If you’re like most people, you’re a creature of habit: You probably have a morning routine, an evening routine, and a bedtime routine.
In past jobs, you probably got used to performing similar tasks, at similar times, in similar ways. Maybe you even had a shift schedule to uphold, or a to-do list to follow.
But when you start a new online course, or a new job working from home, it can be hard to change your habits. And it can be even harder to start a new routine. Even so, setting a schedule effectively, and adhering to it consistently, is a key differentiator between people who succeed in professional settings, and those who fail.
Because in a professional setting—whether it’s a doctor’s appointment, a meeting with a teacher, or a sales call—it’s not okay to arrive late. You need to come on-time, and you need to come prepared.
This holds true even when you’re working from home: For meetings on Zoom or Skype, appointments still need to be set, calendars still need to be followed, and good routines still need to be established. You might not be shaking hands or exchanging business cards, but the basic norms of professional behavior are still the same.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to get into the swing of things, if you have the help of a good calendar and clear communications.
1. Pick a Free Digital Calendar
If you have a Gmail account, you already have access to Google Calendar. It’s a cloud-based calendar, which means you can access it from anywhere, and you never need to worry about saving backups. Google Calendar is the calendar app that comes pre-installed on Android phones, and there’s an iPhone app available as well. It’s not a universal standard, but it’s pretty close to it.
Other common calendar tools include offerings from Microsoft (Outlook, Office365, etc.), from Apple (iCal), and calendars offered as a part of a wider technology solution (Calendly, Salesforce, Hubspot, etc). These are perfectly valid calendar options, and generally cross-compatible, but if you use them, you should make sure that you’re properly logged in so that your calendar events sync across devices.
At many tech companies, you’ll be issued a company Google account that you’ll use to access your email and other services. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon any personal Google calendars. It’s easy to subscribe to calendars from different accounts in order to keep your life organized, no matter which account you’re logged in to.
2. Always Maintain Your Calendar
It’s absolutely essential that you create a calendering routine. This not only lets you plan your own day effectively, but allows you to collaborate on scheduling with the other people in your personal and professional life. So, how do you create a calendar routine?
Schedule your tasks and meetings
Create a list of all of your daily essentials, and get them into your calendar:
Do you need to drive your kids to school every day? Make sure to add a recurring event to show that you’re busy.
Do you play soccer every Wednesday at 6pm? Get it in the calendar.
Do you always buy groceries at the same time? Calendar.
Have a standing coffee date? Calendar.
Need to remind yourself to call your mom on her birthday? Calendar.
Need to send an important email, or make a series of phone calls? Calendar.
Give yourself time to transition
The whole idea behind calendaring is to make sure that you’re never late or flustered. And it takes time to transition between appointments—nevermind that meetings sometimes run long, plus you need to give yourself time to snack, use the washroom, and clear your head.
So avoid scheduling tasks and meetings back-to-back. If at all possible, give yourself at least 15 minutes in between each appointment.
Check your calendar before you make commitments
You don’t want to take on more obligations than you can handle! So before you agree to a meeting time, or a party invitation, make sure there’s room in your schedule to accommodate it. Don’t set up conflicting meetings!
Check what’s coming up next
At the start of each day, you should already have a good idea of how your day is going to go. Do you have meetings to attend? Do you need to stop at a specific time? What do you hope to get done today?
Check your calendar when you get up in the morning, and go back to it between tasks/meetings to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Block time for yourself
When you establish a good calendaring routine, and are collaborating effectively, you make it easy for other people (like your co-workers, supervisor, clients, or spouse) to add things to your calendar. But what about you?
Don’t let everyone else control your life. Schedule time to accomplish what you want to accomplish: Whether that’s putting your head down and getting work done, or finding time to take a nap or work on a hobby.
Are you a morning person? Maybe you need to block off time in the morning to be productive.
Are you a night owl? Maybe you need to block off time in the morning to sleep in!
3. Make Notifications and Reminders Work For You
Being notified about a flight to Europe 15 minutes before takeoff doesn’t help anyone. But being reminded about your doctor’s appointment 3 days before it happens also isn’t going to be much help in getting you there on time.
To strike the right balance, customize your calendar: Don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to reminders.
When you set up a new meeting or event, adjust the reminders according to the situation. If it’s something you do every day, you probably don’t need a reminder at all. But if it’s an exceptional event, put in a reminder with enough advance notice to get you there on time.
If you need to, set your notifications to arrive by email, control which notifications are pushed to your phone, or look into other calendar tips like using shortcodes and color-coordinating your events.
4. Communicate Your Attendance
If you receive a meeting invite, and you’re able to attend, make sure to respond accordingly on the invitation. That way, the host will know that they should expect you and that the meeting is indeed confirmed.
Similarly, if you can’t attend a meeting, decline the invitation or suggest an alternate time. You don’t want to leave the other attendee(s) waiting for you!
Life gets in the way, and so does work. When you receive a meeting invite, your attendance isn’t always mandatory. But effective communication always is!
Almost inevitably, in spite of your good scheduling habits, at some point you’ll be late for a meeting. In this situation, if it’s at all possible, give advance notice of your tardiness.
Is your previous meeting going to go long? Is your bus stuck in traffic? Did your baby make a huge mess? Send off a quick email to let the other attendees know when you’ll be there. And if you’re going to be extremely late, offer to reschedule.
When you do arrive late, don’t make excuses or pass the blame. Offer an apology, or a quick explanation if it’s relevant. Then move on. The meeting is already running late, don’t delay it further!
5. Absent? Beg Forgiveness
What happens if you’re not just late, but you missed the meeting entirely? You beg!
This is a serious breach of professional protocol. Even if you beg forgiveness, you may have burned a bridge.
When you miss a meeting without canceling in advance, what you’ve effectively communicated is that your time is more valuable than the other meeting attendees. When you consider the time they took to organize, prepare, dial in, wait for you, and then overcome their frustration at your absence, you may have very well taken away 20 minutes or more of their time.
For many consultants, executives, and other professionals, 20 minutes is worth hundreds of dollars.
As soon as you realize you’ve missed a meeting, offer a sincere apology. If they’re willing to give you another chance to meet, be extremely flexible in accommodating their schedule. And then make sure you’re not only early for the next meeting, but prepared to show them that their time wasn’t wasted for nothing.
Your Calendar Reflects You
Ultimately, calendaring effectively isn’t just about being organized and prepared. It’s also a powerful symbol of your competence.
When you work online, there are remarkably few opportunities to interact with people face-to-face. So when you do communicate, the significance of every message is amplified.
If your calendar and your messages are clear, prompt, respectful, and organized, people will assume that you yourself are clear, prompt, respectful, and organized. They’ll apply these assumptions to you professionally—potentially opening employment doors for you—and to anything and anyone associated with you.
The inverse is true too: If your calendar and your messages are confusing, slow, rude, and sloppy, people will assume this about you and anything associated with you. This can destroy sales opportunities, and cause your professional network to deprioritize interactions with you.
A bad reputation is easy to get, and hard to get rid of. But it’s easy to avoid, too: Just use your calendar!