To-Do List vs. Calendar

When and how to use a calendar as a to-do list

To-Do List vs. Calendar

Whether you work from home or in an office, it's important to plan your day and track the time spent on daily activities. Planning helps get work done and boosts productivity in the workplace. The most popular ways to schedule tasks, appointments, and meetings are to-do lists and calendars.

To-do lists are more prevalent and you might already know how to use them. All you have to do is write down anything you wish to do, then cross them out as soon as they’re completed. However, to-do lists require a lot of discipline to work on because of how open-ended they are. One task might lead to another sub-task, which might pull you into a never-ending loop of things to complete before you can call it a day. No wonder things can get overwhelming, and nearly 41% of all to-do list items are never completed.

On the other hand, calendars are much more effective. You can use them to prioritize your responsibilities, set respective time slots, and actually get things done. Adding your appointments, deadlines, and reminders to your calendar is the most efficient option for anyone who wants to be at their productive best while working from home.  

This post takes a detailed look into how to effectively use both to-do lists and calendars, and explores the possibility of combining these two for best results.

Benefits Of Using To-Do Lists

To-do lists are so widely loved because they provide structure to your workday and let you form a clear game plan of how to tackle your tasks. Some benefits of to-do lists are:

  • Create order: To-do lists help you visualize all the things that need to be done.
  • Reduce mental stress: Writing a list of tasks down on a piece of paper or a mobile app helps free up brain space. To-do lists act as an external memory aid that reduce the stress of mental note-taking.
  • Better planning: With a to-do list, you can break down abstract goals into concrete actions. You can even break large projects into smaller chunks, so you can tackle them one step at a time.
  • Serve as an accountability tool: To-do lists allow you to monitor progress by crossing items off your list.

Why To-Do Lists May Not Work?

Although to-do lists have their benefits, they don't always work.

  • Difficulty in prioritizing tasks: When you have many items on your list, it's possible to get overwhelmed. Sometimes, you may start with tasks that are easier and faster to complete, and end up leaving the harder tasks for later. When you finally get the time to address the difficult tasks, you’re too exhausted to complete them, leaving your to-do list half-done.
  • No provision for time-blocking: When you write a to-do list, you have no way of accurately measuring how much time a task should take. That way, if a task on your list takes too long, you might not have the time or energy to cross off another item on your to-do list.
  • Cause more stress than proficiency: Seeing an incomplete to-do list at the end of the day might cause you undue stress. This can lead to feelings of guilt and self-blame despite how productive you were during the day.

How To Use To-do Lists?

A to-do list can help boost productivity but you must know how to tackle it. Here are some ways to make sticking to your to-do lists easier:

  • Make separate lists: For items that need to be completed immediately and ones that need to be done some time in the future, it’s best to have two separate lists. Consider making a third list for personal goals, aims, etc.
  • Add actionable items: Break down a bigger goal into smaller steps so your to-do list is filled with actionable items. For example, instead of writing “Coordinate with client,” you can write, “Reply to client emails,” “Get confirmation from boss,” “Convey final project changes to client,” etc. This way, you have three tasks instead of one, but at least you know where to begin and what needs to be achieved to cross them off your list.
  • Use it for tasks without deadlines: To-do lists are awesome for tasks that don't have a fixed deadline. It's better to add such tasks to your list than to clutter your calendar.
  • Use it to list micro activities: When trying to remember to perform smaller tasks, you should use a to-do list. Micro activities include those tasks that will take 15 minutes or lesser time to complete.
  • Batch similar tasks: Look out for work you can do in batches, and then add them one after another on your to-do list to boost productivity.
  • Daily reviews: Reviewing your to-do list at the end of each day to see which task took how much time is a great way of finding tasks that can be outsourced or automated. It can also give you a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses, so you can plan your day better the next time onwards.

Benefits Of Using Calendars

Calendars can work for anyone regardless of what they do. They are especially useful for entrepreneurs, executives, freelancers, students, and parents. A calendar helps to block time in your day so you can stay focused on each task. They are the most convenient and effective way to schedule tasks, meetings, and events.

