to Outlook. You can even take things a step further and sync your calendar with voice assistants. After you try this, make sure to review everything on the screen that will be your default. Make sure everything looks ok and check each calendar to ensure nothing is missing.
With all of the action happening across multiple calendars, you’ll have to decide how you want to manage notifications. This will determine how often you get interrupted in the middle of work. It can be distracting to be in the middle of something and have a large pop-up interrupt your activity. This is particularly difficult if you have a full day with several appointments - you’ll have several reminder pop-ups appearing throughout your day, which can be annoying when you are trying to complete tasks. Most calendar options have functionality to help you manage this. For example, in Google Calendars you can avoid this notification overload by going into your settings and scrolling to “Event Settings”, then changing the view to “Desktop Notifications”. That way you’ll receive a more gentle, less intrusive reminder. You’ll see notifications in the top right corner of your screen instead of a larger pop-up in the middle of your screen. Review the notification settings for each calendar you use and see what might be changed.
Related Article: How to Get a Notification Aggregator for Desktop
Streamline notifications with Shift
If it feels like notifications are taking over your life (and your screens), you can minimize their effects by implementing Shift. Shift offers notification management that can apply across all the apps you use every day, from Outlook to Facebook to Slack and beyond. With a couple of clicks, you can mute all notifications temporarily or control the sounds that play when a notification comes through. Shift brings together all of the notifications from any of your apps and email accounts and displays them in one place. For more details on how this works, read this post.
Hide calendars and events
Depending on how busy you are and with what, even a color-coded calendar might feel cumbersome. To limit distractions, you may want to hide certain calendars or events so that they aren’t in your periphery. For example, if you are trying to concentrate on your work schedule, you may not want to see things like birthday reminders. Or, if you’re on a holiday break with your family, you may want to have an agenda of plans you’ve made without seeing your usual work reminders. Most digital calendars have an option for this. For example, in Google, you can choose whether or not to view declined events or weekend activities.
Get a daily agenda via email
See if your digital calendar offers the option of a daily agenda. Outlook and Google Calendar both are able to provide a calendar view which can be emailed to you. If you’ve synced your calendars, you can print a single sheet or just get a daily email in the morning so you know what’s on deck. Once you pick what you want to view in an email, it will be sent to you each morning at five am. This is a really handy way to see what the day has in store for you.
Understand your offline options
You won’t always be connected. You should see what is available offline when it comes to your various calendar options. For example, you can often use an app, or an offline version. Notably, Google Calendar has an offline option. If you select “Offline mode” you can view your schedules, make edits, and create, edit, or respond to events and then everything will be synced when you’re back online. Outlook also has options for viewing or working offline. You’ll need to select or clear the “Prompt me at startup so I may choose to work offline or online” check box, and then click OK. If you clear the check box, Microsoft Outlook will automatically start offline if a connection to the server is not available. Even if you don’t use these options much, it will give you peace of mind to know what’s available.
Shift Can Help Manage All of Your Tools
Shift offers notification management that can apply across all the apps you use every day, from Outlook to Facebook to Slack and beyond. With a couple of clicks, you can mute all notifications temporarily or control the sounds that play when a notification comes through. This means you won’t constantly be interrupted by new message notifications. The old principle “out of sight, out of mind” is often repeated for a reason: because not continuously getting reminders of email piling up will allow you to focus on the tasks at-hand.
Not only that, Shift brings together all of the notifications from any of your apps and email accounts and displays them in one place. You don’t have to look in multiple places anymore just to see what new alerts you have. Instead, you can simply check the number that appears in the little red bubble on the Shift icon in your taskbar, and there you go! This is truly the easiest way to avoid overload from email notifications. Users save a ton of time that previously was wasted by constantly checking their latest email notification and digging into their inboxes. Not only that, you can even turn off notifications or remove the notification badge for particular apps within Shift if you don’t want to be alerted to things within that particular platform.
Furthermore, a platform like Shift will make sure you have all your apps in one place. As you go through the process of linking your favorite tools, you’ll see software and apps that you don’t use anymore. As you deactivate and delete those tools, you’ll lose any notifications that went with those services. It’s not only streamlining your entire desktop, but you’re deleting time-sinks in the process.
Related Article: How to Get a Google Calendar App for Desktop
How Else Can Shift Help With Productivity?
Shift is a powerful tool for people who are trying to work more productively in their desktop environment. Anyone who uses online platforms will find Shift to be a valuable resource. With Shift, you can organize and manage the following:
- Mail - Connect all of your Gmail, Outlook, and Office 365 accounts and manage everything from one centralized workstation.
- Apps - WhatsApp, Slack, Messenger—we have everything you need to get it done. Browse our Apps Directory, connect yours, and switch between them easily.
- Search - Save time and find exactly what you're looking for across any of your Mail, Calendar, and Drive accounts.
- Chrome extensions - Enjoy access to Boomerang, Grammarly, LastPass, and many of your other favorite Chrome Extensions.
- Focused web tabs - Access the web from inside Shift. Manage your tabs and organize them by account for a better browsing experience.
- Workspaces - Create a Workspace with the exact apps, tabs, and bookmarks you need, then share it with your team to get the job done.
- Account management - Toggle between your most-used accounts, check notifications and streamline your workflow.