Using Google Calendar to Organize Your Life

Everyone knows that you need a calendar.

Not everyone knows how to use a calendar to it’s full potential to help:

  • get organized
  • be on time
  • communicate priority
  • be comfortable that you know what you have planned for the day

In order to achieve those goals the first thing we need to know is: What goes on the calendar?

Not as much as most people think! The calendar is a bastion of “MUST DO” items. These are items that MUST occur on a specific date and/or a specific time.

Items that should be done, or you want to get done, do not go on the calendar! They go into your todo list. The calendar becomes effective only when it contains must do items that are date and time specific. When you glance at your calendar you want to see, at a glance, what you have to get done that day. Keeping your calendar on a MUST basis will pay dividends down the road.

Now comes the debate of paper vs plastic (electronic)…if you can use paper, great. I don’t because I like the flexibility of seeing my calendar on a phone call no matter where I am. It helps me to say “No” more effectively if something is already on my calendar. I also like to have multiple copies in whatever context I happen to be (home, work, on the road, etc). For me, electronic is the way to go. I’d recommend you try both if you don’t have a system. If you are frustrated with paper, or want to go electronic, read on.

There are many calendar applications, websites, and programs available to use. And each has it’s strengths and weaknesses. I judge a calendar through the following lenses:

  • ubiquity – it has to work on all platforms and form factors
  • synchronization – every device needs to see the same information, an update on one should propagate to them all
  • functionality – reminders, recurring events, and color coding of type of events
  • price – the cheaper the better

For my uses (and I’m pretty rough on my calendar) the winner is Google Calendar. Here’s a snippet from my calendar (you can click on all the images in this post to get an enlarged view):

TypicalWeek

Google calendar is free when you sign up for a gmail.com email account (which is also free). It can be used on Windows, Mac, and Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phone and it stays in sync on all devices. You can even integrate the calendar with various existing calendar software packages to take advantage of the cloud based sync function in your existing software.

To sign up for an account just go to: www.google.com/calendar and click on the red sign up button in the upper right corner.

Google Calendar Sign Up

If you already have a gmail account, just click on the calendar button in the black navigation bar from your gmail window:

Access Google Calendar from Gmail

Now that you have a calendar it’s time to decide who (if anyone) you’re going to share calendars with. I have multiple calendars so that I can see my whole life in one place. I find it confusing and frustrating to not see all my responsibilities (home, work, family, friends) in one place. Here’s a look at my calendar list:

Calendar List

Creating an additional calendar is as easy as following the directions by clicking here.

I also have access to calendars that are owned by other people, but are being shared with me. Here’s the list of calendars that are being shared with me:

Calendars shared with meI’m sharing a few of my calendars with other people too, so that they can see what is going on in my life too. Share and share alike.

Sharing is a killer feature that you should heavily consider. You can get the details of how to create and share calendars by clicking here.

I have chosen to use multiple calendars instead of just color coding specific events because you can then hide or view calendars based on what you’d like to find. I can turn off the work calendar when I’m on vacation, I can show just the family calendar to see when I’m going to be visiting with everyone, etc. To show or hide a calendar just click on the colored chiclet next to the calendar of choice in the “My Calendars” list on the left side of the window. One click on, one click off. You can also click on the disclosure triangle (little grey downward pointing triangle) and choose “show just this calendar” to hide all calendars except the one you’re interested in.

Adding events is as easy as clicking on the blank calendar space and entering some details. I like to use the edit event button to get access to more details. See below for an example:

Edit event detailsI typically add a reminder to my time critical events. I’ve chosen to enable Google Calendar to send me a text message at the time I choose. To enable SMS text messages follow these directions.:

I’ll choose the repeat option if the event is regularly recurring. You can choose just about any kind of recurrence you can think of. This is a great way to remember bills, vehicle maintenance, medicine refill call in, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Use repeating events! It’s a secret ninja tool to organizing your life!

Pick the calendar of choice and click on the red save button and you’re cooking with gas!

The last thing that I’d recommend is to set up your calendar on your mobile device so that you can access your events while on the go. Since there’s any number of devices you can use, just click this link to set up your particular device.

Learning to use your calendar effectively is a key to getting organized. Following the steps laid out in this post will get you well on your way to feeling less stressed and knowing that you have your events written down and ready to go when you need them.

How have you found that using a calendar has helped you?