07 Aug 2017

The Ultimate Guide on Organizing Time

Controlling time & an incredibly busy schedule.

This guide is part of the 5-Part Productivity Guide.

Check out all 5 parts in The Only Productivity Guide You’ll Ever Need.

The Productivity Guide:


Welcome!

This guide is specifically for:

  • Feeling like you have time under your control.
  • Have a better grasp of the time you have to get work done.
  • Not having to remember what you’re doing by when and outsourcing that information so you can focus on the things you actually need to do.

The Basics

Time organization is one of those things that’s highly idiosyncratic; some people have phenomenal systems using paper calendars while others love bullet journaling, while still are fine without even having a time organization system at all.

So do what works for you, and it may not be the system I describe here. That being said, if you’re like me, and like having things 1000% organized and laid out so you can focus on the tasks themselves, what you’ll read below is likely to be incredibly useful.

Different views of time

In this guide, I’ll layout:

  • Multiple time layouts I find the most useful
  • How to set up a central time organization system around Google Calendar
  • How to maintain your central time hub

A Cautionary Note

Setting up these different views and methods of planning takes time. If you’re not willing to take the 3 hours or so it takes to set it up, you might be better off opting for a simpler system. That being said, I wouldn’t do it regularly if it wasn’t so, so, so worth it.

Macro Level Views

Conventionally, most people maintain solely a weekly and daily view on time. And while you can map things out like this, I find it incredibly useful to have both macro level (multi-month/month) views and micro level (weekly/daily) views. This is for a couple reasons:

I. Time simply looks different from a multi-month/monthly perspective.

It’s far easier to get a sense of how each week translates to progress on major milestones (test, big deadlines, etc.,) than on a sole week view.

II. It helps you translate larger goals to smaller ones.

Consider the goal of studying for a test — it’s way easier to outline achieving this seeing a monthly calendar than solely the week leading up to the test.

III. It’s a wake-up call of how fast time moves.

As they say, “the days are long but the years are short”. The same goes for months and semesters; before you know it, it’s the end of the month or that massive deadline is approaching. In this sense, having a monthly view will keep you aware of how time passes on a macro level, rather than having it hit you in that final week.

Different macro level views

Based on what period of time I’m in (for example, in school versus on summer break) I’ll maintain different macro level views. Below I’ve included 2 examples:

  • Macro views during school
  • Macro views while on extended break

Example I | Macro Views while in School

_I’m currently backpacking Italy and don’t have access to my hard drive with these spreadsheets LOL. Will upload soon.__

Example II | Macro Views on Extended Breaks

Now that I have an 8 month break, this is my current multi-month view on time, laying out where I’ll be in which month.

In addition to that, I’ll have a view of the current month, which includes my whereabouts and often, what I plan to do on a bi-weekly basis in terms of goal-setting.

Setting up multi-month and month views

Use Excel

I highly recommend setting up multi-month and month views in Excel. It’s versatile, looks nice, and you can dedicate separate sheets to separate views and purposes. On top of that, if you use this system in conjunction with the Goal Organization Guide, you can also have your goals laid out in Excel as well. For example, have your multi-month view on one sheet, your month view on another, and your goals laid out on yet another sheet.

Bam! Your entire productivity system is now centralized between Excel and Google Calendar. Sometimes, it helps to print these views to PDF if you want an application that will open quickly, but otherwise, an exclusive Google Calendar and Excel system is perfect.

Templates

Below are some templates which may be useful. If you end up downloading any of them, as a small favor back, comment that ya did so below! It makes a big difference to hear from you guys.

2-Week Template — download here.

Monthly Template — download here.

Year Template — download here.

From there, customize it by filling in the right dates. Enter major events like tests, major milestones, due dates, major problem sets, extracurricular events, etc.

Micro Level Views | Google Calendar

For weekly and daily views, ALL HAIL GOOGLE CALENDAR!

