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Stefan Kazakis on 16 December 2017

You will often hear people talk about the importance of their to do list, but it’s only one tool in your kit for achieving productivity. The other tool you must implement to achieve high level productivity is a well-thought-out and prioritised calendar.

Why is a calendar more powerful than a to-do list? We treat something on the calendar with a lot more respect. We are always checking before we commit. It’s an allocation of time and detail, confirming who is doing what by when. We have all heard somebody say, ‘Hang on, let me check my calendar…’ When was the last time you heard somebody say, ‘Hang on, let me check my to-do list…’?

So how should you use your calendar? Putting something into your calendar is making a true commitment to it. It has a time and a date allocated to the task or event. You must decide if something is worthy of going in your calendar and, if so, how much time you should allocate to it.

When setting up your calendar, follow these three steps:

  • Structure it carefully. Think about it. Give careful thought to everything that goes into it.
  • Defend it. Resist changes.
  • Do not neglect it. 

It’s very easy to write something into your calendar and then deliberately or accidently ignore it when something ‘urgent’ lands on your desk. To achieve maximum productivity, you must reject survival tasks and stick to the plan. If it’s a solo task it’s easy to neglect. The true test of your personal productivity is what you do when you are alone and there’s nobody else to hold you accountable. 

The first two steps don’t work without step 3. You need to defend the items in your calendar. If you have thought carefully about what’s in your calendar and the amount of time allocated to it, you must have a very good reason to change it. This is an excellent way to ward off the survival tasks that can creep back in if you let them. A calendar has parameters. It’s a reflection of what you can do and when. Your ability to execute in line with your well-thought-out strategy depends on how you use your time, and how you use your time depends on what you put in your calendar.

You also defend your calendar by putting in the extra effort when required. We’ve all been in the situation where we have a meeting tomorrow morning, but we must finish that report. Do you bump the meeting, or put in the extra time tonight to finish the work? Well, if the meeting is in your calendar in the first place then clearly it’s important, and you’re not going to build a good reputation for your business if you have a pattern of being unreliable. So, that should answer the question.

Remember, it’s about patterns and mindset. Your calendar should be non-negotiable (except for genuine code-red emergencies). How do you make time for the inevitable survival tasks that will still spring up from time to time? The answer is that you don’t. Nobody can make time, despite how often people use that phrase.

Instead, you need to start allocating time. It’s a precious resource, just like the money in the bank. There’s only so much of it, and if you waste it, it’s never coming back. So, the answer is you allocate time in your calendar to deal with problems, because nobody can completely avoid the survival tasks. Allocate 30 or 45 minutes twice a day to deal with any pressing issues that come up. 

That way, when somebody knocks on your door, you can simply ask them to leave it on your desk and tell them you’ll get back to them (after your truly productive work is complete). Don’t leave it till the end of the day. This can turn into an insurmountable pile of things to do, and when you’re tired at the end of a busy day you may just give up. Or, you may end up at your desk until 8pm, tired and frustrated.  That's not productive.

Your calendar is the best tool you have for productivity. Remember, there are only two elements you need to manage: time and tasks. Your calendar will help you manage both. It’s fine to have a to-do list as well, if your calendar is your master tool for managing everything you do. If you just want to make a quick note to phone somebody you’re not going to put that in your calendar.

If something is on your to-do list for more than four weeks, consider getting rid of it. Or, another option is to allocate some time to clean up your list. I know a small business owner who allocates the afternoon of the last day of every month to cleaning up his to-do list. If something has been on there too long, it gets deleted or delegated.

If it’s not in your calendar you shouldn’t be working on it. This is an alarm bell. This is a distraction. It’s about self-management and what you do when you are alone, and nobody is going to hold you accountable but you. Can you be at your most productive then? The only thing that can’t be a distraction is your calendar.

This is your productivity friend. Keep it simple and easily understandable. Make it easy to review and look back on, so you can see the patterns.

Power to you this week.


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