Calendar PageThere just aren’t enough days in the week, which is confusing for some workers who think they can cram about 35 into each. With every online or electronic accessory attempting to become your essential assistant (and hold you hostage from then on), some people have to coordinate a quintuplet of calendars: their laptop, mobile device, online reminders, work schedule, and even a bizarre sheet of “printed paper,” which sits on their desk like some dark relic of ages past.

Others believe themselves to be beyond calendars, but we have to say: they aren’t. Unless your only appointment for the day is “Admire my Fabergé egg collection as soon as I’m finished feasting on caviar” you have things to do. You’ll do those things better with a sensible system for organizing your time.

There’s a simple test: if you’ve ever looked at a calendar and shouted “Oh F@$%!” while leaping out of your chair, you’re not using that piece of stationary properly. It’s meant to be a scheduler, not an electric-shock stimulator, and with a few simple steps you can go from the latter to the former.

1. Choose one calendar

Be honest: even having one calendar means things are going badly for you, because it means you have “work,” “responsibilities,” and other issues with not being an idle billionaire relaxing on a beach. More than one means you can’t even look at all the things you need to do without worrying about doing it wrong, which is stress on a scale nobody needs. Choose one calendar service and, if you have to, copy everything else into it, making it your one-stop shop for future planning.

We recommend Google Calendar.* You may want to use your fancy phone, but losing your handset is bad enough — losing your life with it would be unacceptable. Ditto your desktop software, as you can’t afford to be sitting around like a dog without a master just because the hard drive fried. Plus the analogy of doing whatever the computer tells you is very worrying, while doing everything Google tells you is just accepting the inevitable.

At this point nothing short of a direct hit by a meteor made of nuclear warheads will erase Google information and you can securely access it from anywhere (fancy phone included). Some complain about “privacy” and don’t want to give Google all their personal information. While we don’t want to throw around phrases like “paranoid conspiracy nut,” we do recommend you check their desk for tinfoil hats. The fact is that Google doesn’t care about you, in the same way the planet Jupiter doesn’t care about your car. It’s not about to risk a billion-dollar empire to spy on where you’re at, nor let anyone from the outside (hackers included) do the same.

2. Add things instantly

If you’re going to do something then do it right, and yes, we’re afraid that such a hard-bitten, man-of-the-land expression can be applied to calendars. The key is to add every event instantly, checking your existing schedule before replying to any requests for your illustrious presence. Scraps of paper, the back of your hand, or your memory are not reliable record systems, so don’t add another “oh I must remember to add that later” task to your running list of to-dos.

Google Calendar can also spot incoming e-mail appointments and offer to add them to your calendar — they appear in the right-hand sidebar next to your message. You can create multiple color-coded calendars in your account, so work and real-life can be kept from clashing, and even set up multi-person calendars to share with friends and colleagues. Google has a tendency to make these things easy — hit “Settings” and “Share” to invite people to any calendar.

One note: Google Calendar has a great big “Description” box for any event — USE IT. Add all relevant information about whom you’re meeting and why — there’s nothing worse than being able to access the fact that you have to meet someone from anywhere on the planet, but still have to trudge two miles back to the office to get the scrap of paper with the actual details about the event first.

3. Set sensible reminder times

Remember, for each event you don’t just need to know when and where it happens — you need to give your future self enough time to do something about it. The default warning time of one hour isn’t going to cut it for a cross-town commute, and at crunch time you may need early warning not just to attend the meeting but to actually do the work the meeting’s about. Every calendar appointment can be set to e-mail you a warning in advance.

4. Check it at the same time each day

The best calendar in the world, which we presume is held aloft by a Ralph Lauren model and Milla Jovovich, won’t do a thing if nobody looks at. An unseen schedule is halfway between a business failure and a Zen riddle. To avoid such metaphysical muddling you should make calendar contemplation part of your early-morning boot-up sequence, scheduling your hours over your first coffee — and while you’re still in position to grab anything you need from your desk.

This examination can be automated by Google Calendar, setting the schedule to mail you a daily update at any time of day. Set it early enough to be first thing in your inbox and the days of gasping “That was TODAY?” will be yesterday’s news.

Image credit: JLGutierrez / iStockphoto


*Google Calendar can sync bidirectionally with popular desktop and mobile device calendar tools like Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal, Mozilla Sunbird, Windows Mobile, iPhone, and BlackBerry, so manual copying may not be necessary.