How I Plan • Part I: Google Calendar

The new year has already begun, and I'm sure most of you have already started on your planning system for 2017. Maybe you started on it halfway through last year. (Not an ounce of judgement from me, if so.) But for those of you who still haven't pulled the trigger on an Erin Condren or Plum Paper or Whosee Whatzit Whatever planner, AND for those of you like me who used a paper planner for two weeks last year only to quickly realize that paper planning doesn't work for you anymore, listen up.

Last year, I made the switch from holding onto a monthly/weekly planner to coordinating my schedule digitally, and I learned a few things in the process:
  • There are some things—methods, little habits re: planning/scheduling, etc.—that I've always gravitated to, but didn't think to incorporate into my actual planning system.
  • Rigidity is the enemy to a Type A when life is more uncertain than you ever thought it would be.
  • You have to try out a system for a couple of days before marrying it.
  • Change is a good thing, even with something like this. It doesn't have to work forever. It doesn't have to work for anyone else. It just has to work for you for right now.
Given that last gem of wisdom, I just wanted to share the system I've landed on—for now. I've taken the last year to kind of refine my system, tweak it here and there, adapt methods I've borrowed from others, and throw methods out the window as fast as I picked them up. I use a blend of digital and paper, and while I know a lot of you are strictly paper planners, I thought maybe a few of my favorite things might be interesting to hear about.

I use four things to plan, which sounds complicated, but actually simplifies everything in a way that keeps it stress-free. Life is the stressful part. Writing down where it's happening and when really shouldn't be, right? Here's what I need:

1. Google Calendar -- I utilize 7 different calendars, plus tasks. This might sound like a lot, but it's just so I can view a few exclusively without the other agenda items distracting from what I'm doing, like planning a workout or writing birthday cards.
2. Reminders app on iPhone and Mac -- I've tried other to-do list apps, notes systems, and other digital planners. Nothing works as well (for me) as a simple list with check box situation.
3. A journal, which has a bit of the bullet journal flavor -- I currently use a hardcover Moleskine with grid lines, but I've used everything from $3 TJMaxx planners to... well, $8 Target planners. Paper is paper, pretty much.
4. Google Drive -- For anything requiring more text than a to do list and less permanence or daily presence than paper, Google is king. It's actually king for pretty much everything I organize, because I am a dork.

Part I: Life happens in the Google Calendar.

I hate cross-outs. Hate them. I need flexibility, I need the option to list and then decide, I need to not clutter up pages. The things I schedule have start and end times that can change at a moment's notice, details changed or added or removed, things of that nature. For the general "Where I Need to Be When" stuff, I put it all in Google Calendar. I use multiple for organization purposes:

1 - Alyssa: Doctor appointments, meetings, interviews, social events, and time blocks, if I use them. Sometimes, on particularly busy days, I utilize time blocks to schedule out when I need to work on what to keep me on track. When necessary, I'll schedule a reminder or email notification for minutes, days, or a week beforehand to help me prepare. I also use this calendar as a catch-all for options and ideas—for example, when we have a free Saturday and I want to make sure we spend it doing something fun, I'll write all-day tasks to just have the ideas in front of me later. Museum name. Park. Movie title. Exhibit. When the day comes or the decision is made I remove all the rest of the ideas and write in what we do plan to do, with any details needed.

2 - Blog: I don't schedule a whole lot, especially lately. But link-ups I join frequently like What's New With You and Show Us Your Books get recurring reminders there, and if I think of something I want to post at a certain time, I give myself a reminder of it there.

3 - Teaching: I keep track of my teaching hours because the organization that issues my credentials provides different credentials based on hours taught. I also need to continue education with workshops and such, so I keep track of everything in there. My regular classes are on a recurring calendar entry and I add in subbed classes as they arise. (I typically indicate sub classes on my Alyssa calendar too, since I won't necessarily remember I have to teach in a sub slot when I'm making other plans.)

4 - Money: This is not even remotely my only money tracking system; I just use it to keep track of credit card closing dates (I use a couple for different rewards, including a Target CC and a Chase CC with Amazon benefits) and due dates, auto-withdrawal dates for things like Netflix and Spotify, and expected payment dates since, as a freelancer, I don't have a simple every other week pay period. I also use a one-week email reminder for bill due dates, but it's just an added protection since I keep this calendar visible most of the time and always make payments early.

