Over the past several months I’ve implemented the process of setting aside times for certain activities and putting them on my calendar. Previously, I only used the calendar for activities that I had to physically be at. My philosophy was that tasks should be kept in the task manager (OmniFocus), events such as meetings and appointments on the calendar (Fantastical), and quick one-off tasks in a reminders app (Due). I still largely keep this distinction but I am finding that certain tasks such as working on a project for work, prepping for a meeting, or reviewing the week were not getting done.
I first began setting aside “deep work” sessions to work on specific projects. On Friday, I would look at my week and set aside 10-15 hours to specifically mark on my calendar [Deep Work: Project Name] in certain time slots. I marked the slot as busy, tell my team during this time I’m unavailable, remove the distractions, and get to work. This has been immensely helpful. Sometimes I’m not as dedicated as I need to be or something comes up in the “Important-Urgent” category that needs to get done but for the most part I’ve been able to make step-by-step progress on a couple long-term projects.
The second activity I’ve been adding to my calendar is setting aside time in order to prep for certain meetings. Some meetings you just need to be there and little prep is necessary. Others, you could probably wing it but preparation would make the meeting more fruitful. Sometimes, preparation is necessary otherwise the meeting is mostly a waste of time. And finally, there are others based on a long term project that you’ve been working on for awhile so you are already prepared for those. For meetings that would be better for all parties if there was preparation on my end are the ones that seem to fall through the cracks. I always think that I’ll have time to look over some documents before but inevitably life happens then it is 1:45pm and the meeting starts at 2:00pm so I just quickly look over some things and go. Sure, the meeting isn’t a disaster but it would be 10x more efficient and productive if I had taken the time to plan. Thus, enter another category I’ve been putting in my calendar: meeting prep. Ideally, I’d like to set aside time 30-60 minutes depending on what the topic is right before the meeting so ideas are fresh but if I can get any prep in then that is alright. Therefore, when I look at my calendar at the beginning of the day or week I visually see time that I have set aside to prepare for certain meetings. Don’t just “get by” when it comes to meetings. Yes, most of us find them a necessary evil but don’t compound that by not preparing for it on your end (even if you aren’t the one leading it).
The key for putting these “non-appointments” in the calendar is to treat that time as sacred. When someone wants to get together then when you look at your calendar then those times should be marked as busy. Protect those times because each time you don’t it will be easier and easier to let your week fill up with other miscellaneous tasks. At one point, I tried filling in my whole calendar. I marked “deep work” sessions, meetings, and other appointments then also slotted in times for “admin work,” which simply meant that I’m available, in the office, and doing various tasks. I found, after 3-4 weeks of this that it was visualization overload when looking at my calendar because every slot was filled up. I was available during certain times such as the “admin work” that could be filled with other events but it was not visually helpful to see everything slotted the same way. I did try to distinguish different types of work by changing the title to [Admin Duties] and [Deep Work] but I still found it not to be clean enough. So I still think the calendar is best suited for appointments but I’ve increasingly found that slotting in certain activities can be a useful visualization for planning my day or week. Take the time to plan for meetings, everyone will be better off because of it. Most of us can “fake it” and still have a slightly productive time and sadly that becomes the norm. Instead, plan in order to make efficient and productive use of not only your personal time but other people’s time in the meeting as well.