The thing is, we all like to tell ourselves that we have a good grip on our time. Maybe because we’re aware of the fact that we don’t have an unlimited amount of it so it makes us feel better. Or we justify it by telling ourselves it won’t be this hectic down the line. We’ll have more time to tackle that backlog once this big deal is signed. More time for hobbies once the kids are in college. More time to spend with friends and family once our career picks up. Whatever it may be, we’re really good at standing in our own way towards a real work-life balance. And, as much as we hate to admit it, on the scales of work and life, the weight will usually tip to one or the other.
So what’s the secret to achieving that perfect balance without sacrificing anything? Simple – time management. And there’s no greater ally in that battle than your Google Calendar. No matter if you’re a complete beginner or just looking for ways to up your calendar game, you’ve come to the right place.
The benefits of using Google Calendar
Google Calendar does much more than allowing you to schedule meetings. In fact, it can become your greatest productivity asset – if you let it. The truth is, Google Calendar is no longer just a digital agenda. You can now:
- insert appointment slots
- put down to-dos
- look for available times in shared calendars
- subscribe to calendars of interest
- set your calendar to decline meetings at specific times
And with a little effort and some organizational tricks, you can have your day planned out in no time. This guide will cover all the features at your disposal in detail, which means we’re starting from scratch. If you’re already using Google Calendar and want some tips to make it work better, you might want to skip a few paragraphs ahead.
Google Calendar use options
Besides browser access, you can also download Google Calendar as a desktop and mobile app. Once you’ve decided on where and how you want to use it, it’s time to start setting it up.
How to get started with Google Calendar
If you’re one out of 1.8 billion, you already have a Google account. And that’s all you need to get access to Google Calendar. After logging into your Gmail, the only thing left to do is go to google.calendar.com.
If you’re anything like me a year ago, you aren’t using a digital calendar. I get it – a calendar can’t give you the same satisfaction as pen and paper. The truth is, a digital solution will never give you that burst of happiness that comes with crossing things off your list. Or is it just me? Anyways, if you don’t already have a digital calendar, you’ll want to skip right ahead to step two. Since you have no calendar to import, you’ll need to start by putting in your tasks and appointments manually. You’ll find more tips on how to organize them a bit later on.
Now, if you already use a digital calendar but aren’t on the Google bandwagon yet, I’ve got good news. Registration for a Google account is completely free and importing your events is simple. You can find out how to do it by taking a look at the first step below.
Step 1: Import your data into Google Calendar
Someone once said: “Before you import, you must export.” Probably. In any case, go into your current calendar of choice and find the Export option in the menu. You’ll get a choice of multiple formats. The best one for later import into Google Calendar is .csv, but choose vCard if you use Apple Calendar.
It goes without saying, but remember where you saved the data you exported. My recommendation would be desktop since you’ll be using it right away, but any folder on your computer works. Next, in your new Google Calendar, go to Import & export. All you need to do there is choose Import and upload your file. Congrats, you’ve just imported all your calendar data!
Step 2: Adjust your general settings
In the upper right corner, click on the gear icon to get to all the available settings. Under General, you can adjust your:
Language and region
This setting depends solely on your preferences. Although the language and region will be set automatically based on your Google account settings, you can change this at any time.
A particularly useful feature if you’re working with people in different parts of the world. Setting your time zone will make sure your meetings happen during reasonable hours. Note that Google Calendar will schedule all the events you create in the time zone stated in the settings. You can always change this in the event itself, but more on that later.
In your Google Calendar, you have the choice to display the current time in different locations of the world. To do this, simply choose Show world clock and choose the locations you want to add. The world clock will appear on the left of your calendar, under the month view. Note that you will only be able to see the world clock on wider screens (meaning, not your phone).
To make event scheduling faster and easier, you have the option to set the default event duration. In Google Calendar, you can set it as 15, 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, and 120 minutes. Besides that, you can set default guest permissions and choose whether you want meetings you haven’t accepted yet to appear in your calendar.
These allow you to adjust if and how much time in advance Google Calendar will remind you of your events.
This set of settings has the biggest impact on your calendar’s appearance. As it usually works with features, some are more useful than others when it comes to the looks of your calendar. For example, you most likely won’t need to see week numbers, and displaying short meetings the same size as 30-minute ones might be misleading.