5 - Workouts: When I write a training plan, it goes in two places: a spreadsheet, and my calendar. A 30-minute run can be squeezed in around most of the other things going on, but when it comes to things like scheduling a 2-4-hour run, that takes up more time than most other things I do on a daily basis. I like to schedule yoga classes I want to take too, just to make sure I don't forget.

6 - Birthdays: I merged my iCal into Google, and I wish I could tell you how but I don't know. I know I had to search for a tutorial, but it wasn't all that difficult. I set them up to reoccur annually with a two-week reminder sent via email.

7 - Meal Plan: I don't really use this, but I hope to change that soon. I need to get better about not just eating whatever I can eat quickly before I have to go where I'm going next. It always ends up being veggies and dip, and I'm chronically hungry from 4 p.m. till I fall asleep. If I know I want to make a certain dinner a certain day, though, I will mark it on here.

Tasks: I am so happy I finally started utilizing this feature. Basically it creates a checklist with items either scheduled or on a general list, and I like to put in all my freelance work deadlines in this format so I can see what I need to devote time to working on and when everything has to be completed. It's just the best system I've used to keep track of different due dates and the time I need to work on what each week.

I separate everything to these many calendars for a few reasons: a) I can color code and know right away what type of thing I'm looking at, and b) I can view only one at a time. So, when I'm trying to input my teaching hours into Yoga Alliance, I hide all calendars except 3 and have no visual distractions. When I'm writing out birthday cards, I show calendar 6, but the rest of the time, I don't need to see it. Same with blog posts, and sometimes with workouts or money or whatever. It helps to be able to see only what I'm working on and not lose everything else, but not have it distracting me all the time too.

I should also note that I delete things after they've happened when they're always recorded in another place. My Garmin tracks all my run details, plus I record them in my training spreadsheet, so I delete them from here. I delete everything off the Money calendar because it's always indicated in another place. I delete classes I've taken because keeping track of them really doesn't matter at all, and as I touched on in this post, keeping track of every little damn thing does me no good and just creates digital clutter.

Why I Like Google Calendar
Obviously, because it keeps me from losing my mind. But also:

Notes. When an event is created, this page houses everything I might need.
In it, I can add locations, invite people/send invitations, adjust reminders, color code, whatever. I put notes about events in the Description box with relevant links or websites if needed, notes about anything from what I plan to wear, what I need to bring, where parking is available, etc. When I do add something to the Description, I always put an asterisk* at the end of the event title so I know to check there before the event arrives. All this info could NEVER fit on a planner page, and I rely on it too much.

- Auto-import from Gmail events. What gets imported and what doesn't can be adjusted in the settings. I love this for things like flights and travel, events David or friends forward to me via email, and other things that I get confirmations from via email. It adds all the details and a link to the email itself, so it's all easy to find.

- Multiple views. I have the month view as my default, so when I open Google Calendar every day I see the whole thing at first. I switch to weekly view when planning my week or time blocking, and sometimes utilize the 3 week view (customizable) when I want to look at something in-between and want more space on each day to see all the events and reminders I've made.

- Shared calendars. I utilize Google's Phases of the Moon and US Holidays calendars. I also have used collaborative editorial calendars with coworkers/editors, and recently stumbled on a calendar someone made about all the free visit days there are to NYC museums! You can choose sports teams' schedules and all sorts of other things and Google organizes them for you.

Whew. I think that covers Google Calendar! Stay tuned for two or three more of these where I'll get into the daily and long-term goods. For now, if you have any questions about how I use Google Calendar or how to use any of the features, go ahead and ask away! And if you made it all the way here, please accept this round of applause from me to you 👏👏👏


  1. I love seeing other people's systems. I use google calendar too, although I do have a paper one. I'm weirdly getting away from all calendars though, which is so unlike me. But I'm trying to simplify anything and everything so if I can put it on auto payment, always work the same hours, say no to outside activities I don't want to do, etc I will do it so it doesn't need to be calendared :) A strange feeling!

