A few years back, I took a course on organization with one of my favorite business coaches, George Kao.

Until then, I had a constant sense of living for tomorrow, always hoping I’d have time to enjoy my life once I finished the current project. But seeing George’s schedule inspired me and, in retrospect, changed my life.

After seeing George’s calendar, I changed my calendar from a default monthly view to a weekly view, scheduled time for breaks, a weekly review practice, responding to emails, bigger projects and goals, exercise, and friends, and color-coded each type of activity.

I quickly discovered—as have many of my clients have since then—that this practice, which I came to call conscious calendaring—helped me develop a better sense of how much time I needed to get tasks done, set more realistic goals, pause throughout my days, close the computer at the end of the day, and accomplish my goals.

And, I found that whereas productivity culture trains us to believe that we should do more than is humanly possible and that we should hack our way into superhumanly manufacturing more time, my conscious calendaring practice helps me get a human-sized amount of the most important stuff done.

I’ve included a snapshot of a week of my calendar in the show notes. To some people, it might appear rigid or extreme to account for every moment from waking until bedtime. But I can choose to veer away from my plans if I discern that changing course better meets my needs, and I often do. And as opposed to feeling constricted, my calendar helps me experience far more ease and spaciousness than I did before.

Today, I’ll share seven conscious calendaring practices that can help you integrate more pause and presence into your life and align your life with what matters most to you.

But first, let’s talk about which calendar tool to use.

Now, I’m not making any money off of this recommendation, and I’m loathe to be a salesperson for Google. And yet, if you’re not already using a digital calendar, I strongly recommend Google calendars. Bear in mind that my recommendation to shift from a paper calendar to an online system often elicits strong resistance in people who feel wedded to a paper system, so if you feel averse to using an online system, here’s what I’d say:

If your paper system has supported you to be in right relationship with time, do what works. That said, over many years of supporting many clients to shift to an online system, I’ve discovered that nearly all of my clients find that, after some initial practice and persistence, a digital calendar helps them develop a much more choiceful and easeful relationship with time.

That’s because, as opposed to a paper schedule, an online calendar allows us to easily move blocks of time around, create repeating events, shift calendar views between monthly, weekly, and other timeframes, and make other changes to reflect our current needs. Writing on paper just isn’t so iterable. And, in case you’re new to Google calendars, I’ve included a link to a great Google Calendars tutorial in the show notes. If you are completely opposed to using an online system, you might also check out Franklin Covey planners, which I’ve seen some clients have success with.

Also, I encourage you to use only one calendar to hold all your commitments. As you may have experienced, storing commitments in multiple calendars can create a feeling of frazzledness and lead to dropped balls.

Once you decide which calendar tool you’ll use, do the following:

  1. Set the default view to weekly, which I find works best for seeing time constraints and the regular rhythms of life.
  2. Create repeating blocks of time to reflect your repeating daily, weekly, and monthly commitments such as workplace meetings, childcare, or exercise. These repeating events will become your default calendar, so that you don’t have to recreate your calendar from scratch each week.
  3. Color-code your different types of tasks. This can make it easier for your brain to understand and interact with your various commitments.

Then, integrate the following seven conscious calendaring practices into your schedule as much as feels helpful and possible. And, before I share them with you, it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has the privilege to implement these practices to the same extent, depending on access to support and resources. If any of these practices feels impossible to you right now, please offer yourself some warmth and acknowledgement.

Then, if you so choose, I invite you to get curious about which steps you might be able to integrate into your life, at least to some extent.

One: Schedule Breaks Between Meetings

To do our best thinking and be fully present to the people we’re currently with, we need to pause between meetings. Although many people schedule meetings to start and stop on the same hour, say at 10am, it is literally impossible to leave one meeting and enter the next precisely at the same time. If we schedule meetings to end and begin at the exact same time, we wind up either cutting short the people we’re with in the first meeting or showing up late to the next.

