7 Google Calendar hacks to supercharge your productivity

Google developers are adding powerful features to Calendar. Learn how to take advantage of them.

The passage of time, calendar

Image: iStockphoto/KangeStudio

Google's Calendar software may be the most popular in the world, but it is also a product of the 21st century. We don't write big books of features anymore and when we do, most people won't read them. That leaves us using just a small fraction of the features available in our productivity software.

And Google Calendar is productivity software. 

Below, I'll list seven little-known features of Google Calendar you can use to supercharge your productivity, including how to publish your calendar online so other people can schedule meetings with you.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download) 

Share Calendars

Bouncing between different schedules can be difficult, especially if one is published on a physical calendar and another is in Google's cloud. As the world wakes up from the coronavirus pandemic, work from home is becoming the norm for technical work, making personal and professional lives even more intertwined. 

When I started this journey, I gave my personal Gmail account permission to view my work calendar, and even display them together. Open your calendar to find these features. To share a calendar, go to calendar.google.com, find My Calendars in the left-middle to bottom, click the three-dots icon, then Settings And Sharing (Figure A). After that, scroll down to share with specific people and add people. While setting these features, you can consider the option to color code meetings and times.

Figure A

Calendar Sharing

Matthew Heusser

Color code meetings

Every meeting has a color default, but you can change it. You can color code by priority. For example, you might have red for non-negotiable meetings, yellow for interruptible but heads-down work, and green for planned discretionary time. Yes, knowledge workers do need to use the restroom and take breaks. Or, you might make blue personal and brown work, avoiding the priority metaphor altogether. Figure A shows the color codes you can use. 

Enable working hours

With the pandemic, it can be appealing to flex your daytime hours then work after dinner or bedtime for little ones. Sadly, the people scheduling meetings might not know that. If the company uses Google Calendar, you can set your working hours so people won't book when you don't want to work. To set working hours, click the gear icon to get to Settings and scroll to Working Hours--you may need to click on Advanced. This way, when someone tries to book you, they will see you are not available. This is a bit like blocking lunch, but it also prevents accidental 3:00 a.m. meetings from someone on another continent, without making a meeting called "sleeping."

Email meeting attendees

Yesterday, I ran a Zoom meeting with 26 invites; 10 people attended. Many of the people were using Zoom for the first time, so I wanted to send up a follow-up email with some Zoom tips and agenda. In addition, I wanted to send some follow-up materials.

There is an email option, but it is not when you edit the meeting. Instead, when you click on the meeting and it displays within your calendar, you will see the envelope icon. Click on that envelope to email the invitees (Figure B). You can also combine selections of people who have accepted, declined (change their minds), or not replied yet.

Figure B

Email meeting attendees

Learn the keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a sure way to cut the amount of time doing a task. When the main screen is up, you can type a single letter to change it. Press:

s - Settings
c - Create event
q - Quick add event
w - For week view
m - For month view
a - For agenda
t - Move to current date/time

Agenda view 

The Agenda view can be a helpful way to start the day. It gives you an overview of all the meetings and tasks listed for that day and gives you an indication of where you are at in the day (Figure C).

Figure C

Daily Agenda View

Commands are not case sensitive so there's no need to press Shift. Google Help lists the entire list of potential shortcuts, along with how to turn it off if accidental key presses are a problem.

Email meeting options 

One of the most painful, unproductive things in the world is the overly polite meeting scheduling. First, you ask, then they ask you what times, then you suggest a time that doesn't work for them, and on and on. If one of those people procrastinates a bit, the meeting times will actually fly by. If they don't, the proposed meetings may be too far out. Add in consideration of time zones and the whole thing is a mess. When proposing a meeting, just email three options. Better yet, publish your calendar and let the other person pick.

Publish your calendar

There are a handful of tools to publish your calendar. Calendly integrates with you Gmail, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, so people can see when you are available and schedule a meeting on their terms. I learned about Calendly through my colleague, Raj Subrameyer, a consultant who was using it for his business. If you just want to send people to a web page to book their own meetings, the product starts with a free tier to experiment with. 

I've been using SharpSpring for this for close to a year. Despite the hundreds of dollars a month price tag, the only feature I really use is calendar setting, and that arguably paid for itself. By combining my Google Calendar with Calendly with Zoom, I was able to offer published self-service meetings, with a custom web page, in about 10 minutes. The tool has integrations with PayPal and QuickBooks, so I could charge for meetings, but instead I set up 15, 30, and 60 minute bookings at no cost; you can even reserve some time with me.

Drop the web page address in your email, let people schedule their own time with you, color code your meetings to keep them all on one calendar, use keyboard shortcuts, and you could easily cut your calendar time by 20%. Combine that with good calendar and good email hygiene, and you can turbo-charge your productivity.

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