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(Illustration: James Graham)

How I Used My Google Calendar for Good

Water-cooler chat? Make an appointment.

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Organized is not a word I would use to describe myself. Do I get my work done? Yes. Is it pretty getting there? That depends on how closely you look.

I’m good at meeting deadlines, but as I’ve become a manager with broad-ranging duties, I’ve realized that my organizational game needs to level up. I still use a prioritized to-do list, which I’m often overwhelmed by; on an average day, I have 15 to 20 things on that sheet. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to half of them—while adding five to ten more. This does not lead to a solid sense of accomplishment.

So when I was asked to map out an entire workweek in Google Calendar for this package, I was actually thrilled. While clinical studies on the subject are scarce, experts seem to agree that planning ahead aids productivity by protecting time for work and reducing the number of choices we need to make throughout the day. For the week I plotted out, I set aside time for meeting prep, editing, checking email, eating lunch… If I had to do it, it was in there.

On Monday, my first instinct when I looked at my list of scheduled tasks was panic. My days tend to serve up curveballs, like a spontaneous call from a team member or an urgent story deadline. Although I had built in some time for these eventualities, I knew that more than a few of them would be things that couldn’t wait. And sure enough, I had to shift my schedule around and blow certain things off, and by the afternoon was off track entirely. But I did have time to write and edit, which never happens on a Monday. That protected time served creative ends.

During that week, I used tools I rarely put into action: I paused my Slack notifications way more frequently, which felt like the office equivalent of forest bathing. I was more punctual with lunch breaks. And I was aware of dawdling when talking with coworkers.

Calendar reminders made me feel like I was always under the gun, but somehow I found more freedom in a rigid schedule. I was more productive, and tasks didn’t pile up quite so much, because I had a better game plan. I was more prepared for meetings and generally understood my workload better. I won’t be blocking out my entire workweek moving forward—I don’t need to be told when to say hello to coworkers—but I intend to designate more time slots for specific tasks. You might even be tempted to call me organized.

From January/February 2022 Lead Illustration: James Graham

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