3 Powerful Calendar Features Most People Ignore

Are you using the full power of your electronic calendar? If the paper calendar is your paradigm for what your electronic calendar can do, you’re probably missing out.

Here are 3 things an electronic calendar can do that a paper calendar can’t. You’ve almost certainly heard of these features, but are you using them?

1. Send reminders

Your Outlook calendar can send alerts to your iPhone or iPad if you’ve added as an email account under Settings » Mail, Contacts, Calendars.

And even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can set up Google Calendar to send text message alerts to your cell.

Google Calendar

As you can see in the screenshot above, Google Calendar can also email you reminders of upcoming appointments, however far in advance you’d like.

You can specify general reminder settings, such as “always give me a pop-up 15 minutes before an appointment” (which is my default) as well as appointment-specific reminders to give you a different kind of alert for special situations.

If you’re using a Mac, Google’s popups can either use iCal, or you can get a browser pop-up if you keep Google Calendar open all day.

A word of caution: be careful not to over-use recurring reminders or you can become blind to them.

2. Send invitations

The meeting invitation feature of Outlook is essential in many organizations. But did you know that’s not an Outlook-exclusive feature?

The .ics format that Google Calendar and iCal (Mac) support works fine with Microsoft Outlook, so even if you switch to Google Calendar, you can still send and receive meeting invitations to Outlook users.

Too often, the superintendent’s administrative assistant is really the only person who understands how to use meeting invitations.

They’re worth figuring out, though, because they can ensure that everyone gets a meeting on their calendar, and gets notified if something changes.

3. Talk to other calendars

If your schedule is interdependent with someone else’s, such as another administrator or a family member’s, take advantage of the power of shared calendars.

This is possible (but a bit clunky) in Outlook, but Google Calendar was built for sharing. You can simply enter the email address of someone else who should have access to your calendar, and specify what level of access you want them to have:

Calendar sharing

Why These Features are Mostly Useless

None of these features do us any good if we don’t use them. They can save us time and increase our reliability in showing up on time for our appointments.

My challenge to you: If you aren’t taking advantage of these powerful time-saving tools, give them a try. Let me know if I can help.

—Justin

We recorded Making Time to Be In Classrooms 2 Hours a Day?! on Monday, and the recording is now available for purchase (included for HPILN members).

If you’re interested in learning more about my workshops, sign up for the free Instructional Leadership Challenge, and I’ll send you the condensed version of the workshop I did yesterday.

And the big deal is the Network:
High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network

Work Like You’re Going Home Sick

Ever get to work and realize you’re sick as a dog? Usually someone else helps you realize it: “You look terrible. Go home!”

Sick day

After making the decision to go home and rest, what do you do?

You say to yourself, “OK, I’m going home…as soon as I get this one thing done.” And that one thing gets done quickly, nothing else does, and you go home and collapse into bed.

We can learn something about time management from the way our fever-addled brains behave.

There’s a concept in finance called zero-based budgeting, which assumes that a department or organization needs no money at all. Then, any money the department wants has to be justified based on specific purposes.

This is a stark contrast to the typical process, which is based on incremental change: How much did we spend last year? Do we need to spend slightly more or slightly less? ZBB asks a different question: What do you need to do, and how much does it really need to cost?

What if we treated our time this way, like we do when we’re going home sick?

What if we asked ourselves “If I had only 10 minutes to work today, what would I get done in those 10 minutes?” Usually, it’s something that is both urgent and important.

But ZBB doesn’t force us to look only at the bare minimums. In the public sector, ZBB also asks departments to decide what they would do if funding remained the same, as well as if funding increased.

So what would you do if you spent exactly the same amount of time working as you did yesterday? (Not a very thought-provoking question, is it?)

A better question: What would you do if you could work, uninterrupted and unconstrained, for the next 168 hours? What would you accomplish? Knowing you can’t do that, what could you pluck out of that scenario and into the realm of possibility?

The routine of having a work day or work week lulls us into unproductive patters. We expect to always be busy, and we expect to always work long hours…and those expectations are self-fulfilling.

That’s why when someone suggests spending dramatically more time in classrooms, it strikes many principals as inconceivable.

But what if we turn the tables, and ask a different set of questions:

  • If I had only 10 minutes to work today, what would I get done?
  • If I had only four blocks of 10 minutes to work, what would I do?
  • If I could work without interruption indefinitely, what would I do?
  • If I spent all day in classrooms, except for a handful of 10-minute check-ins in the office, how would the day go?

