The Calendar is the Most Powerful Productivity Tool
It’s honest about your time
There are dozens of productivity tools on the market. Most of them promise that you will be able to do more with less time. In today's day, the dawn of commercialized AI, tech companies promise that AI will take over mundane tasks, so you can focus longer, doing more creative thinking. But the thing they are skimming over is the fact that time is limited. Most of these tools don't actually have any awareness of your schedule. So why not just use the tried and true tool of generations past – the calendar?
Out of the dozens of tools, some do indeed sync with your calendar. They offer ways to add tasks to your calendar and give you dedicated buffer time between events. But why offload a simple process to a tool that will scrape your data and charge you obscene amounts of money, when you can control your own agenda?
The process could be extremely simple. Just put your tasks, small or large, on your calendar. That's it! Don't invest in a tool or set up a handful of automations to do the grunt work. Move the blocks with your mouse or finger. Does this sound overly simple? Yes. That’s because it really is.
Fine, what if it's not that straightforward for you? What if you work with a team that adds things to your tasks system for you? What if there are broader projects in place that cannot just sit on your calendar? What about capture? The calendar doesn't really scream "streamlined capture system".
Pick one task manager for work and one for personal, no more. I mentioned this last week; limiting tools is key for being more intentional. It directly translates to this workflow. Having fewer areas of input means that less will be added to your plate that you might not notice.
After you have all your tasks in their dedicated locations, speed up the capture process. If you use Apple products, I recommend using Apple Reminders for your personal task system. Not only does it sync seamlessly, but tasks can also be dictated to Siri and even apply dates and locations with voice. For your work system, check if the tool has dedicated desktop and mobile applications. If it does, you can set up widgets or device shortcuts to capture tasks easily. I keep an "inbox" widget on my phone that brings me to a page to capture tasks, ideas, notes, etc.
While there are tools that can link to a myriad of task management systems and place things on your calendar for you, I recommend doing this manually. Every month, week, and day take a few minutes to triage your calendar. Go through your tasks and add blocks to your calendar. During this time you can also estimate how long it will take you to accomplish them. Set the calendar blocks to match your estimated completion time. Tip: Add this triage and scheduling time as recurring blocks to your calendar.
I don't recommend doing general calendar blocking. Don't add blocks of "focus", "wind down", or "meeting prep" time. Add specific blocks that one-to-one match the task at hand. Blocks should look like "design x", "write y", or "call z".
Get specific. Add the link to the task itself, if your tool supports that. When the alert goes off, you can simply click the link to get to the task details.
After a few days and weeks of this, you are going to start noticing that you might not have time to actually get all of your tasks done. This is because we tend to overcommit ourselves and allow others to control our time. Adding tasks to our calendar will show how little control we actually have, and provides us the ammunition to change this.
This is the perfect time to readjust commitments, ask for help, and most importantly – say no.
Embrace the Friction
If you work with a team, they might think you are doing less or being combative, but in reality, you will be doing a reasonable amount of work. An endless to-do list with no mapping to your actual time is not ok. Embrace this. Push through the inevitable speed bumps. Allotting time to tasks is all about being honest with yourself and others. Block all the time you can. Add the morning workouts, personal meetups, and after-work cycle sessions to your calendar. All of your time is important, not just "productive" time.
This concept might seem obvious, but it might also seem unachievable. These assumptions won't honor your time or you. Do the obvious, preserve your actual time. This is achievable. What is not, is doing more than you can and making personal affordances. Out of all the fancy tools on the market, the most powerful is the simple calendar.