Last week, we worked on clarifying your commitments–digging into how you spend your time and then categorizing and prioritizing what you discovered. Armed with that information, now it’s time to make sure the most important things are clearly on your schedule so you see what’s left to work with. With that in mind, it’s time to put the most critical activities on your schedule.

If you need to catch up on anything first, check out the Tidy ’24 Calendar page to see what we’ve covered so far.

Tasks Week 2: Schedule Your Anchors

Whether you use a physical calendar on your fridge or wall, an electronic calendar on your smartphone or computer, a day planner, or something else, writing down when and where the “anchors” in your schedule go is crucial to effective time management.

Sometimes, this is easy. With only a few key appointments or events to work around, your calendar may look empty. For others, most days are dominated by non-negotiable events. Work schedules—sometimes more than one!—sporting events for kids, social or community events we’re volunteering at, medical appointments, and more.

Whether your calendar is more like a ghost town or a well-played game of Tetris, it’s always good to take stock of what’s most important.

Action Steps:

  1. Choose the calendar you want to use. This could be physical or electronic, something you’re familiar with, or something brand new. Choose whatever feels easiest for you. Use a tool that you enjoy, if you can find one.
  2. Review your activity list from last week. Look over what you wrote down and identify the critical priority appointments.
  3. Add the appointments (not tasks!) to your calendar. Keep going until you’ve transferred all the critical appointments. If you have enough room, you can also include the average priority activities.

Step 1 is the most challenging one. Some people love physical calendars (like my wife). Others can’t imagine working with paper or a whiteboard for a complex and ever-changing schedule (like me). Whether you fall on one side or the other, or you don’t really care, the only real requirement is that you choose something that works for you.

One recommendation: If possible, use a calendar (app, platform, print, whatever) that makes it easy to share your schedule with the important people in your life. This provides a mechanism for accountability (“Hey, how are you doing with those weekly meetings?”) and a way for others to avoid accidentally double-booking your time.

Since most of us (especially those reading this newsletter!) likely have at least one device with at least one built-in calendar tool, going the electronic route is often the simplest and most flexible. The standard Calendar app from Apple or Google will work perfectly here; there’s no need to go with something more complicated or powerful.

However, feel free to pick something more elaborate if you know it’s what you want. The team behind Notion just released their official Notion Calendar tool. Many others integrate calendars and tasks (or even projects), such as AkiflowSunsama, and Motion. Literally hundreds of these tools exist, each with strengths and weaknesses. If you dive down the rabbit hole, be aware that it goes pretty deep. There’s an entire Reddit community dedicated to productivity and another one to time management; here’s an exciting thread about one man’s multi-decade journey to find the perfect app.

The good news is that calendars are fundamentally portable. While the secondary features of each shiny new app might be unique, the basic behavior of putting events on dates for specific durations can be found anywhere. So, you can change your mind next week, next month, or next year and import at least the bulk of your important appointment data.

In short, don’t worry too much about choosing exactly the right calendar if you aren’t sure. Just pick something free and easy and see how it goes.

How Does This Help?

Many of you may have read the story illustrating how to allocate time efficiently using a mayonnaise jar and a collection of sand, pebbles, and large stones. If you fill the jar with sand first (the trivial activities), you’ll never fit in the pebbles (the average stuff) or large stones (the critical stuff). But if you start with the large stones, the pebbles will filter and settle around them, and finally, the sand will fill the remaining gaps.

(There’s also a modified version of this illustration that includes beer, worth reading for a laugh.)

Taking a step back and looking at how you’re spending your time gives you perspective about the choices you make on a day-to-day basis. It’s essential to do this every so often, even quarterly or monthly, to make sure nothing nefarious slips in without your noticing.

Who Does This Help?

Honestly, this exercise should help anyone who has any control over how they spend their time. Taking a few minutes to consciously choose where you want your time and attention to go makes your activities more intentional and less reactionary. Even if you don’t change anything after going through the process, you’ll have better clarity about why you choose the activities that you do.

Who Does This NOT Help?

If you just went through this exercise, doing it again right away will have little impact. Or maybe you keep an accurate calendar regularly, complete with a perfectly functional system for prioritizing and reviewing. Or, if nearly everything about your life is dictated by external forces (parents, teachers, drill sergeants, or economic factors), you might feel that there’s no point because everything has to stay the same anyway.

But in this case, even if you feel “on top of things” or you’re correct about having a minimal ability to make improvements, I’d encourage you to walk through the steps anyway. Incremental improvements still move you in the right direction. Enough small changes over time will eventually yield significant results.

Quick Review

For Week 2, your task is to schedule your anchors. Choose a calendar that works for you (physical or electronic), review your list of categorized and prioritized activities from last week, and then put the critical appointments–and perhaps a few average-priority ones–on your calendar.

If you have any questions about this week’s task or anything related to digital organization, reply to this email and let me know.

Happy data-taming!

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