Why Your Calendar Is Not Your To-Do List

One thing that makes me cringe more than anything is when people tell me they don’t need a to-do list because they just use their calendar.

This can be convenient for some people because it gives them just one system to manage as opposed to having both a to-do list and a calendar, but to truly make the most of both tools calendars should be reserved for time-sensitive events only. 

We sometimes put to-dos on our calendar as a way of forcing ourselves to do things on a particular day. The problem with this is that we’re not as good at tricking ourselves as we think we are. If in the back of your head you know the task actually isn’t really due until two weeks later, you’re likely to just ignore the calendar entry and say to yourself that you’ll get to it later.

Let’s say you put “File taxes” as a to-do item on February 15th. Come February 15th you say, “Well, this really isn’t due until the end of April. I don’t have to do this today.” Your mind now gets in the habit of knowing it’s okay to ignore the reminder and all future calendar entries become less valuable.

If instead you only put appointments and meetings on your calendar that absolutely must take place on a specific date, you’ll be more likely to pay attention to those few things and trust your system that you absolutely must attend to those things on that specific day.

What Should Go On Your Calendar

Here are examples of some items on my personal calendar:

  •  7:30 a.m.: Drop off Bailey at vet. This is a to-do item that has to be done at a specific time. I can’t just have it on my regular, non-time sensitive to-do list because I may not look at that until I arrive at work at 10 a.m. when it would obviously not be a useful reminder anymore. It’s a to-do item but is essentially also an appointment.
  • 1:00 – 1:45 p.m.: Cross Fusion class at Equinox Gym. Adding a calendar entry for something like going to the gym is useful to me mostly because I really honor my calendar. This wouldn’t be a useful entry for me if I considered my calendar to list optional events I can go to. If it’s on my calendar, I’m going.
  • June 30, All Day: Ron’s Birthday. Birthdays are always a good thing to keep on calendars, but don’t make the mistake of treating these calendar entries as the to-do items related to a birthday. For example, don’t use the calendar event to remind yourself to “Buy birthday gift for Ron.” Instead, that should go into your regular to-do list, where you actually check the item off when you finish it.

What Shouldn’t Go On Your Calendar

Here are some bad examples of calendar entries:

  • January 1: Set up annual doctor’s appointments. Yes, you’re likely one step ahead of 80% of the population in that you actually took the time to set up this reminder, but an even more productive approach would be to set up a recurring annual task in your to-do list. This would accomplish the same objective of reminding you to set up annual doctor’s appointments at the beginning of the year, but you’d have the option of deferring the task (will discuss deferring more in a future post) to a later day if it didn’t make sense for you to do it on January 1st, like if you were out of town on vacation on that specific date, for instance.
  • Every Sunday: Take out trash. Again, reminders are great, but not at the expense of your calendar nagging you to do something when it might not make sense for you to do. Let’s say you’re using Google Calendar and you ask it to remind you at 8:00 p.m. every Sunday night to take out the trash. If you’re not at home and you get this reminder, how helpful is this really? Instead, if I have a to-do list that highlights items that absolutely have to get done within the day but not at any particular time, then I’m not being bugged at odd times of the day to do something that I can’t actually take action on.

take-out-trash

Instead of a calendar reminder for recurring tasks like taking out the trash, find a software app that allows you to set up recurring tasks with deadlines. These tasks with hard due dates should ideally be displayed different from tasks that are more of “would-be-nice-to-get-done-today” tasks.

In the screenshot above, I’ve asked my to-do list system to remind me about looking up different types of government construction permits (my husband and father-in-law are exploring ways to expand their construction business) and calling my insurance agent today, but I could easily defer those to another day if I don’t get to them. Having “Take out trash” highlighted in red with a due date lets me know this is something I absolutely must do today.

I’ve found that one of the biggest reasons why people use their calendar as their to-do list is not because they think it’s really effective but more so because they haven’t found a better alternative. In my next post and future posts, I’ll go over my personal system and top tools for productivity.

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