To prevent this, I recommend scheduling fifteen minute breaks (or another amount of time that works well for you) between all meetings. You can use this time to pause and center, stretch, go to the bathroom, drink water, eat food, wrap up thoughts from one meeting, prepare for the next, or whatever else you need.

Two: Schedule At Least One Meeting-Free Day Per Week

My clients usually feel nervous about this change, but scheduling one meeting-free day per week is one of the most simple yet reliable practices I’ve seen for helping my clients heal from burnout. I invite you to ask yourself whether one meeting-free day per week is something that would support you, and if so, what you might do to make it happen.

Three: Identify and Articulate Times That Work Best For You to Schedule Meetings

Then, when scheduling a meeting, suggest specific times that would work for your schedule, instead of just asking the other person when they’re available, and before accepting an invitation, pause, check in with your calendar to see if it fits, and if not, offer an alternative. You might also create a scheduling link with meeting times that honor your parameters.

Four: Group Like-Tasks (including Small Tasks)

Many people drain and frazzle their energy by constantly context-switchingbouncing from one type of task to another throughout the day.

An antidote to context-switching that can effectively free up energy for deeper work is grouping like-tasks—scheduling several similar tasks back-to-back rather than scattering them throughout the day. For example, I schedule private coaching clients on Thursdays and Fridays, and when I have a lot of calls to make, I schedule Phone Call Time and make the calls all at once.

Five: Schedule Small Task Time

Small Task Time are blocks of time for tasks that take less than fifteen minutes and are a great way to minimize context-switching. Play with scheduling Small Task Time when you have less energy for creative work such as during a post-lunch slump or at the end of the day.

Six: Schedule Sleep & Bedtime

When my burned-out clients come to me for help getting clear about what’s next in their careers, they often have a hard time discerning what they want or taking any steps forward until they replenish their energy and improve their sleep. Once they’re getting enough sleep, they’re often surprised how much easier it becomes to make big life decisions.

So, if you’re often tired, and especially if you’re considering a big change, I implore you to prioritize improving your sleep. Investigate how much sleep you need—different people need different amounts, usually between seven and nine hours—and pay attention to what helps you fall and stay asleep. Commit to putting yourself to bed on time and doing the things that help you sleep better.

And if you struggle to sleep well, I’m sending you some acknowledgement for how frustrating and exhausting that can be. In case you find them helpful, here are a few steps I’ve seen help my clients get to the bottom of their sleep problems:

  1. Seeing a primary care provider to rule out medical conditions like thyroid or hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, and sleep disorders.
  2. Reading The Sleep Fix, by Diane Macedo.
  3. Googling sleep hygiene and choosing steps that resonate.
  4. Keeping a journal next to your bed and writing down any thoughts that arise as you try to fall asleep. This is my go-to practice on nights when my mind doesn’t want to stop churning.

Seven: Schedule the Bigger Pauses That Honor Your Needs

Although assembly-line capitalist culture trains us to expect ourselves to produce constantly, the reality is that, like the seasons, moon, tides, and every non-human living creature, we humans are subject to the natural rhythms of life.

I invite you to reflect on what bigger pauses you’d like to integrate into your life, such as ones that honor your bioregion’s seasons or your important cultural rituals. For example, a dear friend and I do our best to schedule a small celebration each Solstice, Equinox, and cross-quarter (February 1, May 1, August 1, and November 1), and I schedule weeks off in December and August, taking my breaks at the same time that many people around me tend to pause as well.

I invite you to think through each of these seven conscious calendaring practices and choose a next step or two to implement in the coming weeks.

Keep in mind that setting up an effective calendar system often initially takes more time than people think it should. When I first began, I initially needed to devote several hours across several days to setting up my calendar, and I needed to keep tweeking my calendar over the next several months to create a system that supported my needs well. That said, this initial investment saved me so much time and energy going forward, and no client has ever told me that they regret this investment.

Remember, celebrate yourself with each change you make. Although these steps are fairly simple, they can rewrite old habits, which can initially feel hard. You deserve celebration.

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