(I hope you sang the title to the Friends’ theme tune.)
It can be a challenge to juggle lots of different projects and tasks. One thing I often find a struggle is getting my head from the big picture to the detail, or from the next minute up to the rest of the semester.
I deal with this by having more than one calendar.
Now you might think this is ridiculous, and depending on your job and how it is patterned, it might well be ridiculous! But as a manager of teams and projects, managing time is a really important part of my job. So I’m happy to spend some time and energy on engaging with my calendars, planning things out well.
When I know what is coming up, I am able to prepare for them. I also like to block out ‘free’ times: for quiet work, plan when I’m going to be away on leave, for travel, or just so I can breathe between major events.
So what calendars do I have?
My every-day calendar is online. It is connected to my email, so people can send me invites. It synchronises across my home laptop, my work computer and my phone–so I always have an up-to-date copy. It’s easy to move things around, or make changes. My colleagues can see when I’m free and when I’m busy. And it sends me reminders a few minutes before the next meeting so I remember to pack up and head out of the office in plenty of time.
This is the calendar where I store details of exact times, venues and invitees. I will use this calendar to see if I have an extra 15 minutes at 3pm to offer you an emergency meeting. I might use the week-view to check that I’m not agreeing to a late night on Tuesday and a really early start on Wednesday. In other words, my every-day calendar is about details.
My second calendar is a paper-copy, month-view book. I’m currently loving the Muji one: it’s A5 which matches my usual note-book size; it has 18 months; you can customise it; and it costs $1.50 which is ridiculously cheap. There are other good ones (the A4 Collins month diary was a previous favourite).
I like to have a month-view because I typically need to plan across larger chunks than a day or week. I want to make sure there are one or two exciting events across the month planned in for our program, but it wouldn’t be effective to offer something every day or every week. It’s also really helpful to have an idea if a non-teaching period or examination period is on the horizon, things that disrupt the normal flow of things. My month-view calendar, then, is about the rhythm of work.
My third calendar is a wall-planner. Because I work in the university, Semester dates are set years in advance, are unchanging, and mark absolute transformations in what my day will look like. It makes a massive difference to my emails, to-do list, who is likely to knock on my door, what meetings I book, how I will spend my day if it’s a few weeks before the academic year starts again vs. the first week back teaching.
Students experience the semester often as one long blur, and frankly some years so do I. Having the year set out, where I can see it in a single glance, helps me to orient myself. That sense of knowing where I am can be reassuring–as is the ability to see where the end is! My year view calendar gives me a birds-eye view map.
I do have to spend regular time copying dates from my month-view calendar into my online diary, and vice versa. I think that is time well spent, because it makes me sit down and think about my commitments. I find this helps me avoid (some) over-committing. It saves me from (some) last-minute panics. It makes more more thoughtful about what I’m doing. And every time I sit down with my various calendars, I have to actually look at what my commitments are and make them fit into my work week.
Time and energy and attention are limited–mine as well as everyone else’s. If it’s too hard to write it up in more than one calendar, it’s a very good warning sign. I design my own work week, but also set timetables and learning programs for other people. Just expecting everyone to ‘push through’ is ineffective for hundreds of people… a lesson I learned the hard way.
My time-management tasks are complex, so it’s not surprising that I need to spend time working on them. These different calendars give me a straightforward way of doing that.
Time management tools are very personal, they work differently for different people. But I do like to explain what I do and why I do it so that you can see the inner-workings of someone else’s process. It might give you some tips and tricks you want to try out. Or it might give you comfort that we’re all having to work on it, even if (perhaps especially if) it looks effortless.