However, you might want your calendar to reduce the brightness of past events. This will help keep your calendar look clean and you won’t have to think about which day it is (or is this also just me?). And if you decide to create more than one calendar for yourself and have access to others’ calendars as well? The side-by-side feature in Day View will come in handy. But we’re not done yet – you can also change your start of the week to Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
Events from Gmail
In your Google Calendar, you can turn on email scanning. This means that you’ll be letting Google read your emails and automatically add events to your calendar. For example, if you order a plane ticket online, you won’t need to add the flight into your calendar yourself.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is a very useful and boundary-setting feature. If you want to ensure that you aren’t being pulled into a meeting in your free time, I highly recommend it. Note that this feature, along with Main work location, is only available to G Suite users.
Main work location
If you have a set address you work at, you can state it in your calendar settings. It can be useful if you have physical mail or in-person meetings coming in.
By default, there’s a list of keyboard shortcuts available in Google Calendar. You can choose not to use them by unchecking the box for this setting.
Step 3: Add and share calendars
Once you enter your Google Calendar, you’ll notice that you already have two default calendars. One of those has the same name you entered in your Google account, and the other one is Birthdays. While the former will be empty, the cool thing about the Birthdays calendar is that it will gather the data from your contacts. All you need to do is sync them to your Google account.
Now, if one calendar is not enough for you to organize your work and free time, you can add as many calendars as you need. For example, you might want to have a work calendar to share with your colleagues and a private calendar to share with family and friends. The best thing about it? You can customize the colors of the calendars so you don’t accidentally share the wrong one.
In order not to have to enter public holidays yourself, you can also go to Browse calendars of interest. You can subscribe to global and regional holiday calendars, sports events calendars, and many others. And if your account is managed by your company, you will be able to access all your colleagues’ calendars with no hassle.
Take care before you share: Google Calendar permission levels
Always be careful when sharing your calendar. Depending on how much information you want to share, you’ll need to choose from the following access levels:
- See only free/busy gives you a fair amount of privacy. The people you give this permission will only see when you are busy, but not what you’re doing.
- See all event details allows people to see what you’re up to, but doesn’t let them make changes.
- Make changes to events gives people control over when and how your events get on the calendar. You might want to use this one if you have an assistant.
- Make changes and manage sharing is a scary one for a lot of people. It gives people full control over your calendar, complete with the power of letting more people see it.
How to create an event in Google Calendar
When it comes to scheduling, Google Calendar’s biggest advantage is that it’s user-friendly. Once you’re in calendar view, you have two ways of scheduling an event: from a pop-up or from a new window. Here’s how to access them both.
Pop-up window scheduling: click on the Create button on the top of the left sidebar or click once on the time you want.
New window scheduling: click on the Create button on the top of the left sidebar and then choose More options. Or, double-click on the time you want and the new window will open on its own. Note that this is the scheduling view where you can customize the color of your events.
It’s important to note that neither way is more correct than the other. How you choose to schedule your events is ultimately a matter of preference. Since pop-up scheduling is fast and easy, we’ll stick to that one in this guide.
Once you’ve opened the pop-up, add the title, date, time, and location of your event. If you want to, you can also add guests by typing in their email addresses. The email addresses of your contacts will populate automatically. Once you’ve added the guests, you can add the agenda by either typing it into the calendar or by attaching a document.
Note that you can change guest permissions for each event. This option allows you to control whether guests can modify the event, invite others, and see the guest list. If you don’t want anyone to change your event details, simply take away those permissions. When you’re happy with the contents of your event, hit the Save button. If you’ve added guests, another pop-up will appear asking you whether you want to send invitation emails. Don’t worry if you click on Save accidentally – you will have the option to go back to editing.
What can you put in the Location field in Google Calendar?
The Location field in Google Calendar allows you to do more than enter a physical address. For instance, if you paste a videoconferencing link into the Location field, your guests will only need to click on it to join.
