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Why Calendars are More Effective Than To Do Lists

If there’s one pattern I’ve come across in dozens of articles, books I’ve read, and the 100’s of people that I’ve interviewed, it’s that the most prolific, productive and successful ones don’t depend on to-do lists, they depend on a calendar.

Srinivas Rao

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If there’s one pattern I’ve come across in dozens of articles, books I’ve read, and the 100’s of people that I’ve interviewed, it’s that the most prolific, productive and successful ones don’t depend on to-do lists, they depend on a calendar. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again in my own work. The likelihood of me getting anything done goes up significantly when I put something on the calendar.

Our lives are dictated almost entirely by units of time:

  • Publishers give authors deadlines
  • Professors give students a syllabus with important dates
  • Google maps gives you an estimated time for how long it will take to get to your destination
  • When you get your car repaired, they tell you what time it will be ready.
  • When you ship something you are told how long it will take to get to the recipient

Given the role that time plays in our lives, it would make sense to focus on managing our time instead of our tasks. Using a calendar effectively can help you tap into the power of one focused hour a day.

1. Changing Your Behavior with a Calendar

The idea that a calendar could result in changing your behavior seems a bit far fetched. But that’s precisely what Dan Ariely and his team at Timeful set out to do when they started the company. Soon after they were acquired by Google and now much of what could be done with Timeful is integrated into the Google Calendar app. In an interview on the Unmistakable Creative, Dan said the following:

Imagine if you have a calendar. And imagine that you say that are some things that get represented on this calendar and some things that don’t. On a regular calendar, things that get represented are meetings with other people. The things that don’t get represented are things that will take 30 or 100 hours. Exercising or meditation. The things that don’t get represented are calling your mother. So what happens is that the moment you have a way to represent things easily like meetings and you don’t have a good way to represent something like writing a book or meditating or exercising and so on, the things that are represented will be carried out and the things that are not represented will not get carried out. And as a consequence, your life will be filled with things that might not fit with your agenda. So the real question is how do we get the representation of our lives to fit our real objectives?

I actually downloaded the calendar app in an effort to do some research for this article and I can cite the following behavior changes:

  • I’ve always been a voracious reader but putting it on the calendar for 30 minutes each day has made me much more consistent.
  • There are interview series and personal development programs that I wanted to go through. Now that I’ve put them on my calendar I haven’t missed any of the days.

Just the act of putting these things on the calendar for some reason seems to significantly increase the likelihood that I actually do them.

Given that time is the most valuable asset at our disposal, it would make sense that we design our days based on units of time. But there’s an additional benefit to using a calendar.

When an event is consistently scheduled on your calendar, it’s much more likely to transform into an unconscious habit.

I no longer have to consciously think about writing 1000 words a day or reading when I wake up in the morning. As I’ve jokingly said in a few interviews the only worthwhile disruptions to my morning routine are sex or surfing. We can also take a page from the playbook of mainstream media. For more than 10 seasons, NBC aired Friends every Thursday. AS a result, watching the show became a habit for millions of viewers.

Using a Calendar for Tasks and Reminders

When it comes to task completion the major difference between a calendar and a to-do-list is that the calendar accounts for time. You’re forced to work within the constraints of the 24 hours that you have. Not only that, given that there are only 24 hours it also reduces the paradox of choice. This tends to be great for scheduling time for high-level creative output.

Reminders, on the other hand, are great for things like paying bills, sending follow up emails and other low-value tasks. The great thing about reminders is that they keep popping up until you’ve actually crossed them off.

Using a Calendar for Goals

One of my favorite features of the Google calendar app is goals. This feature allows you to make time and represent the very meaningful things that Dan mentioned in our conversation like exercise, meditation, reading daily or writing a book. The Google blog describes the goals feature as follows.

Calendars should help you make the most of your time — not just be tools to track events. So as Google Calendar turns 10 today (), we’re excited to invest in more updates like Goals, and to help you find time for everything that matters — from your daily must-dos to exercising more, to just a little “me time.”

Scheduling Meetings More Efficiently

As somebody who interviews several people every week, I have to schedule quite a few meetings. That meant a lot of emails back and forth. It wasn’t until I discovered Calendly that I was able to drastically reduce the number of emails that were sent.

Since I’m asking somebody for their time, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that they should work around my schedule. This is why I always say “if none of the times work, no worries. I can work around your schedule.” This way you’re considerate of their time and you still have the possibility of not having a million emails back and forth. With rare exception, people happily pick a time on my calendar and it doesn’t take 20 emails to schedule a meeting.

Millionaires don’t use to do lists. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. You’ll be amazed at how much the likelihood of getting it done increases.

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This post originally appeared on Srinivas Rao and was published December 23, 2017. This article is republished here with permission.