Hack Your Calendar and Get Your Life Back.

Take control of your time with these planner tips.

Remember those old-school business calendars? They were desktop calendars all right — they literally occupied the whole desktop. Meanwhile, at home, there was probably a to-do list stuck on the fridge with a magnet. The grocery list and “Dinner with my sister” would go there. Basically prehistoric. A chisel and a block of stone.

Today, you pick up your smartphone and see your very busy day neatly arranged in 10-minute intervals, with no distinction between your work and personal lives. An interview, a dentist appointment, a presentation to management, and a reminder to walk the dog are all there on the same page. Why? Because that’s how your life works. One day at a time. Work, home, travel, errands, appointments, fitness, family, etc., all together so you can see what your actual day looks like.

No wonder well over 1 billion people around the globe use some form of digital calendar.

But here’s a question for you: Are you getting the most out of your calendar? These apps are so powerful and so deep with features and possibilities, your calendar can probably help you in ways you haven’t yet discovered.

We’ve put together some of the most powerful calendar hacks you’ll ever see. If you’re using a digital calendar, these will up your game dramatically. If you’re still on the fence, these ideas may convince you to start using a smart calendar ASAP.

Notifications. Reminders. And a map.

Many of us simply create an event and move on, allowing our notifications to fall into the dreaded default setting. Then, when the reminder finally pops up, we ignore it. Instead, take a moment and think about if and when a reminder would truly be beneficial for you. A day before the event? A month? Five minutes? Most calendars will even provide a map and driving instructions—including traffic conditions.

Own your time

If you’re going to be driving for 45 minutes to a 2 p.m. appointment, make that driving time an event. Use your calendar to schedule the time you need. This is especially useful on shared calendars where your colleagues may be looking for your available time. Mark that 45 minutes of driving time as “busy” or “unavailable.” If you don’t, people will assume you’re available and may want you to review a spreadsheet while you’re driving. Not good.

Give yourself a real break

We’re living in an ‘always on’ culture. Expectations at work and at home can easily add up to a mild case of personal burnout. No one should have to be ‘on’ 24/7. Your calendar can help you here.

Schedule a time-out at regular intervals. It’s healthy, and for the workaholics in the crowd, it actually makes you perform better.

Focus on yourself. Take a walk. Nap. Meditate. Doing nothing at all is a great idea. And there are all kinds of resources that can help your state of mind, like Headspace.

Don’t make this optional, as in “I’ll squeeze it in if I can.” It may be the most important thing you do all day.

The partner calendar

This is one of those tips that can change your life. Actually, several lives. Share a calendar with your partner. It’s easy to set up and it will give you both more control with less hassle.

Let’s say you get an invitation to meet some friends after work. You’d like to invite your partner. Instead of messaging, emailing, or calling, put it on your shared calendar as an ask. He or she will see there’s an invitation and respond.

Wow, that was easy.

Organization in a whole new category

This may sound a little over the top, but it’s incredibly helpful. All of these digital calendars let you set up categories — you could have two or 200. When you enter a calendar event or a task you can put it in a category, such as Family, Fitness, House, or Friends. You can give each category a color, and if you’re ever wondering what the plan is for next Thanksgiving, search in the Family category. So much easier.

This is a great day to get started

If you’re one of the rare few not using a digital calendar, here are some good choices. They are cross-platform, cloud-based, and easily synced via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or your phone’s data network. The look and feel of different calendar apps can vary widely. A little research on the App Store or Google Play will give you the kind of detail you need to make an informed decision.

  • Google Calendar

A very popular calendar, it’s especially good for groups and businesses where sharing calendars is important. To use Google Calendar you need Gmail. You can open a Gmail account here. Google Calendar is free.

  • Apple Calendar

This is a free app that comes with every Apple device and is also available on the App Store. There’s a compatible version with infrastructure similar to Google Calendar. That version is part of Apple’s iCloud service and uses your Apple ID for access.

Here’s how to get set up:

  1. From an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings and sign in to iCloud.
  2. From your desktop, click here and use your Apple ID to log in.
  • Outlook

A Microsoft offering available as a stand-alone application or as part of the Microsoft 365 subscription plan, Outlook is unique in that it brings your calendar and email client together. Equally desktop and smartphone friendly. (Windows/Mac OS/iOS/Android)

You can get started with the Mac version here, and the Windows version here.

  • Fantastical 2

This is usually ranked among the top three calendar apps for Mac. It is tightly integrated with the Apple ecosystem, has a stunning interface, and its deep functionality includes a wide variety of linking and note-taking capabilities. It also includes outstanding reminder/task management.

Fantastical 2 is available for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Unlike Google Calendar or Apple Calendar, however, it’s not free. The Mac version sells for $49.99, although you do have 21 days to try it free to decide if you think it’s worth the price. You can download it here.

The next thing on your calendar

There are literally hundreds of calendar applications. Many are cloud based and therefore cross platform. Go to your application store or search “calendars” to review the possibilities. There’s going to be one that’s just right for you.

They’re all good. And there will be no more looking for that address in your glove compartment. No more trying to remember who you invited to that meeting. No booking a business dinner at exactly the same time as your daughter’s soccer game.

Our recommendation? Get a digital calendar. Use it. And you’ll never have to make an appointment with your own life again.

Written by Neal Cavanaugh on August 30, 2018.