  • Useful for time-blocking: Using a calendar compels you to visualize your day in the form of time blocks, thus giving each task a particular time slot. This increases the probability of getting things done on time.
  • Scheduling reduces stress: When you schedule tasks on your calendar, you’ll be more likely to complete them by their set ending time. This eliminates the undue stress of seeing a bunch of tasks on a to-do list and not knowing which task to start when.
  • No over-committing: On a to-do list, you might end up overestimating your capabilities and add more tasks to your day than you can complete. The time blocks on a calendar help you visualize better which task will take how much time, thus reducing the risk of over committing.
  • Stops you from wasting time on unproductive tasks: When something isn’t on your calendar, you won’t be inclined to wasting time on them. Organizing your day on a calendar helps you focus on your schedule.

Why Calendars May Not Work?

Although calendars are super effective, there have some drawbacks.

  • Unrealistic expectations from self: You usually don't know for sure how long it might take to complete a specific task. It can be frustrating when you're unable to complete your tasks before a new one is supposed to begin. You may have to reschedule some tasks until later.
  • Difficult to accommodate unforeseen tasks: Since your entire day is planned on a calendar, it gets hard to make time for a task that arose unexpectedly. Seeing unfinished tasks on your agenda while racing against time to complete the one you’re working on can lead to undue stress.

Calendars work best when you’re disciplined enough to stick to your schedules, or you have tasks that you know will get over by a fixed time, for example, meetings. They keep reminding you there's always a deadline to keep you in check.

How To Use Calendars?

If you want to boost productivity in your personal and professional life, a calendar definitely gets the job done. Here's how to make the most of your calendar:

  • Try the Pomodoro technique: First popularized by the entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, this productivity method involves working for 25 minutes, followed by a short break for five minutes), and so on. While marking tasks on your calendar, you can book 25-minute slots so you can be hyperfocussed during that time. Knowing that a break follows definitely helps in boosting productivity.
  • Set buffers for transitions: When you time-book your day, allow some gaps so you can transition from one task to the next. Research has shown that the human brain gets tired if it switches between tasks too quickly. Gaps between tasks prevent mental exhaustion and allows you to get into a mood that’s conducive for the upcoming task.
  • Set reminders: An online calendar can remind you of upcoming events and tasks. You can also use it to know when your bills are due or when you need to make a purchase.
  • Pick a calendar app: Online calendar apps are like personal assistants. They encourage work-life balance. You can access your calendar on multiple devices, check your availability, and create new schedules with just a few clicks. You can also use online calendars to create recurring events like a skip level 1-on-1 meeting (link to published article).
  • Audit previous calendars: At the end of every month, audit your calendar to understand your peak productivity hours and most enjoyable tasks. Some questions to ask during such audits are:
  • What were the activities you loved doing the most?
  • Which category of tasks took you the longest and shortest times?
  • Are there any tasks that consistently took longer than the allotted time? Can you automate or outsource them in any way?

The hybrid approach: How to combine both to-do list and calendar

Calendars are mainly useful for time-bound tasks and events, while to-do lists are for making a roadmap of what needs to be achieved during the day. Although each has its pros and cons, you can use them both to organize your workload and boost productivity. If you'd like to benefit from both these task management tools, you can choose to combine a to-do list and a calendar.

The hybrid approach involves using a to-do list to keep track of your tasks and a calendar to manage your time efficiently. Anything that requires time blocking or scheduling can be added to your calendar.

  • Your to-do list can act as a brain dump,
  • The calendar can be used to add structure to your day by organizing these tasks according to what time slots they need to be completed it.

This way you can prioritize your tasks better. You will also have a roadmap for the day before starting to work, rather than arbitrarily picking the easiest task first.

Undoubtedly, calendars are better suited to working professionals than to-do lists. They ensure you complete your tasks on time and show up for meetings. Combining your calendar with a to-do list makes it possible to organize your tasks, lists, and reminders in one place.

For business owners and employees alike, the remote work experience can be made more productive by streamlining tasks and meeting notes with a Google Calendar extension like Loopin. With the Loopin Chrome extension, you can take meeting notes right on your calendar without switching tabs, access previous meeting notes with a single click, and get notified of upcoming meetings without having to constantly check your to-do list for any reminders. This simple tool can enhance the hybrid calendar-to-do list model and boost your workplace productivity, whether you're working from home or in an office.

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