Calendar hacks to make you more effective

If you don’t already follow Jason Fried on LinkedIn, you should. He regularly shares strong (often contrary) opinions about how we work. Take his stance on productivity: in our attempts to hack it, we accidentally focus on staying busy.

Pay attention to how often do you hear someone describe themselves as ‘busy’ this week. The overload epidemic is real for Powrsuiters. If we had a dollar for every time someone told us they don’t have the capacity to take on a promotion… Well, we wouldn’t have to build a Membership Network for women leaders. 😉 As professionals, we seem to have concluded that the more senior the role, the longer the hours – to the point it’s limiting our careers. But does it? 

At Powrsuit, our goal isn’t to fill every spare second; it’s actually the opposite. We believe in working more effectively to maximise our value without sacrificing well-being. The world has emerged from three years in ‘reactive crisis mode’, but it’s time to get proactive again. A great place to start is by designing your career on your terms. 

We’re with Jason on this one; let’s leave productivity for machines and instead focus on effectiveness. In a recent conversation with Powrsuit Members, calendars came up a lot. They‘re a simple and effective tool for reducing noise and mental load, yet many of us aren’t putting them to maximum use. In celebration of Powrsuiter Caitlin’s wise words, here are five ways to ensure your ‘Calendar is God’.

1. Schedule weekly planning time

The thing about work is it’s designed never to end. You’ll never tick off the million tasks on your to-do list because there’ll always be more – that’s why we’re paid to work 40 hours a week, year in, year out. This reality can feel overwhelming until you switch your mindset from ‘trying to finish everything’ to ‘ticking off your top priorities’. 

Want to enjoy your weekend? Lock an hour in your calendar every Friday afternoon to plan for the next week. More of a Monday person? Kristen and Nat do their planning first thing (unless it’s the last day of the Tour de France). In that planning hour:

  • Identify your top priorities, then break them down into smaller tasks (e.g., have a board paper due in 3 weeks? This week, document your key points).
  • Pick 1-3 tasks to focus on every day. For each task, block out enough time in your calendar to get it done – this is deep work time.
  • Then, review all the meetings in your calendar. Do you know why you’re attending? If in doubt, email the organiser to ask for clarification. If you just need to stay across actions and decisions, ask for meeting notes and decline the meeting.

2. Timebox tasks

While you’re still in planning mode, it’s time to timebox everything else in your calendar:

  • Review your remaining meetings. Do you need to prepare for them? Block out time for prep.
  • Email and Slack/Teams shouldn’t rule your life. You should, however, be locking in regular times to check in. Nat has turned notifications off entirely, but if you’re not brave enough, use Slack integrations like Clockwise or the ‘focus time’ function on Mac or PC.
  • Do you find it hard to stay on track because of all the unexpected distractions you deal with? If you can reasonably expect these distractions, they may not be as unexpected as you think. Read our articles on not taking on other people’s work and not taking on their problems, and try to reduce extra load wherever possible. We know life still happens – so block out time in your calendar for ‘random requests’, so you have time set aside for them.
  • Finally, what are your other tasks? If, like Kristen, daily exercise with the doggo is important, block out time for that in your calendar too. 

Your calendar may look busy, but the great news is that if you stick to your timeboxes, you’ll get everything you need to get done, done. Left with small gaps? Great! Leave them. This is your time to take a break or finish up bits and bobs. 

Still have a list of tasks but no time to do them? That’s something to take to your next one-on-one so you can ask for the support you need.

3. Set up ‘working hours’

Tools like Google Calendar allow you to set up ‘working hours’. This shows your available hours to anyone who can view your calendar. Have a hard stop at 3pm? Add that. When everyone knows what to expect in advance, you can also cut the guilt of ‘leaving the office early’. 🎉

4. Honour Do Not Disturb time

If you’re using Outlook or Google Calendar, you can set your calendar up to auto-reject meetings that overlap any existing booked time. Remove the faff (and awkwardness) of double bookings with confidence – you’ll still be notified of the invite, so it’s up to you if you want to shuffle things around.  

5. Meeting free mornings or Mondays

A popular trend for a reason, agreeing to days without meetings, can have the intended side effect of making all of us think more carefully before booking more of them. If you can’t get consensus at work, try it yourself. 

Show leadership at any level

Don’t stop at your own calendar. Share this article with your team and agree to a couple of small actions. If you aim to free up an extra hour or two each week, you’ll start to see effectiveness gains quickly.

30 second action:

Block in an hour to plan your calendar (and make sure you don’t book anything else over that hour!).

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