By Gajan Tharmabalan
In the first part of this series, I wrote about the seven things you could do to control your inbox. Though I highlight a lot of good practices, not everyone sees there inbox as a problem (whether that's true or not). However, almost everyone's had the feeling of being overwhelmed at some point or another. How often do you forget to do something? How often do you commit to something and realize that you can't make that engagement due to prior plans? But more importantly, what have you done to try and correct these habits? In Part II of Controlled Chaos, I aim to enlighten you readers with the power of your calendar. Not only how to use it effectively, but make it a near-autonomous behaviour to adhere to it.
1. Use The Least Amount Of Calendars YOU Need
One? Two? Nine? Whatever the number is, find the least amount that you need to keep things in check. Also, get used to Google Calendar. Play around with it, embrace it, and give the necessary aspects of your life their own colour. Though this requires a good amount of investment, the best approach would be to tackle it once a week and throw all your appointments in one sitting. As a result, you'll enjoy the benefit of looking at your calendar in Week View and quickly understand what lies ahead.
2. Break Down The Tasks
Whether your using an app or a piece of paper, break down tasks into simple actions. For example, you may set aside 2 hours to complete a task in your calendar, but that task has a set of actions to it. Instead of putting "Write new blog post", you may want to try the following:
- Set aside time to research
- Find blog topic
- Find blog post theme
- Create first draft
Adding actions to an event (written or digital) can really streamline your work. Also, it isn't uncommon to have your actions become events in your calendar for larger projects. If it sounds like your speaking to a child, that's the point. A week from now, your primate brain should be able to look at the tasks for the day and understand what each event entails.
If it sounds like your speaking to a child, that's the point.
3. Share Your Calendars
Whether you work with a team or want to stay in sync with your partner, try sharing specific calendars. Does one person have another job? Rather than continuously ask when they are available, just share calendars so you can see when your best availabilities overlap.
4. Be Vigilant
Whether its everyday, every week, or every month, find a day to spit out all your tasks, projects, errands, an d make time for them. You'll be surprised how much stress you can take off your shoulders just by getting the pertinent thoughts out of your head and on paper (or keyboard).
5. Stick To It
This may sound be repetitive, but stick to it! I've only read ONE self-help book, and that one truly changed my life. Instead of the hippie bullsh*t you'd see on some covers, GTD really taught me how to maximize my productivity without burning out. And it's from that book, that I am deriving this entire series of blog posts. So, if I can leave you with one thing, that is to just stick with it for a few weeks. See how dynamically your work/personal environments change.
6. Be honest With Yourself (Say No!)
Avoid lying to yourself. Every time you agree to some sort of engagement and cancel, whether its personal or professional, you're lying to yourself. If it comes to you only doing two or three things a day, than so be it. Avoid the need to over-promise and exhaust your willpower.This is where learning to say no is crucial. It may suck, but at the end of the day, you have a finite amount of time, so allocate accordingly.
Bonus Tip: Find your killer app
I like to think of Google Calendar as my database in the cloud that holds the ever-so-valuable calendar information. I then have that information synced to my iPhone (steps can be found here). Eventually, I want an app to not only display the information, but allow me to make changes and have those changes synced back to Google. Enter Fantastical. This app does a great job of showing you what lies ahead and provides plain-English parsing for your events. What the heck does that mean? If you type "Meeting with Jane next week friday at 9pm in conference room," the app magically puts in the correct name, date, time, and attendees in the respective fields. This app is a HUGE time saver, and I strongly recommend it.
The goal, for me anyways, is to know what your next 48 hours will involve. What will I need to get through the next two days? In knowing this, when emergencies are thrown at you, you still have a baseline of what your routine is and can reschedule tasks honestly and appropriately. When you get a rhythm going, you shouldn't have to remember all the commitments you have. You want to free your mind of the clutter and focus on the tasks at hand. By having a structured system in place, entering, managing, and completing your tasks will become a lot more efficient and, hopefully, enjoyable. This is how I own my calendar, maximize my time, and control my chaos.