How Not to Get Fooled By Your Calendar

Mike Vardy

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“Don’t be fooled by the calendar. There are only as many days in the year as you make use of.” – Charles Richards

365 days. 52 weeks. 12 months. All of these add up to a calendar year in one form or another.

We tend to focus on the calendar in very constrained terms. We identify its length by the year we’re in—not the year gone by or the year to come. We often cram a bunch of our tasks, projects, and ideas into the early stages of the calendar year and once we realize we haven’t hit the mark on some of them we do the same for the tail end of the year.

Stop that.

When you try to cram things in, you don’t think big. You think small.

You think about how much you can fit in. Further to that, you try to figure out how you can fit things into an increasingly smaller space.

Stop that. Seriously.

For example, if you “hyperschedule” yourself by filling every single time block on your calendar then if something doesn’t happen according to what the calendar indicates (which happens with things that are largely out of your control) then your stress levels will climb. Things like getting sick or an emergency meeting or client call can really throw you off your game.

If you’ve followed my work for a while you know that I don’t advocate blocking off every minute of the day with any sort of detail. Instead, I theme my days so that each day has an overarching focus. So in essence I do use my calendar as a driving force for my day.

Each "daily theme" acts as a trigger so when I don’t have anything specific scheduled in a time slot I can quickly choose what task I need or want to work on next. I simply think about the day of the week and then work on whatever tasks that align with that day’s theme. (Actually, most of those tasks appear on my free daily paper planning sheet, The Daily Driver.)

As you can see, the calendar can be a tricky beast. It’s designed in a way that makes it appealing to use for time management, but it’s not best suited for that. So what is it best suited for?

Well, beyond the daily themes I just mentioned, here are three more things that you actually should put on your calendar in order to make things happen on a regular basis:

1. Date-Specific Appointments

David Allen explains in his seminal work, Getting Things Done, that the only thing that should appear on your calendar are date-specific appointments. That means things like dentist appointments, meetings, and anything that can only be attended to during that time. But that also means that you can make date-specific appointments with yourself that can act as tentpoles for you to conduct certain pieces of work.

I’ve actually started to refer to these more as “agreements” than “appointments” because agreements mean that much more to me. Rescheduling an appointment is something that can be done, but rescheduling an agreement seems more daunting and less viable. By using the term “agreement” (which acts as a trigger), I’m less likely to even think about altering what I’ve committed to with someone else…or even myself.

2. Tasks You Struggle With Completing Regularly

There are tasks that ultimately have to shift from your task manager to your calendar, and I’ve found that there’s only one big reason that needs to be done: you’re struggling with completing them on a regular basis.

Exercise is a big one for me. I initially scheduled exercise in my task manager and found that it wasn’t happening. Then I moved it to my calendar to be done on specific days, but not at specific times. That didn’t work, either (although it’s important to be a bit less specific when practicing “time chunking”). So I caved and scheduled exercise in for specific times of the day and, much like making a date-specific appointment with myself, it started to get done more regularly. At first it wasn’t happening all the time, but the more I reconciled with myself that I was “breaking an agreement” with myself, the regular routine of exercising on those scheduled days took hold.

3. Monthly Themes

Every time I look at my wall calendar, I see my Annual Axiom – my slogan or phrase for the year almost immediately. Then I see my monthly themes. These themes act as beacons for when I’m stuck on what I should be focusing on that month — the things that should ultimately guide my actions over those periods of time.

Monthly themes are key because they keep you aware of the bigger picture on those occasions when you get caught up in the minutia of the day-to-day. The monthly themes, which are actually only used for nine of the twelve months of the year, keep me attached to my larger goals and projects and help me make measured progress towards achieving them. So whether you use a wall calendar like The NOW Year Calendar or simply use a digital calendar (where you can create an event that lasts all day for every day of the month to represent your monthly theme), having a compass of that nature can really help you make the most of your energy, your time, and your calendar.

Remember that your year can start anytime you want to let it. You just have to be able to look beyond the numbers—the quantification—and look toward something else: the quality of what you do with those numbers. Your calendar habits are a critical component of task and time management. When your calendar is out of control — or too heavily controlled — you can be hurting your long-term productivity rather than helping it.

If you want to avoid being fooled by your calendar, give it a role that it is better suited to handle. And once you start using your calendar better, you’ll find that your calendar will start helping you move forward every single day.

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I'm Mike Vardy, better known as The Productivityist, and my goal is to offer ideas, insights, and information that will help you craft your time better and become more personally productive.

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