These questions can lead us to much better decisions about how to spend our time. How do you focus yourself to get things done?

Productivity Benchmarking

In a 9-to-5 job, your work is over at the end of the day. There will be more work tomorrow, but today’s is done.

But we don’t have 9-to-5 jobs. Our work is ongoing, overwhelming, recurring, never-ending. You will never be done with all of your work.

We look forward to the cycles of the school year because they provide a measure of our progress. When the last bell rings and students head home for summer vacation, we know we’ll finally have a chance to catch up, get organized a bit, and look to the future.

But in the relentless day-to-day of our work, how do we give ourselves a sense of progress? How do we find the traction we need to keep the day from just slipping away?

You’ve probably had this experience: You spend a few minutes answering an email, and five more arrive while you’re answering that one. At this pace, how can you ever keep up with your inbox, much less get anything else done?

Or perhaps you work all day long putting out fires, going to meetings, responding to requests, and doing what you planned to do. At the end of the day, have you ever felt like you got nothing done, despite all that activity?

There’s a simple way to get traction and prevent the day from slipping away. I call it benchmarking.

Benchmark

When you benchmark, you know when you’ve accomplished something. If you use a paper to-do list, crossing off a finished task is a form of benchmarking. It’s tangible, it gives you positive feedback, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment and closure.

Another benchmark is what’s popularly known as “inbox zero,” when all of your email has been processed. Your work may not be done, but at least you’ve seen all of your email and made a decision about what to do with each message. Your stress level drops immediately when you don’t have any mystery emails waiting in ambush.

For me, getting my desk clean is another productivity benchmark, as is going through the big pile of paper on my desk and adding next action stickies.

As an instructional leader, you might set a benchmark to visit a certain number of classrooms each day, or have a certain number of substantive conversations about teaching with your staff.

Why does benchmarking work?

  • It gives you a focus
  • It gives you a specific goal
  • It helps you decide what to squeeze into a spare moment or do before you leave
  • It helps you recognize when you are and aren’t spending time on the right things

What do you benchmark? How does it work for you?

Fitting Instructional Leadership Into Your Day

I’d love to get into classrooms more, but…

I’d love to provide more meaningful feedback to my teachers, but…

I’d love to get to know students and what they’re learning better, but…

Here’s the thing: none of these are excuses. They’re reluctant statements about reality.

This is a tough job, and one that always pulls us in more directions than we can go at once. Everything we have to do is important, and everything needs to be done now, and there’s never enough time to do the non-urgent things we’d really hoped to spend more of our time on.

Steven Covey called them Quadrant II activities – things that are truly important, but not urgent compared to the fires we’re constantly putting out. Things that tend to get crowded out by the urgent.

Most of our instructional leadership work falls into Quadrant II.

The secret of Quadrant II work is a principle I call ergopneumatics, which combines the Greek roots ergo, meaning “work,” and pneuma, meaning “air in motion.”

air compressor

Like compressed air, “compressed work” moves faster and is more useful. With an impact wrench, you can take the wheel off a race car in a few seconds. With your work under compression, you’ll get things done when you need to be done with them, not when you get around to finishing them.

If I have the rest of the day to write this evaluation, it’s going to take me…you guessed it: the rest of the day. And I might still decide I need to take it home and work on it more after the kids are in bed.

If, on the other hand, I have 45 minutes to write this evaluation, and then I’m leaving on a trip, I’m going to get the evaluation done.

The surprising secret? The evaluation I spend all day on isn’t going to be any better. I can write just as good an evaluation in 45 minutes, and if I have to, I will.

This is why I’m not completely anti-procrastination. Procrastination forces us into compressing the time we spend on a task. But it has downsides too, so I think purposeful compression without procrastination is even better.

Give it a try: impose a deadline on yourself, and commit to stopping and doing something else the moment that deadline arrives. (It’s essential that the deadline be made real by a commitment you make to someone else.) More often than not, you’ll be done with your task. Some examples:

  • Writing anything
  • Processing your email
  • Working through a stack

When we compress our work, it gets done in less time, just as a compressed pile of clothes fits into the suitcase even if it looks too big before we compress it.

Why does this work? A couple of reasons:

  • It focuses us on a clear goal
  • It forces us to mentally keep track of whether we’re on pace, and we can adjust as needed
  • It energizes us to push through and avoid distractions

Give it a try and let me know what you think. If you need to finish an evaluation today, commit to visiting a classroom 50 minutes from now, and get cranking on that eval.

Report back in the comments. How has the principle of ergopneumatics worked for you?

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