Project management skills can make the difference between business success and failure. In this first post for a series on project management, freelance writer Luigi Benetton shares what he’s learned to keep his projects on track.
Back in school, I kept one calendar for academic life and another one for other stuff, like my part-time job. That’s how I once managed to pick up a work shift during classes when I was supposed to hand in assignments.
Years later, as a freelance writer, a seasoned freelancer told me the three things I need to do to get repeat business:
- Write what you say you’ll write.
- Write to word count.
- Meet your deadlines.
I read between the lines. To not meet your deadlines, especially, can kill your chances of repeat business.
So I learned effective methods of managing projects. But even with the project management skills I’ve acquired over the years, time is still the one thing I can’t make more of. I’ve all too often looked at the scope of a project and wondered just when I’d find the time to do the work.
That’s why my calendar has to be in perfect shape. Without it, I couldn’t structure my projects or keep them on track. I’ve researched every calendar tip I come across and made many of them habits.
Here are my top 10 calendar habits.
Keep only one calendar.
Fortunately, that flub back in school was all it took for me to figure this one out. I might mentally put different types of events into different silos, but they still all occur in one life—mine.
I consolidated all my appointments from then on—professional, social, personal, errands and so on—in ONE calendar. And if I have a potential conflict, I can make better decisions (rescheduling, cancelling, rain checks) when I know what’s coming up.
Use an electronic calendar.
Ever heard of a hipster PDA? It’s a paper-based calendar, a stack of index cards held together by a document clip. Many people (myself included) consider hipster PDAs a joke because you can’t back them up.
Yes, you can lose a device just as easily as a stack of cards, or other paper-based planners, but if I lose a device, I can buy another and get the calendar back from my computer or an online backup. And in the meantime, I can still access my calendar from a web browser.
Turn emails into calendar appointments.
People frequently email me to set up appointments (and vice versa) and I don’t let those emails sit in my inbox long. I turn them into calendar appointments, then file or delete the message.
(Quick rant: an email inbox is NOT a calendar. If you use your email inbox as a calendar, you might as well throw needles into a haystack.)
I use the Mac Mail email client and the Mac’s Calendar program, and employ data detectors to speed this process up. Other email clients offer similar tools.
For a quick demo of the Mac’s calendar data detectors, check out this video at the 1:13 mark. Data detectors have changed since this video was made, but you’ll get the idea:
Use the notes field in calendar appointments.
Meeting agendas, questions, locations, content from emails, even attachments—I put all sorts of stuff in calendar entries so that they’re at hand when I’m at the meeting I’ve scheduled.
This text also contains keywords that help me quickly find calendar appointments by searching my computer for those keywords.
Invite people to meetings using your calendar.
I add people who will attend a given event as invitees in a calendar event. This goes for phone interviews for magazine articles as well as opponents in upcoming squash matches.
Once I add them to the event, invitees receive an email. I can also email the event as an attachment to the invitees.
I’d like to say I’m bullish on this feature, but calendar invitations don’t always make it through to the people I invite (thanks, spam filters). Even if they receive my invitation, I’m told it doesn’t always work. To make things worse, few people seem to use their electronic calendars as diligently as I do.
Book travel time.
It takes me at least 45 minutes by transit to get downtown for meetings, so I book that time in my calendar. That way I don’t make myself late for said appointments by scheduling other things right up to the time that out-of-office appointment starts.
I set my calendar to beep at me 10 minutes before events like telephone calls. (Sometimes I even surprise people by calling early. I think it makes me seem on the ball.)
If I’m going out somewhere, the reminder sounds 30 minutes before I have to leave.
Book one big task per day.
Given that I tend to write large projects, like articles or chapters in manuals, I book two- to three-hour stretches in my calendar. During these intervals, I focus on one specific piece of work so I can experience “flow” as I write. (By the way, I’ve found RescueTime and the Pomodoro Technique to be great productivity-enhancing tools.)
Book workouts, social events and non-work events.
All work and no play? Not me. As my days progress, my calendar shows that phone meetings and project work give way to workouts and socializing.
Keep personal stuff private.
Back when I worked as an employee and had an account on a Microsoft Exchange server, I entered my personal stuff into Outlook on my work computer. Then I used the “private” feature to hide personal appointments from other employees who might look at my calendar. (You can do this to figure out when people are available for meetings.)
Those appointments still appeared on my computer and Palm device, but nobody else knew anything about those times beyond the fact I was busy.
Peace of mind
Ever since I started my own business, I have felt the tyranny of time more acutely than I ever did when I worked for somebody else. Keeping my calendar up to date has a calming effect that helps me get things done. Finding ways to use my calendar more quickly and effectively improves both peace of mind and productivity.
Did I miss any of your favourite calendar or time management tips? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author: Toronto-based freelance writer Luigi Benetton helps technology companies explain the value they deliver in ways their business audiences understand. He’s happy to be writing for that coolest of technology companies, FreshBooks. On his plate for 2014: self-publishing two books he’s already written, including one on effectively using LinkedIn. For more information about Luigi, please visit LuigiBenetton.com or his LinkedIn profile.
More great ideas to grow your business
Discover 5 ways I grew my business using LinkedIn.
Check out these 5 ways to go paperless that saved freelancer Ritika 20 hours a month.