14 mins read

A calendar-based approach to productivity

Adopt a calendar-based approach to significantly improve productivity and gain back personal time.

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In this article:

Article Highlights: 

  • Calendar Benefits
  • Bending Time
  • How To Improve Productivity
  • Strategic Scheduling
  • Leveraging Technology

Are you making the most out of your day? Most people have less than two hours of free time per day, and the majority of that is given away to social media and other people’s demands. Adopting a calendar-based approach into time management significantly improves productivity and gives back the personal time we all seem to lose. Do you want to prioritize personal goals equally with work commitments, and still have time for spontaneity?

The Benefits of Using a Calendar

The secret to an effective modern life is a well-managed, semi-automated, calendar to set you up with a day of calm coordinated activity. By combining realistic expectations and appropriate accountability, a calendarcan become your ally in fending off the activities, requests and unreasonable demands that other people expect from you. Using a calendar will ensure your highest priority goals are achieved and not somebody else’s.

Strict schedules may seem daunting, and unrealistic routines will probably kill your motivation quickly. Fortunately, there is a sweet spot between finding flow and managing time consistently that supports: personal growth; actually getting things done;  feeling calm and in control of the chaos from  our over-committed lifestyles.

Would you like to make your day’s activities a fun challenge that includes natural boosts for your dopamine? How about reducing the cognitive friction between what you know you should do (go to the gym) and what you feel like doing (lazing on the couch with a beer)?

Calendars can create a portal for you to walk into an organized, efficient and enjoyable daily routine while keeping longer-term goals in focus. When used correctly calendars can reduce stress and overwhelm, keeping you away from instant gratification and time thieves. Calendars can even help you develop consistent, predictable and effective routines that suit your personal lifestyle and enhance your efficiency. 

Are you ready to level-up your schedule and start making the right health decisions effortlessly? 

Make Each Day Count

We only have a limited amount of time each day, and at least one-third should be spent getting rejuvenating sleep. That leaves 16 hours to fit in all your work, personal goals, hobbies, exercise, social events, relationships and the daily chores you’d rather not be doing (definitely consider delegating those). It’s a lot to fit in and what’s usually dropped are the fun, social, and life enhancing goals and activities that make life worth living! 

Typically our goals, and priorities, are set when we’re in a positive and energized emotional state. As we move through the day, losing energy and giving in to the demands of life, we become less enthusiastic about what we want for ourselves. Plans to workout  get tossed aside for the simple gratification of Netflix and healthy nutritional intentions are crushed by take-out pizza.

So, how do we increase ‘compliance’ with what we want for ourselves? How can we make longer-term gratification stand up against the dopamine-laced temptations all around us? The answer is simple - shift your perception and set up a schedule!

How to Bend Time

Time is not a constant perception. The way we ‘see’ (recognize and measure internally) time has an emotional element and seems to slow down.  Remember that meal that took ages to get prepared while you were starving?

When your threat-avoiding mind notices something is up ( it speeds up the volume of information you can process. This is why stress, and distress also make time go slower. Waiting for a potentially painful dentist appointment puts you in the same ‘fight or flight’ brain that wants to strategize how to get away from the ordeal.  But, a nice distraction, like a challenging game of Tetris (still favored by scientists experimenting all over the world) puts you back into a flow-state of mind where time loses its grip on your mind - as all your cognitive capacity is concentrating on getting the L-block to twist quick enough to slot into the 4-line clear you’ve got lined up!

Stress and Time Perception

The ‘interceptive salience model of time’ essentially means that your time perception is your own. If you feel calm and relaxed (as you know exactly what you need to do, and when) you’ll be able to flow between states of efficient activity and make clear decisions to help you prioritize. 

Alternatively, when you’re not sure what tasks you need to complete, don’t seem to have time to fit in any fun, your thinking brain (neo cortex) is compromised (reduced blood flow, less oxygen and nutrients) and you end up going round in circles, doing lots, but achieving little. Sound familiar?

Right now we are living in times of unprecedented anxiety which creates a dramatic decline in our cognitive capacity. Feeling perpetually stressed and overwhelmed leads to mental slowness, forgetfulness, confusion and difficulty concentrating on a task.

A meta-analysis of time management clearly concluded why we need to manage our time:

  • Managing your time more effectively enhances job performance and wellbeing. 
  • Poor time management correlates with states of distress.
  • Improving your time management increases your overall life satisfaction.

Scheduling Productive Weekends

Anxiety and depression are also natural responses to living a life that’s missing the bits you enjoy! So you need to schedule them in. Setting yourself up for a weekend filled with rewarding activities will improve your mental health. It will also stop you wasting time, unless you put “scroll for 3 hours through Facebook” on your schedule. 

