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Stop using your calendar as a task management tool

Productivity Task and Project Management

Calendars often get abused as task managers.

At the end of a busy workday, you probably make a mental note of what you need to get done tomorrow. Taking a moment to prepare for tomorrow is always a good idea. But capturing to dos in your calendar might not be the best way to go.

Here’s why: calendars are designed to hold deadline-based and time-sensitive events. Things that you can include in your calendar are appointments, errands and deadlines. 

On the other hand, you will have at least five to seven tasks on any given day. They might be time sensitive, but chances are you will need to move your tasks around throughout the week and adjust to new events. 

If you find yourself moving tasks on your calendar a couple of times a week, then that’s probably something you need to be tracking inside a task manager.

And how about tasks that you will want to do someday, but you’re not sure when? Don’t force them into an artificially created deadline on your calendar. Those go in your task management app, not in your calendar.

Scheduling tasks to the hour on your calendar – whether it’s a wall calendar, an agenda or a software – is not a viable way to manage your tasks. It takes away from your flexibility and your ability to adapt to change – which is vital to you and your business.

But there is a time and place for calendars too, so let’s breakdown what calendars are good for and what they’re bad for.

What your calendar is good for:

  • Events which can’t be missed and don’t usually change. Your company’s annual general meeting. Your daughter’s birthday. Wedding anniversaries. Tax filing deadlines.
  • Meetings with team members/partners/clients.
  • Booked appointments. If you miss that dentist appointment, you’ll not only be waiting a few months until the next one, but you’ll probably be charged a ‘no show’ fee as well.

What your calendar is bad for:

  • Tying tasks to projects. Working on multiple projects means you’re probably juggling different types of tasks that related. If you’re stacking your calendar with tasks, it’s hard to see which tasks related are related to what projects.
  • Prioritizing between tasks and planning flexibly. Since your calendar makes it hard to move tasks around, it will be hard for you to prioritize among your many tasks and projects.
  • Seeing the big picture. ‘Due tomorrow’ tasks are generally not the same as ‘most important’ tasks.
  • ‘Call’ reminders. Unless you’ve got a scheduled time for a meeting or phone call with someone, use a Call List to keep track of who you need to call.

How to think about your calendar instead:

Even if you’ve been using your calendar as a to do list, it’s not too late to turn around.

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen recommends you treat your calendar only as your ‘hard landscape’ — meetings, appointments, and events. 

He says:

“The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all.” 

So be discriminate about what goes on your calendar. Unless there’s a date and time associated with the event, don’t place it on your calendar.

If your team members use a calendar software to figure out when to book a meeting with you, you can use your calendar to block off time that you need to complete your own tasks and strategic thinking and planning. This will signal to them that you’re busy during that time, without you needing to include each task on your calendar.

Stick to your task management system to capture your tasks and let your calendar handle your hard commitments.

How do you use your calendar for planning? Have you used it as a task manager? Share your experiences with us in the comments below. 

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