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Time Management: Calendars

Project Management Essentials
Strategy

Time is a finite resource and you can’t purchase more.  Managing time properly, either for yourself or your project, can help you be more effective and accomplish your goals while working fewer hours. Many professionals make the mistake of working additional hours to accomplish more, but this approach often leads to diminishing returns and burnout. An occasional increase in hours often happens during critical phases of a project. But if you are living tied to your work laptop and/or phone, then you may have a time management issue. Throughout this blog series, each article will introduce one or more guiding principles related to time management. In addition, we will explore some common systems and tools to effectively managing your work.

In the last post, we explored a productivity tool called Toodledo and some tips for setting up a to-do list. This post focuses on managing your calendar. I hear all the time: “I’m triple booked during that time." That’s not a sign of being important. It’s a sign of not managing priorities, not treating your time as your most valuable resource, and not making tough decisions about how to spend your day.

It’s true, most knowledge workers' schedules are packed. And the more senior you are the more packed it will likely get. But I’m going to tell you a secret. You are not going to attend all of those meetings. Leaving them on your calendar creates clutter and inhibits you from focusing on the key priorities. In addition, the organizers have no idea whether you plan to attend or if they need to reschedule because you are a key attendee.

Calendar Clean-up

Clean off your work calendar weekly. There are certain days of the week when I have four or five conflicting meetings in a single timeslot. I recommend going through your calendar once a week (I do this on Mondays) and declining the meetings that you won’t be able to attend. I include a note to the organizer so that they know I won’t be attending.

If the meeting I am planning to attend is often cancelled, I might keep a second meeting marked as optional, and I let the organizer know I may attend. Next, look at next week’s calendar for any important meetings you need to prepare for or any scheduling conflicts that need to be addressed. You should end up with no more than one booked and one tentative meeting in every timeslot for the next two weeks. I know this is not always possible. But I find that I typically only have multiple conflicts when an important meeting comes up or when I’m in a training class but popping out to run my regular project touch points. Hopefully, that's the exception and not the norm.

I’ve had managers tell me they like to keep meetings that are run by their directs on their calendars as tentative (just to be aware they are occurring). That’s fine, but keep in mind it does create visual clutter on your calendar. However, staying in the loop on the meeting series may be more important. Another option is asking your directs to share their calendars with you.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for times that you need to meet with important stakeholders. You’re usually at the mercy of the stakeholder’s schedule, and that often means throwing a grenade into your calendar in order to have a meeting. But remember, if it’s the top priority, pull the pin. If it can wait, find a time that will be less disruptive to your schedule.

Recommendations for Calendar Management

Use your calendar to keep track of time-bound activities. Getting Things Done makes some great recommendations about how to use calendars. My recommendations are similar. Time-bound activities, meaning an activity that has to happen on a certain day/time, should be placed on your calendar. I typically put tasks with a deadline in my to-do list system. If the task is really important, I might put a reminder on my calendar and in my to-do list. I also recommend that you put personal time-bound activities on an electronic calendar. Are you really going to remember when that electronics recycling event is happening two months from now?

Consider putting meeting-specific reminders as a calendar event next to the meeting. Sometimes I need to remember to send meeting minutes to someone who isn’t attending the meeting. Or I need to raise a specific topic or question that I don’t want to forget. I put those reminders next to the meeting so that I see them when I’m reviewing my daily schedule and when I am joining meetings throughout the day. The screenshot below is an example.

calendar-and-reminder-example.png

I also place reminders on my calendar for things that I might need to remember but do not need to take action. For example, I note a change freeze around a holiday. It’s good to remember that information, but it doesn’t need to go into my action item tool. I usually create these as an all-day event and set the show as dropdown to “free." That way, the all-day reminder doesn’t block your calendar.

Block off time for priority work. Consider scheduling time for yourself, that is, blocking off your calendar, if you have tasks that need large blocks of uninterrupted time. This discourages other meetings from being booked during that time. Try your best to keep to your plan. If something comes up, reschedule the block of time to another day. Remember, you thought it was important enough to dedicate time. so don’t let the day to day noise of the office derail you.

I’ve developed these strategies over my 20+ year career, and they certainly help me stay organized. I hope you find these tips helpful as well. Actively managing your calendar does take time and energy. But you can either actively manage your calendar, or it will manage you.

Related Information

Read additional blog posts in this series:

About the Author

Jonathan Addair, PMP, is a volunteer with PMI Mile Hi Chapter and a practicing project manager.

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