biz ladiesLife & Business

biz ladies: time & calendar managment

by Grace Bonney

today the lovely clair holt of grid impact is back with a fantastic biz ladies post on time & calendar management. i’ve got about 4 different projects on my plate right now so i sure i know i could use this help- and i have a feeling most of us could use a few tips when it comes to being more efficient with our work time. so i hope you’ll enjoy clair’s post as much as i have- i already have a few new ideas for making the most of my time. thanks, clair!

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

Last week when I was watching the last episode of Mad Men, I thought about the characters that play the hard-working secretaries on the show, and I laughed out loud at the thought of having someone outside my office door reminding me of my appointments, making my coffee, and answering my phone. My how things have changed in just under 50 years….I mean, can you imagine Don Draper trading in his secretary and his Lucky Strikes for a Blackberry?


No way, really.

But maybe he would for an iPhone.

The show’s setting in the Sterling Cooper advertising agency is a pretty clear reminder that our modern workplace, in the grand scheme of things, is full of shiny, incredible inventions. Women today have a great deal more professional mobility than in the 1960’s workplace. Today’s workplace is very different in many ways and all of us – women and men, young and old – face challenges that reflect twenty-first century demands. Organizing our schedules and managing our time is a challenge that everyone comes to terms with at one point or another.

Some time ago, I came across the phrase ‘tyranny of choice’, and I thought how accurately it described the quandary many face with regard to how they organize their schedule and how they manage their time. Years later, I came across Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice. In it he proposes that more choices can often make us less happy. He presents this paradox as a type of paralysis where we have so many choices, we often end up making no choice or making a choice and wondering if there’s a better choice out there that we’ve some how missed.

It’s quite true – there are so many products and tools available to us that it’s sometimes hard to choose what works best for our lives and needs. This short article outlines how you can clarify what type of organization you need and what tools are the most appropriate to help you be productive.

Rational Beginnings | Your Self-Assessment

Learning how to develop and implement a time management strategy with the right tools takes a bit of doing. It’s a process that has to be intentional. It requires intention because you don’t want to be led around by a device. Rather you want to be the one driving the action and directing the purpose. You want to manage your time with a plan and let the tools do the bulk of the work for you. Arriving at a good approach requires that you understand your needs, strengths, and style of learning. Once you’re aware of these things, then you can pick the something that’s right for you.

Developing a way to organize your schedule and manage your time is a very personal project. If you’re thinking about taking a closer look at your methods, I suggest that you treat yourself as a client. Get an overview of how things are currently organized and managed – from an objective, non-judgmental point of view. There’s no sense in spending time beating yourself up about how many things you do wrong. Take a look at reality; don’t sugar coat the picture because the more you fib at this stage, the deeper the re-do of the whole process somewhere down the line. A good place to start is to create a new client profile for yourself. Go on, make a real one. You, after all, are your most important client. Create a file for yourself, Client Numero Uno.

Your Time Management Portfolio

1. Outline the nature/type/field in which you work. For example, are you an artist, do you run a family, are you a writer, a chef, a consultant, a decorator, a stockbroker, a veterinarian, an editor, a doctor, a business owner, etc.
2. What is motivating your desire to make a change? What are the problems? Where are the problems showing up?
3. What tools do you use? PDA, agenda, computer, assistant, etc. What do you wish you used and why don’t you?
4. Are there industry expectations for you with regard to schedules, software, etc?
5. What kind of learner/thinker are you?
6. How do you manage to-do lists?

A big part of making progress is to understand where you’re coming from. It’s really important to understand what you do now and how you work. This can happen over a number of days or weeks. Go easy on yourself and make notes on your observations. The key here is to note details about they way you organize your schedule and how you manage time. Your goal here is to be aware of what you do, not to judge it or criticize it.

During this process, keep an eye out for anything that you notice in your style of working that keeps you from getting more done. Take note of what you do that makes you feel organized, and conversely, what makes you feel unorganized. What frustrates you the most and where do you find yourself wasting the most time? Finally, and as objectively as possible, list out how your style impacts others. This is important because most of us are organizing our time in order to get things done for ourselves and for other people as well. By taking a look at how your style impacts others, you can make small adjustments that make you easier to work with. Chances are that on down the line you’ll be grateful that you stopped to make this consideration. If you think I’m crazy, come on back to this article the next time you find yourself thinking, “Does (insert colleague’s name here) think that she’s the only one on the planet? That doesn’t work for anyone’s schedule but hers.”