  2. I've been waiting on this post! I started a bullet journal and it lasted less than week. I ended up going with a weekly planner with a notes page for each week. This is perfect so I can write down my running to do list and track events further in the future than a week or so out. This was especially important since I'm a planner. I still use Googly Calendar for coordinating events with others. My only struggle with Googly Calendar is when it imports events from emails it doesn't always give me the option to invite others. I end up having to duplicate the event and inviting, and it's just another step, but still an irritation.

  3. i LOVE google calendar. my husband and i use it together so that if I/he wants to do something, I/he checks and if nothing is in there (mine, family stuff), I/he books it. all of K's appts go in there as well so we know what's coming up etc.

  4. I use Google calendar because MFD uses it - I have access to his schedule and can add shit on there so it functions both as his work calendar and as our joint calendar. I have been tossing around using it more than I do now personally and seeing how I might want to do that in conjunction with my paper planner.

  5. Shit hit post too soon. Thanks for going through how you use it and reasoning behind it - that helps my own thought process!

  6. We have a family calendar that hangs on a wall in our kitchen that functions similar to the way you use Google calendar. Electronic calendars don't work for us. Even if someone creates an event for me electronically, I add it to my paper calendar. I do love the reminders feature on my phone.

    I enjoy reading about the way others organize themselves and why so thanks for sharing!

  7. This looks so promising! But, how mobile friendly is it? I'm assuming there's a calendar app to see everything laid out? I can do digital when I have a big monitor to see it on, but I'm rarely in front of a computer outside of work so I don't do much real life stuff in a digital space. I LOVE this level of organization, though!

  8. What a thing of beauty! I do not have nearly your level of compartmentalization for my google calendar but I do have one for events and one for reminders. The problem I run into with separating it is that my family has all our stuff shared, and we'll plan things like Skype dates based on openings in everyone's calendar, so all the work/scheduled events need to stay on the main one. But I could definitely make use of a meal planning or exercise calendar! Or maybe a "routine" one for the various kinds of things I'm trying to get into but are in general more flexible items.

    Oh oh!!! Did you see the google calendar apparently has a "goals" setting now. So I know you build out a precise training schedule but for those of us who are just trying to fit in 30min blocks of exercise, you can tell the calendar to find openings for that activity (or whatever, doesn't have to be exercise) and then if something comes up that conflicts, it'll move it automatically. I haven't tried this yet but the potential applications excite me.

    I also use the calendar events to store every possible detail I might need about the event. Ryan has finally stopped questioning whether we have an address for wherever we're going, because it's ALWAYS in the calendar.

  9. This is EXACTLY how I plan! It works great. My husband and I share most of our calendars, and that keeps us from having communications problems. I don't have my blog schedule on there, but may have to steal that idea from you!

  10. This post is magic. Ok. here's my FWP. When I came back to iPhone this last time I told myself I had to use default apps because having all the default crap and then downloading all the Google stuff was a waste of space. So I've been using iCal and it's ok (insert long sigh) but it's not Google. So after I got Alexa I downloaded the Google calendar because that's what she uses if I ask her about my schedule.

    Ok, so now I have both (ugh) and I want to go back to Google exclusively because, helllloooo, pretty! but there are some things that work only with iCal and I hate that.

    Annnd all of that rambling to say I love the way you've set up multiple calendars for all of the things. I think I need to sit down and really fine tune my Google calendar and make it work for me the way you have. I still prefer my paper planner day to day but when I'm at the Dr's office rescheduling right then and there, it's going in my phone... which I will never look at again until I've forgotten about the appointment completely and need to reschedule it. SMH

  11. Whosee Whatzit Whatever hahahaha
    i love love love seeing how other people plan. i think i have come to the realisation that because i don't have a lot going on in my life - i'm not very social, i don't ever do things with a start/end time, and i'm sure other reasons - the paper works best for me. if i had more things on, juggled more balls as Steph put it in her post I believe, I think digital would work for me. But as it is, I write out my blog posts on the monthly section, my bills in the bills section and i record my workouts - as I do them, never before. I also write appointments or 'dates' with friends or whatever, but since those don't really happen a whole lot, no biggie. anyway. i think if i had more going on, i would use google calendar. and maybe one day i will. i know people share calendars but KC would never look if we did haha.


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