Effectively organizing your calendar is the foundation of time management. Without a productive schedule, you'll spend your days shifting from one task to the next regardless of how important the activities are or if you do them at times that align with your energy levels.
The best way to consistently complete your top priorities is to organize your day around them so that even when your week gets hectic, you've at least tackled the tasks that play the most prominent role in your success.
Here are six strategies to manage your calendar for maximum productivity.
1) Set Aside Time for Daily or Weekly Planning
The first step of productive calendar management is setting aside time for planning. This allows you to block off time for the activities that matter most and ensure you go through each day with a clear purpose instead of reacting to your inbox and anything else that seems urgent.
Depending on how dynamic your role is and how structured you are, you can take a weekly or daily planning approach. Weekly planning works best if your schedule is reasonably stable, and you enjoy having a clear view of what your week is going to look like. If this fits you, schedule an hour or two at the beginning or end of every week to schedule key meetings and plan what you're going to work on each day.
If your schedule is highly dynamic and you prefer going with the flow, daily planning is probably a better fit for you. This involves spending ten to thirty minutes every day to plan out the top activities you need to work on and schedule upcoming meetings.
Regardless of which approach you choose, taking time to review your calendar and set short-term priorities helps you spend your days productively and stay on track for your long-term goals.
2) Create Meeting-Free Blocks
Research from Atlassian found that the average employee attends sixty-two meetings a month, about half of which are considered a waste of time either due to a meeting not being necessary for the topic discussed or meetings consuming far more time than they need to. All of this wasted time prevents people from focusing on the deep work that drives their success.
One way to limit this productivity killer is to create meeting-free blocks on your calendar and resolve more conversations through asynchronous methods like email and chat.
Depending on your role, you can adjust this productivity strategy two ways:
- Determine if your meeting-free block should have zero meetings or if you'll allow ones that are tied directly to your success, such as prospect presentations if you're a salesperson, and disallow internal meetings.
- Decide how much time you need for deep work. If you're in a highly collaborative role, one or two mornings a week may be enough to make significant progress on your independent projects. However, if you're a creator, strive for an entire day or two of now meetings to fully focus on your projects.
Once you've determined how much meeting-free time you need to amplify your productivity, add blocks to your calendar for deep work and inform the people you work with closely.
You'll have to make exceptions if an urgent issue comes up, and you need to connect with your team to solve it. These meetings at least align with your goal of dedicated time to your most critical tasks.
3) Schedule Meetings that Are Optimal for Your Schedule
Even the most well-run meetings can harm your productivity if you schedule them at the wrong time. The most efficient way to schedule appointments is either back-to-back with brief breaks between or spread out with a gap of a few hours.
This calendar management approach limits the number of times you have to switch your focus throughout the day, which improves your cognitive abilities.
According to the American Psychological Association, constantly jumping between tasks throughout the day can negatively impact your productivity by as much as 40% due to the slowed rate when your brain has to shift focus.
I'm far less productive when I have multiple meetings with thirty to sixty-minute breaks in between than when I have meetings that are back-to-back or a couple of hours apart. I need time to dive deep into my work, and it requires a lot more mental effort to make meaningful progress during short gaps and prepare for the next meeting.
Whether you schedule meetings back-to-back or spread out can vary based on your preferences and the ease of adhering to one option over the other. The important thing is that you stick with one approach at least every day, if not permanently, and suggest alternative meeting times for all non-urgent meeting invitations for times that hurt your productivity. Your request won't always be accommodated, but the more you can tailor your calendar to one of these approaches, the better you'll be able to manage your time.
4) Schedule Time to Handle New Requests
No matter how well you plan your days, unexpected problems and requests will threaten your productivity. To ensure you stay on track even on chaotic days, put time on your calendar to address sudden tasks.
The length of time you block off and at what frequency depends on how unpredictable your workload is. If your responsibilities are generally stable, you may only need an hour every two or three days to tackle unexpected tasks. However, if solving urgent issues is a vital part of your role, you may want to leave two or three hours a day free to tackle them. You can use any extra time to get ahead on projects.
Blocking off time also lets you set expectations with people regarding when you'll complete their request, which prevents you from holding them back.
5) Cross-Train Colleagues and/or Junior Employees
Cross-training is one of the most overlooked calendar management strategies. Though it's typically viewed as a tool to maximize front-line workers' engagement and versatility, it's incredibly beneficial at all levels.
What happens when you want to take a vacation, or a family emergency comes up, and you suddenly need to take off a few days? Can your team continue working smoothly in your absence, or do you all of your responsibilities pile up while you're gone?
Without some level of cross-training, taking time off can severely impact your schedule when you return since you're left catching up on all the work you would have done while you were out.
Cross-training colleagues and/or junior employees to do the most time-sensitive portions of your work allows you to more easily plan time off and get back on track when you have to take off unexpectedly. Not only does this lessen your stress, but it also ensures that you don't hold others back.
At Prialto, all of our virtual assistants have a primary and secondary back-up who they train on all of their clients' processes and tools so that whenever they're out of the office, clients receive the same level of support.
6) Hire a Virtual Assistant to Manage Your Calendar
Calendar management can be a paradox because it requires a significant time investment to save time. Suppose you develop processes and habits that allow you to quickly plan out your optimal schedule. In that case, you'll easily net positive and experience the psychological benefits of a well-organized calendar.
However, if you struggle to stick with this kind of time management system, attempting to optimize your calendar can be stressful and even hurt your productivity.
To yield the benefits without having to invest the time, offload calendar management to a virtual assistant. Once you share your preferences for activities like deep work, meetings, task-batching (or not), etc., they'll ensure that every appointment is scheduled at the optimal time and prevent you from ever being double-booked again.
Contact us for a free consultation about how a virtual assistant can help you create a productive schedule without changing your habits drastically.
About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.