Sunday, June 04, 2006

Calendars - Digital, Analog or both?

Calendars used to be a place for writing appointments, reminders, todo lists and all sorts of notes collected during the day. The old style "planner" systems and diaries had a space for appointments, a log of what you did during the day, and maybe an area for phone calls to be made, things to do and expenses.

The GTD methodology changes all of this. The Next Action lists replace your todo lists, and the calendar takes its rightful place for recording things that have to be done at a particular time and day, or a day. Calendars are not for writing "to do" lists or notes, otherwise the importance of the day specific reminder is lost.

In a nutshell, your calendar should only be used to record these categories of things:
  • time specific actions (Appointments)
  • day specific actions (conference dates, availability of people or resources)
  • day specific information (public holidays, anniversaries, etc)
The next decision to make is what form of calendar will work best for you? The choices are many: a pocket diary or notebook, a wall calendar, Palm Pilot, Microsoft Outlook, Desk Diary. Your needs will vary but it is essential the calendar is easily accessible, you review it every day, and the people in your life (family, or office colleagues) can read the information.

I have settled on a hybrid system of three different calendars! This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but I have segregated my time based information into three systems.


This calendar runs in Microsoft Outlook on the office computer system. I use it to schedule meetings and lunchtime appointments for coffee or lunch with friends who work near by. Most of the time, other people schedule my time using the "meeting request" functionality of Outlook. Click here to view my Outlook weekly calendar.

Outlook works fine for me in the office for events that happen during the workday. I like the feature of the reminder that is displayed before the event and often use this feature to remind me to leave work early for a school function. Click here to view one of these reminders.

Paper based Planner

I like to carry a compact, paper-based calendar and notebook. I used to use the Time Manager planner system from Denmark which uses a variety of forms for daily plans, weekly plans, and to do lists.
I tried using week-to-an-opening forms from Day Runner but abandoned this because I needed space for jotting notes.

I devised a very simple system by printing my own weekly pages using Microsoft Outlook. The pages are printed two per sheet, and cut to fit the planner. This gives me a week to a view on the right hand side and a blank sheet on the left for notes and scribbles. During my weekly review I remove old sheets from the planner and transfer important information to the appropriate locations. Click here to have a look at my planner.

These are the sorts of entries found on my calendar:
  • Library Items Return Date
  • Public Holidays
  • School Term start and end dates and week number
  • School activities and fucnctions
  • Commitments for our family
The Cave Family Calendar

Probably the most important calendar is the "Cave Family Calendar". Our two daughter are in high school and this calendar is used to record all their commitments: sport, music, concerts, parent/teacher interviews, dental appointments, birthday parties, holidays and my wife's business trips. The calendar can be viewed by clicking this link.

The calendar is made with Microsoft Excel (Click here to download the calendar). The top left cell is updated with a date, and the page printed. Several pages are printed and glued together. The top row of the calendar is always the current week, and is cut off on Sunday evening. The calendar is clearly visible from a distance and we all know that the top row is the current week. Our girls are trained to write down their commitments on the calendar so we all know what is happening.


So what calendar is right for you? Obviously this will depend on your needs and family situation. Above all I recommend simplicity, high visibility and low maintenance.