You probably have a bit of a love/hate relationship with your calendar. Well, maybe more hate than love. Some of this comes down to you, of course: it’s on us to manage and defend our time effectively, and to create the calendar we want. But some of your annoyance with your calendar may be due to the fact that you’re not leveraging a bunch of features that Google built specifically to make your life easier. They’re not immediately apparent much of the time -- and some of them are downright hidden -- but they’re awesome ways to make your calendaring experience a helluva lot better.
At Reclaim, we spend a lot of time in calendars. It’s pretty much our job. So we decided it’d be fun (and possibly useful) to share our nine most beloved hidden gems that Google Calendar has to offer.
1. Color-code your damn events (with purpose)!
Admittedly, this is one that many people know about -- but few, in our experience, leverage it to its full potential. Colors are a powerful way to visually categorize your calendar, helping you get a sense of where your time is budgeted and what your week is going to look like. When it comes to color-coding, we have a pretty strongly-held opinion that you should be mapping those colors to your priorities.
In other words, as you’re planning your week, start thinking about the most important things you want to get done and what tasks you need to accomplish them. Then, as you walk through your events or add new ones, add the name of the priority and a color to go with it. We also like to add colors for focus time (time by yourself) or for things that don’t map to our priorities so it’s easy to see what’s what. Here’s an example of what that might look like in practice:
Google also just made this way easier to do -- instead of having to do into the Edit screen for each event, you can now just right-click on an event and change its color from the main calendar UI, like so:
2. Turn on Speedy meetings
Speedy meetings is an awesome way to accomplish a few goals at once: first, it guarantees that you have a bit of time in between meetings to take a bio break and travel to your next event. Second, it keeps you from falling into the trap of having hour-long meetings that should really only be 45 minutes. Often, we feel pressured to use all the time we’ve allotted to a meeting, so it can be good to allot less.
When you turn this feature on in Google Calendar’s Settings page, it’ll make it so that your new calendar invites default to either 25 or 50-minute chunks, which will give you back a bit of time and maybe even encourage the meeting to end a bit sooner.
3. Allow invitees to modify events by default
Here’s a fun quiz: how many minutes per day do you spend negotiating times for meetings with your colleagues? Answer: too many.
This is a totally avoidable problem, assuming you’ve got your calendar settings right. By making your events modifiable by others by default, you open up your schedule to other people and democratize the process of finding times. That way, when Bart says he can’t make the meeting cause he has a “quick sync” with someone he clearly likes more than you, you can say “Cool Bart, no worries, you can find us a new time that works. Too bad it won’t do much to mend our friendship.” Tip: don’t say that last part, unless you think Bart has a really good sense of humor.
You can make your events modifiable by default from Google’s Settings page under “Default guest permissions”. It’s conveniently located right at the tippy-top of the page:
4. Reduce the brightness of past events
Your calendar is already a source of anxiety. You don’t need to make your eyeballs suffer any more than they have to. This is a simple way to visually distinguish the past from the present (which sounds a bit heady, though we promise it’s not) on your calendar. You can turn it on from Google’s Settings page by checking a box under “View options”.
Here's what it ends up looking like:
5. Use appointment slots for people to book time with you
Managers consistently need to create an aura of approachability and openness, and their calendar is no exception. To that end, it’s common for managers to keep regular office hours open for anyone to drop in. You can always create a calendar event for this, but appointment slots are great because you can create multiple chunks within a single window, which enables scenarios like having a “lightning round” of 1:1s in a single hour with a bunch of people without having to create an event for each 1:1.
To do this, just create an event on your calendar and select “Appointment”. You can select a bunch of smaller windows within that event and even invite folks to it, who can then select an appointment directly from the event.
6. Create a sharable calendar to show to the world
Sometimes you want to set up a meeting with folks outside of your organization. Sure, there are lots of great services for this, but they all involve a bunch of setup. Who wants that? Why not just share your GCal with folks so they can see when you’re free and when you’re busy?
This is simpler to do than you’d think. Go to your Settings page, then go to “Settings for my calendars”.
Click on your calendar, then check the box under “Access permissions” that says “Make available to public”. Make sure to select “See only free/busy (hide details” on the dropdown so that folks won’t see your oh-so-sensitive event data.
Now scroll down to “Integrate calendar” and copy the “Public URL to this calendar”. Now you can share this calendar with anyone and they can see your free/busy times!
7. Use the agenda view
Sometimes it’s good to see an agenda instead of the traditional calendar view. It gives you a sense of your day’s events at a glance without having to decipher a bunch of colorful blocks. Best of all, all your fancy color coding (see tip #1) persists in this view. To do this, just click the “Week” dropdown and select “Schedule.”
Tip: you can also just press “A” on your keyboard and your calendar will magically swap to this view. You can do the same thing for Week (W), Day (D), Month (M), and Year (Y) views!
8. Get a daily digest of your schedule
As much as we abhor email almost as much as our calendars (if not more), sometimes it’s useful to get a report of what your day is going to look like when you wake up so that you know what’s coming and are properly prepped and caffeinated for the challenge ahead.
Doing this is simple. Go back to “Settings for my calendars” and select “Daily Agenda -> Email” under the “General notifications” section. Now, you’ll get an email at 5am in your current timezone containing all your events for the day:
9. Sign up for Reclaim and start getting your week back!
OK, so this isn’t technically a Google Calendar hack, but it’s definitely a good idea if you’re looking to take control of your calendar in ways you never thought possible. You can learn more about Reclaim here, and drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Do you have other handy GCal tips that we missed? Let us know!