Take note of how you plan your day. Do you make your to-do list at the end of the day (to use the next day) or do you start it at the beginning of each day – or do you have a to-do list at all? Do you have a centralized place for your to-dos? Are they virtual? Are they on post-its? Can you find your to-do list? It makes a big difference to ‘plan your work and work your plan.’ I don’t know who came up with that saying, but it’s really true. Unless you’re someone with multiple assistants taking care of your every movement, you have to organize a way to attack your tasks.

What type of tool appeals to your learning/thinking style? Are you the type of person that needs to write something down to see it? How many days do you need to see at once? One, seven, a whole month? Does the week start with Monday or Sunday? Is it important to have a space for hourly appointments? If you are virtual calendar user, what view works best for you? How many types of calendars make sense for what you do?

Making the decision between paper & pen agenda book and a computer-based or digital method is really hard. If you think it’s important to have a written agenda as well as a virtual agenda, you must have a hard-wired organization system or else you will end up updating one and not the other.

To-Do #1 | Make a Choice

So that’s the first step: Choose what works for you. There are endless invitations out there in the marketplace that will provide an opportunity to derail you off your path. Equally, there are plenty of helpful tools that are just the right thing – or almost the right thing, and you can make it perfect with a couple of modifications.

A lot of people beat themselves up because, however much they want things to be different, a particular method doesn’t work for them. If iCal doesn’t work for you – regardless of how beautiful it is – then it’s not for you. Likewise, if a incredibly beautiful paper agenda book doesn’t suit your needs and doesn’t aid you in feeling organized then move on. Just because it works for other people or because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for you. It’s essential to feel good about what you choose. Hell, better yet, feel great about it. It’s got to be your thing, and work for you. Think about your organization like you do a staple garment in your wardrobe – like a winter coat.

For example, most of us need a good, high-quality winter coat. A coat has essential, functional needs that make it a coat. Otherwise, it’s not a coat, but rather a blanket. Everyone has their own specific critical elements that they need in a winter coat. These elements are determined by their needs. For example, considering my silhouette and coloring, I need a coat that’s knee-length, grey or camel tone with tailoring at the waist. Pockets are important, on the interior as well, and the collar needs to be high because that’s where I get the coldest. Once these components are satisfied, I can start thinking about other specific style elements and ways in which I can add panache. Further, I can get my garment customized or modified in order to meet my needs in a more personal, complete way.

Customization works for your time organization approach as well. If you aren’t able to find the type of agenda design that works for you, create your own or have someone help you create what you need. There are heaps of planners and agendas that have special features that are perfect for paper & pen people. Likewise, virtual programs (iCal and Google Calendar particularly) have special applications to help you personalize your calendar, to-do list and appointment book. The hardest part is putting a frame around how you need to see your information and what makes you feel organized. When you feel organized, it’s a good bet you’ll get more done. Whenever you feel frayed and haywire, that’s the kind of mind-state that generates more of the same. Having control over the things that are controllable helps you be on your feet and ready for the unexpected.

Heading out into the Weather | Implementation

Once you’ve got a system that you’re ready to test drive, make a time commitment to stick with the system for at least two weeks. During this time make notes and observe how things go. Does your new system allow you to see what you need? Make an effort to either consolidate your to-dos either at the end of the day, or at the beginning of each day. The important thing is to set up a routine and plan your day at the same time every day. Pick one or the other and stick with it for the full two weeks. After two weeks it should be fairly easy to tell whether planning at the beginning or end of your day works best. If you end your day with a plan for the next day, then it allows you to start your day with an overview for the day ahead.

During your test drive, try and observe when you are at your freshest and are most focused. Take note of this time and do your best to schedule that time with appointments or tasks that require potent energy. It’s perfectly fine to schedule yourself on your own schedule. If you have a project that needs your full attention, schedule the time in your calendar and negotiate this time with the appropriate people (partner, manager, colleagues, etc.). It’s okay to shut your door (even if you only have a mental ‘door’) and turn your ringer off. Thinking and concentrating is a very personal task so ask for what you need in order to make room for your ideas to bloom. Conversely, find a time in your day that works best for you to see others. If appropriate, let others know. Think of this as your version of ‘office hours’ – a time that’s always open for people to drop by.


