calendar hacks to maximize your productivity

Our lives are friggin’ busy. Work, relationships, kids, social obligations, volunteer work, school, commuting, meetings—regardless of what configuration of events your life involves, it all adds up to constantly running around, trying to get the next thing on your list taken care of.

Where’s writing supposed to fit into all that?

It’s totally possible to create a full-time career as an author, but it takes work…and it can be hard to change your mindset so that writing is a priority, not something that’s taking away from your other priorities.

Thankfully, you already have the greatest tool you’ll ever need to get organized, stay on task, and maximize your writing potential: your calendar.

Whether you use a paper planner or a calendar app, your calendar is your best friend when it comes to creating a sustainable life as a writer, both immediately and in the long term.

Apply these calendar hacks today and watch your stress drop as your productivity soars!

1. Define Your Viewing Mode

Are you a paper-and-pencil kind of person, or do you live for digital? That will affect how your ideal calendar setup works. Some people may even have the best luck using both—for instance, I use a paper planner to keep track of my daily tasks and time blocks (more on that in a minute), but I do my long-range planning in Google Calendar.

More importantly, what viewing mode works best for you? Some people need to have a daily agenda right in front of them; others need to see a week at a glance, or even look at the scope of a whole month.

There are planners (both paper and digital) for every style—you just have to play around until you find what works for you.

The best way to do this is to use a digital calendar, at least at first, because you can plan a day, a week, and a month and then try out different views of your calendar with the click of a button—no erasing and reshuffling needed. When you have a sense of what works best for you (most people do best with daily or weekly overviews), stick with it for a week or so to figure out whether the digital system is comfy for you or whether you feel better having something on paper that you can physically write down or cross off.

There’s no right or wrong here—just what syncs best with your brain and your style.

2. Set Up Multiple Calendars

Whether you’re using Google Calendar, iCal, Outlook, or a paper calendar, set up multiple color-coded calendars for yourself. You’ll probably want Work, Personal, and Writing, but you may even get more specific than that. What about Work, Meetings/Appointments, Personal, Exercise, Writing, Social Media, and Downtime?

Try out a few different configurations to see what works for you.

This is a great way to see at a glance, in bold color, what you’re spending the most time on. Set up labels in your digital calendar or use highlighters or different-colored pens to code out your paper calendar.

You’ll quickly start to see if you’re spending all your time in meetings and if you’ve booked enough time to be able to meet your writing goals and deadlines. If you’re only allowing yourself an hour of writing time a week, it’s time for a change!

3. Create Time Blocks

Multitasking is a myth. We may think we’re good at it, but in reality, we suck. The human brain can only switch between tasks so well, and every time you change from, say, answering emails to trying to craft an action scene in your novel, you spend up to 20 minutes shifting gears.

Rather than jumping on whatever task seems to be the most pressing at the moment, block out time in your schedule for similar work.

This doesn’t mean scheduling yourself down to the minute. Instead, create batches. For instance, answering emails and engaging on social media involve pretty similar activities, so they don’t require a huge mental leap to switch between processes. Try grouping them together as a “communications block” on your calendar.

4. Take Advantage of Productivity Flows

While you’re scheduling those time blocks, make sure you’re giving yourself the right length of time for each project. There’s no quicker way to undermine a great calendar plan than by giving yourself the wrong amount of time for a block.

Most people can sustain focus on a single task for anywhere from 20 minutes to 90 minutes—but not much longer. After that, your results start getting sloppy and your mind starts to wander.

So block out the right amount of time. If you know that you can’t focus on a particular task (say, answering emails) for more than 20 minutes at a time, make that slot on your calendar 20 minutes, then block something else down.

If you know you need about an hour and a half to write a blog post or get through a scene in your novel, book that 90 minutes out—but don’t create a writing block that’s a full two or three hours long figuring you’ll be able to write twice as much.

Instead, put a “break block” in between, allowing yourself to get your work done, take a break either to rest or to do something else, and then come back. You’ll be better able to focus and you won’t find yourself giving up on an unattainable calendar goal.

5. Book Your Social Media

As authors, we need to promote ourselves and our work. These days, that means engaging on social media. But we all know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole…you tell yourself you’re just going to write one Facebook update, real quick, and the next thing you know, you look up and it’s 2am.

Social media engagement is necessary, but it seems to expand to fit whatever time is available…and then some. Take back control by booking time in your schedule just for social media.

