Friday, September 21, 2018

Alignment - Google Calendar

We come to the penultimate post for this series. Over the past couple of months, I have written about being stuck, getting unstuck, aligning my day, and finding peace even though I am busier than ever. A part of that alignment has come from re-aligning how I use certain tools (ToDoist and Google Calendar) and switching to a different note-taking tool (Evernote). I have covered ToDoist and Evernote in previous weeks, so today, I conclude the tool part of this series with a look at the last of the primary three items necessary for personal effectiveness - the calendar.

Many calendar options exist, but I have chosen Google, and have used it since it was in beta (I probably began using it in 2007 or early 2008, along with gmail). At the time, I traveled for business and needed something with me wherever I was. I had used yahoo for the few years prior to that, but simply did not care for it as well. So, I chose Google - and have used it for most everything since (including tasks and notes, ironically).

We all have calendars we use for various purposes, and my purpose this week is not to show how to place something on a digital calendar, but to share a couple of principles as to what I include on my calendar - and only on my calendar.

The most important reason for a calendar is to track your schedule of meetings and appointments. These appointments can include appointments for yourself. For a pastor that could include study time, sermon prep time, prayer time, etc. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the book Deep Work. The idea of engaging in deep work is that you need to schedule blocks of time to allow you to go deep, to think deeply (and often critically). If we do not plan these times, they will not happen. Personally, I have several calendars that show themselves on my Google Calendar. I have a personal calendar (family gatherings, doctor appointments, etc), one for the church, one for MY work at the church, one for PTC, and one for all other ministry aspects such as teaching at the college/seminary, helping churches, etc. All of these show on one calendar and are distinctive by color (which is the same color I use for the tasks in ToDoist). I will say more about how tasks and calendar items are kept separate in a moment. First, let me mention why I keep a separate calendar for the church and MY church work.

The idea of having two calendars may be obvious to some, but perhaps not to everyone - especially for a new pastor, particularly one at a small church, who might be reading this. The rationale is that the church will have regular items on a calendar. For instance, each week, our church gathers on Sunday mornings (Sunday School and Worship), Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. Those items are rather fixed. However, we also have other semi-regular events, special events, and meetings that are on the calendar (which is online for members or guests to view). But sometimes, something is not a church-wide event or meeting. For instance, items related to meeting with someone (or a group) about a prospective idea for the church, or mentoring someone, making a home visit, etc. do not need to be on the public church calendar. They do need to be on mine. So, I have a separate calendar for these items. However, because they are both related to the church, they both are in the same color family (green). (From a task perspective, I do not separate these items.) Another benefit of having this second calendar is that it separates your identity from that of the church. Especially for those serving at smaller churches, as I do currently, many expect the pastor to be at every function. If your calendar and the church's calendar are the same, you might fall for that trap. Having a distinction, even a minor one, can help provide an air of freedom which is important because the pastor is not the church nor is the church the pastor!

Let me move on to discuss another important distinction I make with my approach to calendaring. I do not like a cluttered calendar, so whenever possible, I leave it open. That is, I don't have to schedule my time for a lot of what I do and thus does not go on my calendar. Appointments, meetings, and gatherings (such as with family) are what go on my calendar.

A calendar is for things with dates and times. Most of the tasks I do throughout the week do not need to have a time. For instance, I am writing this on Wednesday and one of my Wednesday tasks is to take out the trash. It must be done in the morning, but I know that. Because it is a task, I have a task in ToDoist (without a time listed, although ToDoist does allow times), but not a calendar item. So, simple or even time-consuming tasks do not show on my calendar in part because I want to keep it simple. I am not trying to create a colorful mosaic. Now, if I am doing a task that may take awhile, I can schedule a block of time and simply block that time off on my calendar with the appropriate color and an event title such as Sermon Prep. But I try to keep a hard line between tasks and calendar items. I do not use this approach much (except for Deep Work) because if something unexpected occurs, you have to shuffle everything on your calendar. I used to do this thinking it made me more organized. However, I have found the white space on the calendar much more beneficial. Again, I am busier than I have ever been, but by including "less" on my calendar I have more freedom to accomplish my daily tasks and goals when I want to/can throughout the day.

So, calendars are for dates and times, not tasks. I keep a hard-edge between the calendar and task list except for the synchronization of colors which define the role I am in on a particular day and/or at a particular time. The one commonality between the calendar and task list is an item that reminds me of my overall focus for the day. For instance, apart from this blog which I typically do on Wednesday so it has plenty of time for editing before posting on Friday, today's focus is mainly church and some PTC related (if time allows). I have two all-day color-coded calendar items defined each week on Wednesday which say Focus-1-FBC and Focus-2-PTC. These same two items are at the top of my ToDoist app each Wednesday as well (flagged with the top priority - red - so they are at the top of the list). I have something similar for each of the other weekdays, depending upon the day. So, again, I keep a hard line on this distinction between dates and times versus tasks. But I know others (like my wife) who uses times within her tasks. The key is finding what works for you. But for me, keeping a hard-edge between the various tools has worked very well. (Incidentally, my tasks contain few notes, because notes are for Evernote. A note may need to outlive a task, so storing it in a separate place, unless it is specific to a particular task alone is quite helpful.)

So, that is it. A calendar is a calendar. But we can be strategic in how we use it. My comments here may not be exactly right for everyone, but after much trial and error I have found my current approach to be best for me (I did use to link ToDoist to my calendar, but found it overbearing - remember, I like a simple calendar! And remember the general premise of whitespace I mentioned several weeks ago, here.).

And with the coverage of the calendar, I have come to the virtual end of this series. Next week, I will conclude the series and make an announcement regarding the new home of this blog. Until then, be productive, but more importantly, be effective!