Google Calendar will take care of your:

  • Weekly view
  • Daily view
  • Meetings with people
  • Your day-to-day tasks and events

This is an example of how my calendar looked like in college:

Google Calendar isn’t that great for a monthly view as all the day-to-day events cloud out the big picture. That being said, if you wanted to use Google Calendar on a monthly basis, you could enter in big project due dates, tests, significant events, etc., as ‘all-day events’ in a calendar with a bright red color; this would make the important milestone events stand out, making the Google Calendar monthly view more usable.

Setting up the system

Why Google Calendar over other calendar services?

Google Calendar generally transfers better across devices and apps (for example switching from an iPhone to an Android phone is seamless via Google Calendar), is universally supported by every calendar add-on, plugin, or application, and has a number of import, export, sharing, and customizing options that Apple calendar or other services just don’t have.

If you’re already set up on Apple calendar or a written calendar journal and your setup is extensive, stick with that calendar platform. If you have a minimal setup or no setup, use Google Calendar.

Step 1 | Logistics of Google Calendar

Head to Google Calendar here and login or signup.

Step 2 | Set up individual calendars

Individual calendars segment which events go into which ‘bucket of your life’.

I used to maintain as many as 10 calendars for different elements of my life (e.g. exercise, school, friends, meetings, classes, etc.,) but I’ve found this is way too many. The transaction costs of A) deciding which calendar it should be in and B) clicking and setting up the event in that calendar way undermined the worth of having that many calendars.

I now maintain 3-4 active calendars which works way better:

  • Commanding Center — This is the default calendar , used for any meetings with people or generic events. Unless my events fit better into a different calendar, they’ll go in here.
  • Classes — All recurring classes and tests go in here.
  • Me Time — This is a calendar I use for any ‘self-decided’ activities — for example working on projects, sleeping, eating food, etc., are all classified as ‘me time’.
  • (Career/Exercise/Social) — In addition to the calendars above, it’s likely useful to have some calendars corresponding to things you value highly. During the job recruiting season, for example, I maintained a career calendar to distinguish all the recruiting events from the regular ones. If you’re super into exercise, on the other hand, it might be worthy to have a calendar dedicated solely to workout schedules. This is for you to customize and play around with. Other useful calendars may include: side project, learning music, office hours, etc.

Go ahead and make which ever individual calendars you think will be the most useful. If you need guidance on how to create the calendar, check out this help link).

Step 3 | Set up Google Calendar on the go

Download a mobile calendar app for mobile access – every major calendar app is compatible with Google Calendar. I use the native Google Calendar app.

Set up your mobile app to default to the day view; this way you can refer to your phone’s calendar for your day-to-day schedule (and presumably your laptop for the week and month view).

Step 4 | Maintaining the system

Everything should go into your Google Calendar for 3 reasons:

  1. The whole purpose of organization is to have clearer focus on the hard tasks at hand. This is 10000x easier when you aren’t trying to remember which event you need to be at by when.

  2. By laying everything on your Google Calendar, you get an accurate sense of the free time you have. If half your events are off your calendar, there’s really little clarity gained with the items you do put in your calendar.

  3. You avoid decision fatigue of whether to put it in the calendar or not — instead, don’t waste time deciding – just take 30 seconds to enter it in and forget about it!

All formal events should be added to Google Calendar. This includes classes, hangouts, videochats, office hours, work meetings, etc. In other words, anything which involves a commitment to another person should go into your Google Calendar — this way, as soon as you make the decision to meet up, you can literally forget about it, as long as it’s in your Google Calendar and you check your calendar frequently.

Build the habit of always entering an event into your calendar and checking Google Calendar for your schedule.

Conclusion

And that’s it! If you follow those guidelines, you’re new and upgraded time organization system is ready to go. If you liked the Excel templates above, email me at [email protected] and I can send more over. Otherwise, make your own, get started, and have a ton of fun! Fill in below with any advice you might have that wasn’t otherwise said.


This guide is part of the 5-Part Productivity Guide.

Check out all parts together in the Productivity Guide, or see the individual pages below:

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You can also email me at [email protected] - I’m happy to help out in really any way.

– Neha