Manage Your Time, Deadlines, and Sanity with One Tool – Down with the To Do List!

How would you like, at a glance, to be able to quickly know the following?

  • What you absolutely have to get done today
  • How many hours it’s going to take
  • Whether you’ll have time to goof off watching True Blood reruns tonight
  • What percentage of your working day will be spent on deliciously billable work vs. evil-but-necessary marketing
  • How you’re faring on your quest for a better work/life balance
  • Whether you remembered to call back that editor who emailed you yesterday
  • What the rest of your week looks like

… at a glance. Really.

A girl with a past
I have a long history of To Do list addiction. My love of lists – color-coded, prioritized, categorized, highlighted, and so on – began when I was just a child. I made elaborate lists of my Breyer horse inventory, what I wanted to be when I grew up, journal entries, and homework assignments.  More recently, the frequency of my trysts with various time and task management systems has left me feeling exhausted, disappointed, and a little bit dirty.

Enter Google Calendar (GC)
At first, it was just a casual meeting. A client asked to share a calendar with me so we could coordinate meetings more efficiently. At first glance, I didn’t think GC was anything special – just another piece of the Google empire. But then, we started to get to know each other a little better. Pretty soon, I was turning to GC for personal appointments as well as professional ones.

And then, an innocent request changed everything. In order to more easily determine when we both had time available, my client asked that I block out time on GC to indicate I was busy. From there, it was a short leap to figure out that I could block out specific time for specific tasks.

The romance blooms
Suddenly, my world was in full-on Technicolor – the bright and happy colors of my various calendars, that is.  As Lee mentioned on Lisa’s calendar post, GC allows you to create separate, color-coded calendars. You can set calendars up for personal time, family time, kids’ events, billable work, specific projects, marketing, self-development, exercise … whatever you like.

Then, I discovered Tasks. Tasks live in a collapsible pane just above the calendar. It’s a place to capture all of those “mini tasks” and “ticklers” (i.e., schedule dentist and follow-up on June invoices).  I also learned how to set recurring events and alerts – both critical for keeping me organized and on time.

Falling in love was easy
The GC interface is so simple that it hardly needs any explanation, but – when you do need guidance on a particular feature, google’s Calendar Help section is only a click away. The drag-and-drop feature makes reprioritizing and rescheduling a breeze. It’s almost fun, moving those cheery little boxes around the calendar – filling up an hour there and making room for a coffee date here.

Compared to other systems I’ve tried – and I’ve tried a LOT! – GC is just about as easy as it gets. I was a devout Franklin Covey disciple for years. I carried my green, eco-binder everywhere and dutifully hand-copied my unfinished tasks from one day to the next – putting little letters, numbers, and symbols next to each to indicate priority and status. When I finally tired of that, I moved on to digital tools. I tried a number of task management systems, but ultimately wound up creating my own Excel-based spreadsheet. I broke things down by client, project, type of work, priority, location (a GTD – getting things done – tactic), due date, etc. By the time I was done, I was spending almost as much time managing my To Do list as I was working on the tasks it contained! Not a pretty picture.

To Do list-free and loving it
Today, I am a one-calendar girl who manages her work tasks, personal life, and daughter’s schedule with one tool. I have been To Do list-free for over a year, and have never felt more in control.

When I have a new task, I simply schedule it in the calendar as an appointment. When I’m done, a quick glance, gives me a clear and accurate sense of what lies ahead. I can see, based on the color coding, if I’m racking up enough billable work, if I need to set more time aside for personal pursuits, and whether my daughter has any special events that I need to prepare for. I can see where I’ll have down time and decide, proactively, what I want to do with it.

Additional benefits to this system include:

  • Forced time estimating: Having to block out a specific amount of time for a task means you have to think about how long it’s going to take (a step we otherwise might skip or “fudge.”)
  • Integrated reality check: With my old list systems, I consistently overbooked myself – planning to magically get 10 hours of work done in a six-hour window. Calendaring makes it easy to see when you’re trying to pull off a time-warp.
  • More time: Ditching my To Do list has, no lie, saved me hours of time each week. Not only do I spend less time managing my tasks, I am much more focused on the work at hand because I’m not worrying about the other things on my list. I can see when they are scheduled to be done and just put them out of my mind until that time.
  • It’s mobile: If you have a smart phone, your calendar can travel with you. I’m an iPhone junkie and the Google app has a fully functioning calendar feature that syncs with the Web-based “master.”

Are you sold yet?
Everyone has her own way of managing her world, but if you’re even the least bit unsatisfied with your system, or are sick and tired of looking at depressing To Do lists, I highly recommend you think about meeting my friend GC for coffee. No pressure – just a friendly meet-and-greet. I’m sure you’re going to like him, everyone does.

Image Credit: Rob Warde

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She focuses primarily on small and start-up businesses, using content marketing and social media marketing to help her clients build profitable, long-term relationships with their customers. She is a mom, a singer, and dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter.

8 thoughts on “Manage Your Time, Deadlines, and Sanity with One Tool – Down with the To Do List!

  1. Pingback: Some great time management advice. « Fabulous in Four-hundred Square Feet

  2. I’m a huge google calendar fan, too! I also use the appointment scheduler which allows other people to find an open appointment slot and put themselves on my calendar. I get an email request to approve it and we’re all happy campers.

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