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30 Jan

Enter empty hours in a calendar that is easy to fill

Datum: 2017-01-30 15:46

A rule-of-thumb I often rec­om­mend when it comes to what we write in our cal­en­dars and what we ought to write on our to-do-lists is that what­ev­er depends on us doing it at a cer­tain time (meet­ings, phone calls we promised to call at a spe­cif­ic time, and so on) belongs in the cal­en­dar and every­thing else we have to do (which we do not do imme­di­ate­ly), belongs on the to-do-list.

If we do not stick to this rule, we eas­i­ly fill the cal­en­dar with things we are hop­ing we will get done dur­ing the day (even if they do not nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be done at a cer­tain time), and togeth­er with all the meet­ings we have, the days fill up quick­ly — at least if we are judg­ing how busy we are by look­ing in our calendar.

If we then do not com­plete the tasks at the times we hap­pened to sched­ule them, we have to spend time mov­ing them to some­time lat­er (tomor­row or per­haps next week) in order to not for­get to do them entirely.

In the cal­en­dar, just in case?
How­ev­er, Tobias wrote to me the oth­er day and point­ed out that even if we apply this rule-of-thumb, we might still be tempt­ed to write up cer­tain to-do-tasks in the cal­en­dar, in spite of not being bound by a cer­tain day and time, just to ensure that we real­ly do them.

These tasks could for instance be things we feel reluc­tant to do since they are either bor­ing or makes us feel uncom­fort­able some­how. I rec­og­nize this ten­den­cy myself and as I see it, this can be an excel­lent way to make sure we final­ly get some­thing we have been pro­cras­ti­nat­ing done.

But if there is quite a num­ber of tasks we are pro­cras­ti­nat­ing and we try por­tion­ing them out like this in the cal­en­dar as to ensure that we get them done, we will soon be back to square one. The cal­en­dar will be full in no time and since both urgent and impor­tant things most like­ly will fall in our lap through­out the day, it is no guar­an­tee that we get those pro­cras­ti­nat­ed tasks done just by writ­ing them in our calendar.

Full of meet­ings or eas­i­ly for­got­ten list
The ques­tion is there­fore how we can eas­i­er make time for the tasks that do not real­ly need to be done at a spe­cif­ic day and time, but which we tend to post­pone if we are very cal­en­dar-ori­ent­ed in how we pri­or­i­tize and work?

As I see it, the prob­lem can be twofold, and hence so is the solu­tion. Either our days are so full of meet­ings that we have dif­fi­cul­ties get­ting around to doing the tasks on our to-do-list, or we have dif­fi­cul­ties remem­ber­ing to pick tasks to do from our to-do-list dur­ing the hours we do not spend attend­ing meet­ings and instead opt for just doing what­ev­er comes our way, such as answer­ing new­ly received emails.

Do this
If your days are con­trolled by what is writ­ten in your cal­en­dar to a great extent, and you there­fore feel tempt­ed to write to-do-tasks in the cal­en­dar as well so that you block” time for doing them, try doing one (or both) of the fol­low­ing two things:

  1. Instead of reserv­ing time in the cal­en­dar for doing a spe­cif­ic task, block or reserve emp­ty time for doing things that do not involve attend­ing meet­ings. Refer to it as alone time”, undis­turbed time” or some­thing else. These blocks of time are meant for work­ing on what­ev­er you find rel­e­vant from your to-do-list, and are not to be filled with meet­ings or oth­er engagements.

    If you reserve these blocks of emp­ty” time, you will feel free to work on what­ev­er has the high­est pri­or­i­ty at the moment. If you choose to do a task oth­er than the one which you orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to get done dur­ing this time, that is not a prob­lem. The task is still on your to-do-list and you will not for­get it. Like before, you will not have to remem­ber to move the par­tic­u­lar cal­en­dar book­ing as to not for­get to do the task, which you would have need­ed to do if the book­ing made in the cal­en­dar was the only way you kept track of that that par­tic­u­lar task need­ed to be done.

  2. If you eas­i­ly for­get to con­sult your to-do-list, you can remind your­self through­out the day that you have one by:
    • Gath­er­ing any loose notes, emails marked with red flags, emails marked as unread and oth­er things you have tagged with any Don’t for­get this!”-signals you use, and add them to your to-do-list at least once a day.
    • Set­ting an alarm or a reminder to have a look in your to-do-list for right around the time when you get to work, if you begin work­ing at approx­i­mate­ly the same time every day.
    • Plac­ing the to-do-list in such a way that you can­not miss it. Right next to your key­board if it is a phys­i­cal list, set it to open as you log into Out­look if you are using Outlook’s Tasks, alter the set­tings for your web brows­er so that the to-do-list ser­vice you use online is your open­ing page, or some­thing else depend­ing on what you pre­fer and what for­mat your list is in. 

Con­trolled and free at the same time
If you reserve emp­ty blocks of time in the cal­en­dar and stay aware of that you have a to-do-list to pick tasks from dur­ing these, it will become eas­i­er to get things you oth­er­wise risk fin­ish­ing late done, even if your day is more or less con­trolled by your sched­ule and the calendar.

By using these two keep­ing track of”-tools (the cal­en­dar and the to-do-list) in a more sys­tem­at­ic way, you will make more accu­rate choic­es regard­ing what task that is the right one to do next — even if some tasks con­cern hav­ing meet­ings and oth­ers to get things done while work­ing alone — at spe­cif­ic times or anytime.

What is your method?
How do you make sure that your day is not just con­trolled by all the appoint­ments in the cal­en­dar, but that you remem­ber and use the to-do-list as well? If you have a tip, trick, rou­tine or habit that you use, please feel free to share it in a com­ment below.