No matter how well you plan, sometimes there’s just not enough time in the day to do what needs to be done. But then again, you often find yourself between meetings without enough time to start something new, but too much time to just sit around twiddling your thumbs.

The answer is a well-organized calendar. A good calendar can simultaneously keep your days from being overloaded and increase your efficiency. It can also help you interact not only with your coworkers, but with your family as well.

Digital or paper (or both)?

There are some pretty big advantages to a digital calendar, but don’t be too quick to write off its paper ancestor.

Here are a few pros and cons of paper and digital calendars, but don’t think you have to lock yourself in to one format – you might find that you work better with your work calendar on your phone and your home calendar tacked to a wall, or vice-versa.

Advantages of a digital calendar

  • Sync with multiple devices so you have to same data on your laptop, phone, desktop, etc.
  • Set alarms, alerts, and reminders
  • Easier to share with co-workers and collaborators

Advantages of a paper calendar

  • Zero learning curve
  • Easier to see your whole week/month/year at a glance.
  • Easier to share with your family at home

Now What?

Once you’ve settled on the type of calendar you want to use, the next challenge is using it properly. Everyone’s life is a different mix of work and home, so no two calendars are going to be arranged the same way, but there are some general guidelines that should help you make the best use of your calendar.

  • Differentiate priorities – You might want to include both the meeting with your boss and lunch with your buddies on the same calendar, but you should try to distinguish items by priority. At the very least there should be two categories for “optional” and “non-optional” items, but ideally you’d be able to break it down even more.
  • Build in overflow – You know which meetings tend to run long, so be sure to pad the allotted time to avoid one meeting running into the next.
  • Schedule “me time” – Depending on who else can see your calendar, you might not want to label it “me time,” but the danger of a full calendar is losing the time you need to regroup between meetings.
  • Share and share alike – A big advantage of digital calendars is the ability to share and view other people’s schedules and even add meetings to them. This can be a huge efficiency boost if done well, but it takes some discipline and works only if everyone is on board.
  • Block off personal time – People are increasingly expected to be available after hours for work projects, but it’s important to be clear what times aren’t available for work.
  • If it works at the office, it should work at home – Scheduling your work time is important, but so is your home time, and the lessons learned from maintaining your office calendar can also be applied to your home calendar.

The most important thing to remember is that your calendar won’t work unless you work with it. A calendar is only as good as the information it provides, so the most important thing to remember is to be disciplined. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of keeping your calendar up-to-date, you will be amazed at how much more efficient you can be.