Take Control of Your Life Using Your Calendar

Life is busy, and I don't know a single person that can argue that point. I recently read an article explaining that scientists have proven that the day is getting longer as time goes on (1.7 milliseconds are added to the length of a day each year per century, in case you were interested). I can't argue with science, nor can I argue with perception. My perception of time, however, is that the days are getting much shorter as I get older. This is especially true for those who have families. Not a day goes by where parents don't feel like the family taxi driver. Am I right?

Even with everything going on in your personal, professional and family life, there are ways to control and organize the chaos. One of my favorite tools to do so is something we all have access to, and it's absolutely, 100% free... a calendar! To give you an idea of my typical week, this is my calendar:

Obviously, I blurred out the details (no one is interested in my personal schedule), but you at least get the idea. Believe it or not, this doesn't include everything (last-minute meeting invites, conference calls, etc).

Who Should Read This

The principals discussed in this post apply to business situations as well as family life. A busy schedule is a busy schedule, regardless of whether that schedule consists of ballet recitals or Board meetings.

If you look at the calendar above, there is one very key principal here that absolutely has to be applied in order for me to keep things straight. That simple principal is that I use multiple calendars, and that each calendar is (meaningfully) color-coded.

Note: for the rest of this article, I will use iCloud as the basis for creating and sharing calendars. iCloud is a free service offered by Apple, and works great with their devices as well as web access. I highly recommend using it for email, calendaring, contacts, etc. If you choose another service provider for your calendaring, the principals here still apply.

Colors, Colors, Colors

First, let's talk about why it's important to create multiple calendars. There are two reasons for this:

  1. So that we can turn various calendars on/off when we want to show/hide them
  2. So that we can color-code each calendar

I'm a very visual person, meaning things make much more sense to me if they are visually appealing and interesting to look at. If my calendars were all grey, it would be much less-effective because it would be impossible to differentiate who's calendar belongs to who at a glance. With colors, I can look at my calendar and immediately know if my evening is full of work-rested activity, or family-related activity.

To give you an idea of what calendars you may want to create, I have generated the following graphic:

In this example, I have at least 8 different calendars. They include one for mom, dad and each of the 4 children (let me be clear, I don't "own" all of these calendars, but they are all in my calendar view. More about that in a minute). In addition to the obvious calendars, I also have a calendar for "mom & dad" (great for keeping track of date nights, weddings, etc), as well as a calendar for the "entire family" (great for keeping track of family events like vacations, soccer games, etc).

Once you have created your calendars, it's time to color-code them. Above, I mentioned the word "meaningful" when I talked about color-coding. This will help you to know which calendar an event belongs to when glancing at it. My favorite color is blue, so my calendar is blue. If Billy's favorite color is brown, color his brown. If Jane's is yellow, color her's yellow. You get the idea. Regardless of how you choose to color your calendars, make sure it's meaningful to you.

Taking Ownership of the Calendars

To "own" a calendar simply means that that calendar was created using a specific account. For example, if I create a new calendar on my iCloud account, I am the default owner of that calendar.

So who owns which calendar? Dad owns his own calendar, mom owns her own calendar, and each of the children own their own calendar (click here for tips on how to secure an iCloud account for each child). Hopefully, that concept is pretty straight forward.

In our case, dad also owns the "mom & dad" calendar and the "entire family" calendar (not for any particular reason, just that someone has to own them).

Share and Share Alike

At this point, you're probably wondering "What the tech, Kevin! I just created all these calendars, and it doesn't help me at all because everyone has their own, and no one can see anyone else's!" Well, let's fix that.

Most hosted calendaring systems (iCloud, Google, etc) have the ability to share your calendars and subscribe to others built-in to their ecosystem. The ability to share your calendars is the magic sauce behind making all this work.

In the example above, dad will share his calendar with mom because it would be good information for mom to have. Likewise, mom will share her calendar with dad. Mom and dad won't normally share their day-to-day calendar with the kids because they generally don't care that mom has a hair appointment while they are at school or dad is playing golf with his buddies.

Each of the children will share their calendar with both mom and dad (again, because this is good information for them to have), but won't necessarily share their calendar with their siblings (unless their siblings really want to know who's house they are hanging out at).

The "mom & dad" calendar will be shared with mom (if dad is the owner). At this point, it sounds like redundancy... if dad is already sharing his calendar with mom, why not just use that same calendar for "mom & dad" events? The answer is simple... with a second calendar (one designated for mostly recreation), you can color-code the "mom & dad" events with a different color as the "dad" calendar, making it easy to differentiate between the two types of activities.

Lastly, the "entire family" calendar will be shared with everyone in the family. Again, this calendar is for keeping track of family-wide activities.

You can share your iCloud calendar in one of three ways:

  • By going to www.icloud.com
  • Using the Calendar app on your Mac
  • Using the Calendar app on your iOS device

Although it should be pretty obvious how you share calendars, feel free to contact me if you get stuck, and I will help.

One More Thing...

Just because you are sharing your calendar doesn't mean that everyone should have full rights to that calendar. While mom and dad both have full control over the "mom & dad" shared calendar, not everyone has full rights to the "entire family" shared calendar. For example, it would be horrible if our 5-year-old (yes, even he has his own calendar!) started randomly deleting events that are on the "entire family" calendar. To minimize that risk, I invited him to subscribe to that calendar in "View Only" mode. How and where you may want to apply this same principal will depend on your individual family's needs.

This is what it looks like to assign these permissions using the Calendar app on the Mac:

Hopefully at this point, your mind is swirling with lots of ideas on how you can better manage your personal, family and work schedule.

If you know of someone else who could use a gentle lesson in "ultimate scheduling", pass this along to them! It's never too late to improve your time management skills.

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under How To, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Opinion.