Again, think in blocks. Rather than trying to sneak some Twitter into your afternoon during a writing session or in between meetings, actually schedule it. Give yourself 45 minutes for social media and let yourself dive in.

You’ll be able to engage better and in more depth, because you’ll be focused on having conversations and interacting with friends, fans, and followers rather than having a nagging little thought in the back of your mind that you should be doing something else.

You’ll also reclaim a bunch of your day because you’ve set scheduling limits on your social media—when your calendar app beeps to let you know about your next time block, you know you’ve gotta get off. It’s a lot harder to click through “just one more video” when your calendar is reminding you it’s time to move on!

6. Schedule Personal Time

Similarly, making your calendar work for you isn’t just about scheduling meetings and writing time. It’s also about scheduling—and defending—the rest of your time, so that you can focus more readily on what you’re doing in any given moment.

That means creating one or more calendars for your personal chores, activities, and goals and then scheduling those just as conscientiously as you do the rest of your time.

If you need a break between blocks of work, schedule 15 minutes of yoga or jogging for yourself. Slate a 10-minute coffee break into your afternoon. Schedule a bath for Wednesday night.

The key here is to write that down. Put it on your calendar. Make it as important as anything else you’re doing. Then stick with it. You can’t be effective in any area of your life, writing included, if you’re not looking after yourself, so book out personal care and maintenance just like you would a work meeting or an oil change for the car.

7. Use Nudges

To help prompt you along, set your digital calendar to give you gentle reminders of when it’s time to move to your next block—most smartphones will let you set a “calendar notification” ringtone of a soft beep or boop. It’s enough to nudge you to stay on track, but not enough to scare the pants off you or disrupt what you’re doing at the moment.

Using paper instead? That’s cool! Try using a timer on your phone or even just an analogue kitchen timer to nudge you when it’s time to move to the next block on your calendar. A ding from the kitchen timer works just as well as a fancy phone notification—just be sure to set it!

8. Leave Blanks

No matter what, something always comes up. That’s why no good calendar is always completely booked. From traffic jams to emergency meetings to finding out that the dog ate an entire bag of Hershey’s chocolate, there’s bound to be a monkey wrench thrown into your carefully scheduled day at some point.

Leaving blanks on your calendar makes this manageable rather than disruptive.

Every single day should have some blanks left that you can shuffle around as needed. I like to leave several 15-minute gaps, because with four of those, you can rearrange your schedule to accommodate a full hour of unplanned OMG EMERGENCY CRISIS issues…and there aren’t a lot of issues that end up taking more than an hour. (Those that do are usually serious enough to warrant tossing the schedule out the window entirely.)

Nothing came up? Great, you have 15 minutes to do whatever you need or want…completely guilt-free. Wash the dishes. Take a nap. Walk the dog. It’s your free time to do with as you please.

Liberating, no?

9. Check In

You wouldn’t go a week without checking in with your best friend, right?

So don’t go too long without checking in with your new best buddy the calendar, either!

Rather than trying to mark up your calendar and pack everything in as it comes up during the day, sit down either first thing in the morning or last thing at night to check up on how your calendar looks.

Even better, do both. In the morning, check out what your day looks like and make sure that there are some gaps in the schedule—if not, put them in now. Be sure that you’ve scheduled time for everything you want to do, including writing and taking care of yourself and your relationships.

Each evening, check in with yourself. How did the day go? Were you having trouble with any of your time blocks—too long, too short, just Goldilocks right? Did you find yourself struggling to write at the end of the day because you were mentally drained?

Use those insights to craft your next day’s calendar. If you were too fried to write at 9pm, move your writing block to your lunch break or to the early morning hours. If you’re slogging through the afternoon, build in a treat like an exercise session or a coffee break.

Taking just 20 minutes in the morning and at night to check in with your calendar can completely revolutionize how you use your time.

Getting Going

No system can possibly hold up if you don’t use it. And no system sticks overnight. You have to actually set up your calendar system and use it religiously for at least two weeks before you’ll start seeing results. After that, it’ll start to become second nature.

By then, you’ll be wondering how you ever lived without your calendar by your side.

Want to learn even more about how scheduling can transform your life? Check out TCK Publishing founder Tom Corson-Knowles’s book, Schedule Your Success!

Smart scheduling can make your calendar your best friend, ramping up your writing productivity.

Read on for more ways to boost your productivity: