As almost anyone who knows me can tell you, I love organisation. Like, I love it.
Over the years, I’ve downloaded loads (loads) of organisation apps, bought all kinds of notebooks and diaries, and trialled more organisational methods than I can even begin to articulate.
I really, really love organisation.
I also happen — and I don’t think that I’m bragging too much when I say this — to be someone who manages to get a lot of work done. I am, genuinely, very productive. And that includes my professional and personal life. As the sole staff in the department where I work, I am tasked with managing everything that needs to happen to make sure that my department runs. I also — partially because I just can’t bring myself to say no to something that means I get to have a real impact on my campus and teaches me something new — have a habit of signing myself up for all sorts of committees and extra commitments. That means that, more often than not, my professional to do list is long and complex because, inevitably, every project I’m working on is at a different stage of completion.
My personal life, too, is also quite busy because (as I think my goals post from this year shows) I have quite a lot that I want to be working on this year.
All of this means that I’ve had to develop a way of tracking my progress across various projects and learn how to budget my time so that I’m able to get everything done (and still have time to breathe and vege out and watch Netflix). I’ve used a lot of task managers in the past — I used Asana for a while, I used the to-do list on Notion, and then I’ve cycled through a fair few paper methods — but over the last few months, I’ve started to lean quite heavily on my Google Calendar and it’s honestly changing my life.
Especially now that Google Tasks is a thing.
My entire life is now organised through a time-blocked Google Calendar and Google Tasks and, from time to time, a good old fashioned brain dump into my notebook.
The brain dumps themselves aren’t too complicated. I usually just take a moment at the beginning of every week and every month to list out the things that I need to get done during that space of time. Sometimes I can think that through directly in the Tasks app, but sometimes I need to scratch things out and think things through a bit before I decide how to best address certain things, especially because I’m usually breaking down bigger tasks into subtasks to make sure I get everything done on time.
That brain dump, though, makes it way onto my Tasks list as soon as it’s complete and then everything auto-populates into my calendar and ahhh… that’s where the magic is, my friends.
Here’s an example of a week earlier this month —
You can see on the right-hand side that I’ve got that running task list of things that I wanted to address. L&A edits were broken out, roughly, into weekly chunks because I wanted to get those edits complete before the end of the month (and, as of this moment, I’m on track, though I’ve got a 15 chapter week coming up so I’ll have to make sure I prioritise my time well enough to get it done). Those tasks populate in the ‘all day’ part of my Google Calendar and that visual is nice, especially when I’m trying to plan ahead. There are a few days coming up (on both my personal and professional versions of this calendar) where I have a lot of deadlines, so it’s nice to be able to visualise that and start to plan to complete some of those things early to save myself the future stress.
My to-do lists have changed the most over the last few years in terms of how I track things. I have pretty consistently used an electronic calendar (though I made the switch last year from my Apple Calendar to my Google Calendar and I was also maintaining a paper calendar up until about early 2017) and I like the efficiency that these calendars bring into my life. I can carry them around everywhere, they’re easier to update and schedule recurring notes to myself… all the usual things.
But I was still in the habit, for the longest time, of just using a good ol’ fashioned legal pad to write down and store my to do lists, and that meant I was constantly re-writing them when they got too heavily scratched out (because that bothered me for some reason) and I was having to jot myself little notes if I was, for some reason, leaving my office and going to work on things elsewhere but I was concerned I’d forget what I was supposed to do.
The paper to do lists just weren’t functional for me anymore.
And that’s why I love the Task piece of Google Calendar. It shows up alongside my other appointments (therefore making it easier to block my calendar to make sure I address certain tasks), it’s easy to edit and change things around as my life changes, and I still get that completely satisfied feeling I get when I sit down with a legal pad and scribble down thirty things that need doing — I just, then, assign them all due dates and stick them into my calendar.
It’s made me a more efficient worker (it definitely stops me putting off things I’m not the most keen on doing) and has helped me better visualise my workday so that I feel like I have a better handle on everything.
On top of how much I love Tasks, Google Calendar has (probably) made itself my forever calendar.
I love how easy it is to build new calendars, I love the Goals function, I love the aesthetic. I love my Google Calendar.
I’ve got calendars for a few different categories in my life — my personal calendar (blue), my professional calendar (orange — and then my actual work calendar syncs up in a slightly brighter orange), my work holiday calendar (yellow), tasks (green), my son’s calendar (red), and the family calendar (purple). I use these calendars to note down different events/appointments/etc that I have to remember and to calendar block tasks for my day (usually my mornings, evenings, and weekends because, otherwise, I’m at work). I know that other people who do calendar blocking have calendars for every type of event they’re scheduling — work, appointments, workouts, errands, etc. etc. etc. — but I’ve limited it to these few because 1) that much going on in any given week sounds overwhelming and 2) I don’t really think that I’d find that that helpful. But, as always with calendars, I think that so much of it is about trial and error and figuring out what works best for you.
You can see in the sample calendar that I have my morning blocked out pretty fully — I move from writing at 5am to getting ready at 6am to commuting at 7am and those are standing appointments on my calendar every workday. I remove those appointments whenever work is closed and calendar block those days with my own tasks. Those days usually end up looking like this —
Weekends usually end up looking that way as well. My weekend scheduling isn’t nearly as strict as my weekday scheduling because, of course, my son is home! So even if I’ve carved out two hours on a Saturday morning to be working on something, I am definitely not focused for those two hours. My son is a bit older and, at this point, is content to play without me bothering him, but I still like to check in and make sure that we spend time together on the weekends. I have a standing appointment on Sunday (well, it’s nearly standing — the time shifts a bit every weekend so I schedule it every week, but we go all the time) to go on a long walk with my son at a local hiking trail. It’s a bit of exercise, which is nice, but mostly I just like getting outside with him and chatting about random things (usually Pokemon).
I used to work a little more in the evenings after work but, lately, I’ve let that time become free time that I use to check off some of the goals that I’ve set up in Google and to just sit on the sofa and watch Netflix (I’m currently watching Travels with my Father and it is absolutely hysterical) or read a book (I’m currently reading Brit(ish) and would defo recommend).
It’s hard, giving up on what I sometimes tell myself is free time I should be using to work on my writing but honestly — I deserve the time to breathe a little bit. I deserve time to sit on the couch and do nothing.
It helps a little bit, I think, that the goals I’ve set also happen to pop up in the evening, so I’m letting myself feel at least a little productive.
I currently have three goals set in my Google Calendar — run four days a week, do yoga every day, and learn a bit of French every day. You schedule these like you would any other task in your calendar (on the app you just click that little plus sign in the bottom right) and then it moves you through a set of prompts to help you decide how you want calendar to schedule this for you —
Once you’ve clicked through these screens, your Calendar will automatically add appointments to your calendar based on the free time that you have available (it works best, I’ve found, when I’ve already calendar-blocked the rest of my day with the things I want to accomplish). And, my favourite part, it learns when you complete these things and learns to schedule according to your preferences.
We’re in the 21st century, my friends.
You do have to go into your calendar to note that you’ve completed these goals — they give you little completion circles at the bottom of each goal so that you can see how well you’ve been doing on any given week —
The physical fitness goals can be connected to your health app, which is great because it means that I don’t have to remember to go into my calendar and physically tick it off. My Nike Run app is automatically connected to my health app anyway, so any time I run on the app (which is always), it’s all done automatically. I do yoga on YouTube, so I have to enter that into my Health app, but it’s an engrained part of the process now, so it’s not too cumbersome.
I find the goal setting piece to be a really nice way to articulate my continued commitment to things that I want to make a more regular presence in my life. I see it on my calendar every day, I get notifications on my phone and laptop when it’s time to complete them, and while that doesn’t mean I’m perfect (see — my French goal), it does mean that I’m constantly confronted with this thing that I want to learn in a gentle, nudging reminder sort of way.
So that’s how I organise my life! This was a long post (yikes), but this is honestly one of my favourite topics in the entire world. So now I want to know — how do you organise your life? What apps do you use or are you strictly a paper person? I always love hearing about other people’s techniques (especially because it ends up giving me ideas!) so let me know!!