You will naturally enhance happiness and productivity, while reducing stress; by simply deciding what you will do, and stick to it. But, simply setting a goal seldom leads to an actual change in behavior, but, scheduling actions moving you towards achieving goals will. Smart use of your calendar helps you plan for the bigger picture, putting in place the practical steps needed to reach longer term goals. 

Calendars are practical tools which enhance accountability, improve your estimation skills, and help you develop a more realistic perspective of what you can achieve!

Realistic Calendar Management

A calendar can help you create boundaries, for yourself and other people. Critically, a calendar will also help you increase your own compliance to reaching the goals you have set for yourself. How often have you decided to do something different (move more, eat less, learn something new….) and almost immediately ‘forget’ or not take action? That’s your subconscious mind at work, hiding away tasks that take effort. 

Schedules make you conscious. They increase personal awareness and make it harder for your subconscious mind to derail you with instant rewards that are ultimately unsatisfying. Putting ‘calendar packaging’ with life-saving medications helps people remember to take them. Packing your day into a calendar you can trust (as it reflects your genuine priorities) will remind you to act in ways aligned to your goals and vision. 

Putting a physical reminder on a wall is a tried and tested method to enhance adherence (to a goal, restriction or taking medication). Glancing at your calendar several times a day will ensure you stay focused and compliant with the vision you have in mind. Even better than that, completing tasks or activities from your calendar will give you a little ‘I did it!’ natural dopamine hit, helping you become mildly-addicted to your own success. You will also improve your mood and mental health if you actually take time to make your soul happy. 

Improving Productivity And Much More!

One of the major advantages of using a calendar to manage your time is enhanced productivity, but there is a whole alphabet of benefits to enjoy when you systemize your schedule.

Accomplished individuals are busy, having to check your calendar before scheduling a meeting or date elevates you in the social hierarchy and makes people want to connect.

Baseline how long tasks take to improve your effort estimates and chunk tasks into mini routines (which is how you form effective positive habits).

Calm yourself by knowing that all you need to do has already been accurately planned out, and put into neat little boxes with realistic timeframes, so you can relax knowing everything is in its place.

Distractions are kept at bay more easily; all you need to concentrate on is the specific task that you have scheduled, meaning you can be present in the moment and the task.

Efficiency comes from planning and eliminating tasks that waste your time, or are low priority, and as you work with your new schedule you’ll find you waste less time planning, preparing and making decisions (this is why Steve Jobs only wore a black turtlenecks and jeans for 10-years). Reduce ‘decision fatigue’ and save your brain for bigger issues.

Flow is a state where challenge meets skills and you get into the grove of working at an enhanced level of productivity and concentration, you can’t flow under pressure.

Goals become much more real, and achievable, when broken down into very specific actions with clear time allocated. Your calendar will keep you accountable and consistent. Set up some repeating events and reach your goals effectively.

Habits grow most easily when you stack them together, start with something simple that you do in the morning; like hydrate as soon as you get up, then as you reach proficiency, add the next habit, maybe some squats? 

Integrity comes from being accountable to yourself and your own vision, there is no point choosing to lose weight then chowing down on a cake, calendars can help you plan, and record how well you align to the highest version of yourself and the actions you commit to.

Joining up tasks that fit together (geographically, like shopping) or practically (like getting all your phone calls done) reduces redundancy and waste, so you are not going backwards and forwards between tasks that require different locations or setups.

Keep focused and finish what you started with time-based limits, when you know you have set aside an hour to do a task, you are much more likely to finish the task within the set time, if you set no boundaries tasks tend to stretch as the scope creeps, or you get bored and start focusing elsewhere. 

Loop in your boss, your team, your family, friends, partner and anybody else that might hassle you less, or feel more secure, knowing you are busy on a specific task and probably not wanting to be disturbed (pro tip, create private calendars for different themes within your life unless you want to share your Gynecologists appointment with the whole team).

Momentum is like acceleration applied to achieving your goals. Scheduling just 30 minutes of a task you dislike will get you going and make progress that when tracked, using your calendar, will sustain motivation over longer periods.

Negotiate with yourself around your priorities, it’s a rare day, or year, when there is time to fit in everything you have ever dreamed of doing, setting all your tasks up for review will help you choose between conflicting priorities or preferences.

Opportunities are easier to seize when you know exactly what you have to do and when, it means you can move tasks to free up space when priorities change and learn to say no when you don’t want to hand over any of your personal time resources.

Prioritization is hard when we have so many things vying for our attention, by using a calendar you can clearly decide what is important and prevent other people from derailing your progress, you can also ensure fun, hobbies and relaxation have an important place.

Quality is enhanced, and rework is reduced, when you are more prepared for tasks and thinking more critically. You are less likely to make mistakes, forget details or omit instructions when you are feeling cool, calm and collected with your calendar.

