Extreme Calendaring: Here’s How to Boost Productivity Now

2017 calendarShopping for a 2017 wall calendar for my office over the holiday break, I had a hard time deciding between the zoo animals in yoga poses, all things Tuscany, or an adult coloring calendar.  My process of elimination amounted to total elimination: I knew I had neither the time nor artistic skill to color 12 pages over 12 months. The zoo animals doing yoga would just make me feel bad for not doing more yoga. And looking at photos of Tuscany while on conference calls might bring me to drink. I walked out of the store sans calendar.

You’ve probably been to one of these calendar stores in the mall days after Christmas. There are roughly 365 calendars for sale at 50% off, a pretty good deal, though you know in a week they’ll be slashed to 75% off.  Isn’t our time worth more than that? Granted, most of us use an icalendar to schedule meetings, mark deadlines and keep track of our lives. A wall calendar is sort of a throwback to the days of pen and paper.

As we enter a new year, it’s time to take stock of how we spend our time at work and how we might change our habits.  How many meetings and activities were you a part of in 2016 that were just an utter waste of time? Can you do better in 2017? To achieve a better return on your time, consider what I call extreme calendaring. It might even burn some of those extra holiday calories.

Tim Ferriss, productivity guru and author of the "4-Hour Work Week," in a recent podcast featured the idea of an 80/20 calendar audit. Open your icalendar from the past year starting with January and review how you spent most of your work days. In one column put all the positive experiences you had (and can remember) and in the other, the minus column, the appointments/meetings/events that were time sucks and energy drainers.

This will be eye-opening as you realize, for example, that you spent a whole week in February doing absolutely nothing valuable. During this exercise, you’ll be forced to place a value (plus or minus) on that lunch meeting with the reporter from the local trade (plus), the staff retreat that resulted in nothing new (minus), the conference in May that led to a big business deal (plus)….

When you conduct this calendar audit, focus on the bigger events and items. By the time you get to December you’ll see that you had quite a busy 2016. Pat yourself on the back and then remind yourself that busy-ness doesn’t always mean successful.

As  you embark on Extreme Calendaring, review all the items in the minus column and vow to do less of those things in 2017, or set out to do them better. There should be a lot more in that column than the plus column if you are being honest with yourself.  Your plus column is your launchpad for the new year. Schedule more activities with higher returns, because unlike the calendars in the mall store after Christmas, your time is not 50% off.  It is a diminishing resource, for sure, but you need to aim for a good 80-100% of your time being well spent. This week, start scheduling things that you know will hone your PR and marketing chops. Refer to your list of the influencers  (you have one, right?) and put on your calendar a time to reach out to them. Sign up for a class in finance/accounting for communicators (dispel the myth that PR people suck at math) and put it on your calendar. Next Wednesday, conduct a content audit; Thursday would be a good day to have a meeting with Marketing about branding, and follow up with a handful of people you met with who made the 2016 “plus” column.

After my Extreme Calendaring session over the holiday break, I was reminded that in 2016 I met a lot of great people, attended meetings and conferences that required follow-up, um, yesterday, and probably said Yes to too many calls. I’ve already started what will be a more productive iCal for 2017, increasing my chances that I will have more time for yoga, coloring and a trip to Tuscany.

Happy New Year and here's to a great 2017 for communicators!

Diane Schwartz