When it comes to maximizing your productivity, many people underestimate how much of it is the result of effective planning and prioritizing. But when you’re wearing many hats and juggling so many different responsibilities as the head of your business, chances are that you often have to "wing it" or “go with the flow” and take the day as it comes. The truth is, to be truly successful in today's fast-paced, competitive world of business, you need to have a plan.
Some entrepreneurs still prefer writing down notes, making a to-do list, and checking them off as they go. Others prefer to make mental notes. Now, I’m not saying that doesn't work, but it takes a lot of memory power and energy to keep track of a mental list.
Using the calendar app rarely crosses people's minds, but I’ve found this humble tool to be infinitely more effective than writing to-do lists. Because let’s be honest, who actually reaches the bottom of their list?
In this guide, I’ll be sharing how using your calendar to its full potential can supercharge your productivity.
#1: Improve Your Time Management
Every Monday morning I know exactly what my week ahead looks like, thanks to my calendar. Every single one of my tasks, meetings, breaks, appointments, and so on, is plotted out in there, and I swear by this practice.
Because when you block out chunks of time in your day to dedicate to certain tasks, rather than just listing the tasks down, you’re more likely to stick to that time frame and not overrun. Parkinson’s Law is the notion that “work expands so as to fill the time which is available for its completion”, so without a firm structure for your day, a seemingly simple task may end up taking all morning or afternoon to complete. Before you know it, you’re falling increasingly behind on your schedule. What happens then?
Do you add everything you couldn’t get through to your list for the following day? Trying to cram more tasks into an already busy day creates a vicious cycle where things don’t get done and you never feel on top of your work. Or, do you stay late and work overtime to ensure all your work is completed, and leave yourself with significantly less time to recharge after work or spend with your family and friends?
No matter which option you choose it’s impossible to win, either in the short or long term. But blocking out your calendar and giving yourself a set amount of time to work on each task can help you avoid the pitfalls of Parkinson’s Law. You’ll find yourself more inclined to focus and work more efficiently to make sure you finish within that timeframe before it’s time to move on to the next task. At the end of the day, you’ll have done much more in the same amount of time. No need to work late or spend your evening feeling stressed or guilty about unfinished tasks.
Scheduling your entire week in advance is a key step in mastering this system. Try making it a regular part of your routine, whether that's an hour on a Friday afternoon or a Sunday evening (and make sure to add that time to your calendar!).
A bonus tip—when you’re planning your days in your calendar app, always aim to batch similar tasks together, where possible. Jumping between various different tasks throughout the day expends more time and energy than you may realize.
Research from the University of Michigan found that the brief mental blocks created when shifting between tasks can cost up to 40% of your productive time. A study by the University of London found that multitasking during cognitive tasks can lower your IQ by 15 points. For most adults, this would leave you with the average IQ of an 8-year-old child. Now I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little concerned if an 8-year-old was in the driving seat leading my business! So, this is why I aim to solo-task as much as possible.
#2: Plan Your Day Around Your Performance
In the early 1900s, legendary car-maker Henry Ford introduced a five-day, 40-hour week for his factory workers. It’s safe to say that much has changed since then, and life for business owners (and working adults in general) is considerably different from how it was 100 years ago. But it seems that some habits are tough to break, as the 9-5 shift is still our go-to.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of being your own boss is the freedom to set your own schedule, so take this opportunity to think about how you currently structure your day. Is your routine serving you as well as it could?
It's important to remember that everyone's needs are different, so a routine that works for one person might not work for the other. You know yourself better than anyone else, and understanding your natural energy flows is crucial to unlocking your full potential every day. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- When do you have the most energy?
- What helps you work at your best?
- When do you find yourself most prone to distractions?
These insights will help you uncover patterns and tricks that will help you to fully optimize your day. Use your calendar to put these insights into practice. For example, I’ve learned that I’m best at coming up with ideas after a healthy lunch and a few cups of coffee, so I batch all my figures-based tasks in the morning so I can take full advantage of my creative energy peaks in the afternoons.
I’m not the only one who pays close attention to their natural body clock, many world-class entrepreneurs use this technique as well. As part of his day-to-day routine, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos takes time to “putter” about–drinking coffee, reading the newspaper, making breakfast for his family–before starting work at 10 am. He schedules all "high IQ" meetings before lunch when he has the most brain power. The later it gets, the harder it becomes to make a decision, so if anything important crops up after 5 pm, he’ll wait until he’s fully rested and recharged the following day before making any decisions.
I know it sounds counterintuitive at first when we’re discussing how to get the most out of your day, but it’s crucial not to overlook the importance of breaks when you’re plotting out your day. Whether it’s a regular reminder to follow the 20:20:20 rule to avoid straining your eyes, giving yourself a set lunchtime every day, or blocking out five minutes before your important meetings to make sure you can grab a hot drink, it should all go in your calendar.
#3: Increase Your Accountability
The same way an accountant uses receipts to keep track of your business’s expenses, your calendar can help you account for every single minute and hour in your day. If you have ever asked yourself, “What did I actually manage to achieve today?”, you’ll be pleased to hear that this can be a thing of the past. You can refer back to your calendar and see exactly what you were working on at any given time.
Why is this important?
If you want to make the most out of your day so you can reach your goals, reviewing your calendar is extremely useful as it allows you to reflect on whether you could–or should–be doing things differently. Ask yourself:
- What worked and what didn’t?
- Could you organize your day better next week?
- Were those tasks the best use of your time and energy?
As the head of your business, you should be spending the majority of your time on high-impact tasks that will increase profitability and growth. If you notice your calendar is mostly full of less critical tasks, you should consider delegating them. You can read more of our guides and tips on delegating here.
What’s The Bottom Line?
No doubt you will have heard it many times before, but time management is one of the most essential skills for any entrepreneur to have. It’s not just about meeting deadlines, it’s about maximizing the return on every single bit of time and energy you invest into your business.
This is why calendar apps are an extremely important tool in any entrepreneur's arsenal. Not just a handy place to keep track of your schedule and help you stay organized, they’re a simple yet effective resource to help you plan and prioritize how you will spend your time and energy. By using these techniques to map out your days and weeks, you can ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success each day.