Max Wheeler is CEO of Alminder Inc., creator of the Mynd Calendar app for the iPhone.
We all make New Year’s resolutions in January, and most of us break them before we have even taken down our holiday decorations. Stop eating chocolate? Yeah, sure.
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But, when it comes to keeping your work and family life organized, there’s a way to stay on track. The secret: using your electronic calendar as more than just a date keeper.
By using a mobile smart calendar creatively, you can bring order out of chaos in areas ranging from bill payment to time management – and, in some cases, even break your habit of being (un)fashionably late.
It’s all a matter of getting past the 80/20 rule (80 percent of software users use only 20 percent of the features). Instead of simply entering your business meetings, doctors’ appointments and social engagements like parties and weddings as you would on old-style calendars, use all the ‘extras’ as well as the core calendar itself to help you do a better job of getting your act together.
Here are 10 ways to hack your calendar app for optimal productivity.
(1) Set a monthly recurring appointment to sit down and pay your bills. That way, you’ll never miss a payment again.
(2) Create an online shared family calendar including all school and work holidays. Then, set reminders to alert you when to book time off work, arrange child care around school holidays, and so on.
(3) If your app has a meeting scheduler, use it to block off proposed meeting times and send invitations to easily coordinate attendee schedules from your phone.
(4) Block times on your calendar to give you the ability to accomplish your goals. For example, if you want to hit the gym or go for a run three to five times a week, book it on your calendar. If spending more time with family and friends in the New Year is on your list, maximize your time by inviting a friend to work out with you. You’ll hit two goals in the same amount of time.
(5) For business, use the “Notes” field in your calendar to record information about the people you’ll meet and the proposed agenda. This will help you stay on track during meetings, and also make it easy to remember what the meeting was about if you ever need to revisit it.
Some smart calendars will even scan the “Notes” field and intelligently link your meeting to relevant information such as notes from your Evernote account or profiles of meeting attendees from LinkedIn.
(6) If you have lots of small tasks to get done, block off 30 or 60 minutes on your calendar and challenge yourself to see how many you can knock off in that timeframe.
(7) If you take paper notes, use Evernote’s Document Camera on your phone to store them digitally. Some smart calendar apps will link these notes to meeting information, making it easy to track down what you talked about without fumbling through a pile of papers.
(8) Write your property tax amounts and due dates on your calendar. Immediately write the checks and address, stuff and stamp the envelopes so that they’re ready to go as soon as the “send” reminder pops up on your calendar. If you’re self-employed, do the same with your quarterly income tax estimates.
(9) Keep your to-do list on your calendar app so that you can retrieve it easily, update it at any time, and tick items off the list as you complete them.
(10) If your calendar has drive time calculation abilities, be sure to include the destination address when you enter an appointment, even if you know how to get there. Some calendars predict your drive time based on current and historic traffic conditions and let you know when to leave so you won’t have to make excuses for late arrivals.
Remember: today’s online calendars are more than digital date books. They’re also productivity, time-saving and even habit-changing tools. So, if you are determined to get organized in 2014, turn over a new (electronic) calendar leaf. It may be the first New Year’s resolution you ever keep.