Just as your wardrobe needs maintaining and updating, so will the way that you run your schedule. Do your best to not be too fickle and change up your method every few months. Even though you rotate your wardrobe out every season your general style remains the same, with appropriate updates for changes in trends, etc. I’m of the opinion that things work best when you update primarily with investment pieces and good accessories rather than pitching it all out and starting fresh. Hopefully, a total do-over is something you only warranted a few times in your life. Once you’ve got the main feel for your organizational style, you and your system can meet new demands and changes with agility. Creating structure and style in your approach to managing your time allows others to experience you as organized and confident and in turn, helps you be present for the things that really matter.



Clair combines her passion for the modern entrepreneurial spirit, the exchange of creative ideas, and a sense of wild possibility in her business design consultancy. Her past experience includes work in the advertising and marketing industry on an international scale, and as a leadership and development consultant focusing on German-American business partnerships.

Many of Clair’s clients are creative entrepreneurs and other independent business people who “know they can do better but don’t know where to start.” She divides her time between her native Austin and Berlin and can be found after work either riding her bike armed with a fresh pretzel or on a very long walk listening to Ira Glass or Terry Gross. Clair founded Grid Impact in 2004.


Grid Impact is a consulting firm that helps you design and implement your next step in professional development. It is hard to make an impact without a well-crafted plan and we break down the process into the chunks necessary to execute your plan. Some call it irreverent organization. We call it business design. We like to take a creative approach to your most interesting problems. We create structure to help fortify your business and develop a clear set of steps to get you to your next breakthrough success. We are hardworking and curious. We listen. We support. We challenge.

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  • Yes! While I use different reminder services, google calendar and related SMS messaging on my cell phone, all that planning is only as good as my ability and inclination to go along with what’s been planned.

  • oh great! the cultured code is such a wonderful site. i love to hear about new resources – what are some of the other sites/resources that people use?

  • Thank you so much! I just started grad school and it’s online so I really have to manage my time well. Unfortunately I have found myself floundering lately. I have a small Uncalendar (http://www.uncalendar.com/) that has helped me stay very organized in the past, but I noticed now that I’m in grad school I am easily distracted halfway through my work wanting to do other work I haven’t gotten to. I didn’t even think about using iCal on my computer, and after looking it over, seeing how I can give myself concrete times to finish things, I think it is going to help me a lot. And like you wrote, if that doesn’t work I can try something else!

  • I am semi-obsessed with all things related to organizing and thought i would share. i work in marketing/sales/client relations for an asset management firm. they use PC’s (yuck) and I use a MAC (recent convert yay!). How to reconcile? i keep my work and personal activities totally separate. for Personal use I use my iphone with iCal and subscribe to Apple’s MoblileMe service which allows for virtual syncing (check out their site for more detail http://www.apple.com/mobileme/). I have also subscribed to Things as described above but haven’t really integrated it YET. i use a wide range of apps to organize other aspects of my life Shopper (to buy lists), iperiod (self explanatory) to name a few. For Work i use a PC (not my fault) and blackberry. to to dos i am using some combination of paper and outlook tasks (just started). For paper, i am totally obsessed with these Circa note books from levenger: http://www.levenger.com/pagetemplates/navigation/products.asp?params=category=326%7Clevel=2

  • I am semi-obsessed with all things related to organizing and thought i would share. i work in marketing/sales/client relations for an asset management firm. they use PC’s (yuck) and I use a MAC (recent convert yay!). How to reconcile? i keep my work and personal activities totally separate. for Personal use I use my iphone with iCal and subscribe to Apple’s MoblileMe service which allows for virtual syncing (check out their site for more detail http://www.apple.com/mobileme/). I have also subscribed to Things as described above but haven’t really integrated it YET. i use a wide range of apps to organize other aspects of my life Shopper (to buy lists), iperiod (self explanatory) to name a few. For Work i use a PC (not my fault) and blackberry. to to dos i am using some combination of paper and outlook tasks (just started). For paper, i am totally obsessed with these Circa note books from levenger: http://www.levenger.com/pagetemplates/navigation/products.asp?params=category=326%7Clevel=2. the pages are removable, you can get all kinds of inserts, they come in different sizes AND i can get them in my beloved grid paper. thats it for now. i look forward to reading other suggetions.

  • i recently started using Thing, as well and I’m finding it really helpful. I have it on my iphone and it syncs wirelessly with my computer at my shop. I have my own business, so I’m constantly thinking of things that need to be done/ordered/sourced/remembered, so i find it really helpful to be able to add everything as I think of it to a central list on the fly. I feel more organized and less frazzled every day.

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