Routines, which can become enjoyable rituals, are excellent for ‘loading’ programs into your subconscious mind, allowing you to do them without consciously thinking - thereby reducing the effort of the internal argument about whether or not you do the thing you know you should do and fully intended to do this morning!

Skills and proficiency develop with time, simply setting aside 10 minutes a day could earn you a new language in a few years or an online qualification in just a few months, the time adds up quickly when it is repeated consistently, using a calendar!

Time will slip away from you unless you budget it and account for it, if you’ve got shit to get done and you want to live a fulfilling life then you need to make each day matter, and actively choose how it will unfold. Time really will be on your side if you set it up that way.

Unexpected issues and spontaneous events are much more manageable when you know exactly what is on your plate, when something comes up you will have the accurate data needed to decide what to do and how to best ‘spend’ your time (time literally is money if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur).

Visions are more likely to unfold into reality when you use your calendar to position long term and life goals, divide up the goal and make it more like a contract with yourself by putting it in your calendar and deciding when it will be done. 

Wasted time is significantly reduced as you slot little tasks into downtime, schedule learning for while you are waiting and generally prune out any actions which aren’t in alignment with your vision. We don’t plan to waste time, it just happens when we don’t plan!

X-factor by making your calendar, and your whole day, into a fun game, your whole life becomes a point winning adventure. You become the winner of your own life when you spend your time more wisely and reap the rewards of achieving your goals.

You get to very dictate where your time goes and if somebody puts you on the spot “Are you free Saturday to [do something you probably don’t want to do]?” The answer is simple “My calendar say’s…No!” Guilt free dismissal from the lottery of unwanted commitments.

Zone your time into themes that allow you to maximize the efficiency while limiting  the effort, for example specific days might be dedicated to certain clients, projects or goals.

Own Your Day!

Strategizing your schedule is the next step in calendar continuity. Don’t let other people fill it with appointments and zoom calls; that would defeat the primary purpose of your calendar being for you! 

How to Strategically Schedule

If you are currently managing your time and productivity with post-it notes, random emails, and a vague list of goals then it’s going to take a few iterations to develop a system that works for you. It’s worth experimenting with a few calendars or calendar apps to see what works for you.

  1. Review – list everything you’ve got going on, tasks, projects, goals, commitments, chores.
  2. Theme – groups items together into categories to batch into small groups of tasks.
  3. Prioritize – How important is each theme to you (not to your boss/partner/mom)? 
  4. Motivate – Why do you want to complete the tasks with the priority you chose?
  5. Estimate – Decide how long each task will take, break down into 30-minute blocks.
  6. Track – see how long tasks actually take (use a productivity tracker or spreadsheet).
  7. Decide – schedule the best time of day for you to complete each type of task.
  8. Act – Do the thing you decided to do, or not, it’s your call. 
  9. Review – Did you do it? If not, why not? If yes, well done!
  10. Update – It's not a test, there is no fail, decide what’s not working and change.

Eating Frogs and Evaluating

We are often at our mental and willpower peak first thing in the morning, which is why an effective morning routine can really start your day off with zeal! A bedtime routine can be equally effective at winding you down for an effective night’s sleep.

Doing the tasks you least want to do first (eating frogs) is better than leaving them until last. Save the fun tasks for later and do the more energy intensive ones first (physically, mentally or emotionally). The easier tasks (low hanging fruit) are good for the end of the day when you are less energized and looking for more gratification.

However you choose to set up your day, the most important part is the evaluation. Did it happen as planned? We can all intend to go to bed by 9pm and hit the gym by 6am but the reality is most of us don’t. Review the reality of your day:

  • How accurate were your effort estimates?
  • Did you get all the tasks done you planned to?
  • What obstacles did you incur (including your own mind!)?
  • Did anything or anyone unforeseen get in your way?
  • What would you do differently if you had to re-plan the day?
  • What worked well about your schedule for the day? 

Leveraging Technology

There are a multitude of ways to use technology to better budget your time for a specific project, tasks, sprint or achieving your life goals. While paper is great for putting something on the wall and handwriting helps you learn, you can’t beat the scheduling capacity of a digital calendar.

Digital calendars, like Google Calendar, will set up recurring tasks, add colors for clarity, create reminders and share information with selected contacts. Combine a journal, to do list and you’ve created your own productivity tool.

But, if you want to automate your planning and let your own data define the best time of day to exercise, work, learn and sleep, we’ve got you covered. Signup for the Basis early access and let’s automate your calendar to free up time for the activities you really want to do.


14 mins read
A calendar-based approach to productivity

Adopt a calendar-based approach to significantly improve productivity and gain back personal time.

In this article:

Article Highlights: 

  • Calendar Benefits
  • Bending Time
  • How To Improve Productivity
  • Strategic Scheduling
  • Leveraging Technology