Apart from links, you can also add phone numbers – and yes, they will be clickable. If it’s a simple one-on-one call, entering the phone number with the country code will do the trick. But what if you are dialing into a conference call that requires an access code? Glad you asked. You will need to go through the following procedure (no spaces between steps):
- Put in the phone number
- Add two commas
- Follow the commas by the access code
- Finish with the # sign
How to set Out of office in Google Calendar
Going on vacation or don’t want to be available at a certain time? The Out of office feature is your best friend – if you use G Suite, that is. When you click on it in your calendar, you simply have to choose the date and time when you’re unavailable. Apart from changing the default title, there are other customization options as well:
- Automatically decline meetings. Or choose not to. It’s as simple as unchecking a box.
- Choose which meetings to decline. The default setting is to decline all meetings. But if you have a recurring meeting you want to attend, you have the option to decline only new invitations.
Change the default away message. When your calendar is set to Out of office, it will send out a decline message when you’re invited to a meeting. Instead of having “Declined because I am out of office”, you can personalize the message to whatever you want.
How to create a Task in Google Calendar
If you need to have a to-do list to keep yourself in check, the good news is you can do it right in your Google Calendar. Click on Task, put in what you need to do and when, and you’re good to go. And when you finish, simply mark it as done.
How to use Appointment slots in Google Calendar
Appointment slots are a great solution for G Suite users who want to have a dedicated time for meetings. For example, if your workflow gets disrupted throughout the day, you might want to limit your availability. Clicking on Appointment slots allows you to choose the date, time, and duration of the meetings.
Other useful Google Calendar features
We’ve covered a lot by now, but we’re not done yet. The truth is, Google Calendar offers so many features that it could easily become your best productivity tool. Here’s what else your calendar can do.
Display multiple time zones
If you work with people from different time zones, having their time right next to yours can be a game-changer. You won’t need to calculate the time difference and risk scheduling a meeting in the middle of the night. All you need to do to add another time zone in your calendar view is go to Settings > Time zone > Display secondary time zone.
Time zone sync
As you travel, your Google Calendar will recognize the time zone you’re in and adjust accordingly. No need to go into settings and change it yourself or let everyone know where you are. All you need to do is check Update your primary time zone in settings.
This feature is especially useful if you have a lot of back-to-back meetings in a day. It allows you to take a break between them by shortening 30-minute meetings by five, and longer meetings by ten minutes. You can enable this by checking the box next to Speedy meetings under Default meeting duration.
10 tips on managing your calendar
Now that you know what features you can use to organize your calendar, it’s time to start using it to your advantage. While managing your time is a good thing, micromanaging it isn’t. Here are some tips that will help you organize your time effectively.
- Plan ahead. You have to spend time to make time. The only way your calendar will work for you is if you take time to organize it.
- Prioritize. If it’s not important, it doesn’t deserve the space on your calendar. Think about the most important task of the day and do it first. That way, you make sure everything gets done on time.
- Use time blocks and turn them into theme blocks. If you do all your similar tasks one after another, you won’t have to shift focus every few minutes.
- Limit yourself with reminders. If you have too many tasks in a day, block out time available to do each. Use your reminders as landmarks and make sure you stop working on a task when the reminder rings. That way, you are limiting the time you spend working on one particular problem.
- Use the extra fields. If you plan your calendar a week or even a month in advance, chances are you won’t remember what you were thinking while creating an event. That’s why the extra fields are there – give your future self some context.
- Give yourself focus time. If you’re working on a project that requires you to be focused, block out the time in your calendar. Turn off all notifications so you don’t get distracted.
- Think about having designated days for meetings. If meetings are too disruptive for your workflow and concentration, this might be a good idea. You can even let people schedule the times themselves by putting up appointment slots.
- Use Out of office to mark yourself unavailable. This can help you put up a boundary between your professional and personal life. Whether it’s lunch, a walk around the neighborhood or playtime with your dog, you deserve some free time.
- Don’t add events just for the sake of adding them. That is, if you aren’t planning on going through with something, it shouldn’t be in your calendar.
- Stick to the plan. Whatever your calendar organization strategy may be, make sure you follow through. After all, there’s no point in making a plan if you aren’t going to stick to it.
Whether you want to be more organized at work or in your free time, Google Calendar has everything you need to do it. It’s easy to use, free, and offers a huge range of features that can make you more productive. It’s a solution for teams and individuals alike and it’s only getting better with time.