How to use Google Calendar: 6 tips

As public events gradually resume after a long pause, these tips can help you track community events, minimize scheduling conflicts and ensure access to your calendar as you travel.

Photo of a laptop screen: (left) 6 Calendar tips, (right) Google Calendar web page

Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

As public events resume following the long pause for the COVID-19 pandemic, we'll once again need to be aware of events outside our homes. When every meeting is a Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams link, your concern is your internet connection, not potential conflicts with sporting events, community gatherings or holidays.

The following six tips cover how you can use Google Calendar in a desktop-class web browser to add external event calendars, quickly toggle these on or off, make additional times and time zones visible, configure non-contiguous working hours, receive a daily agenda in email, as well as how to make your calendar available offline—as you travel. All of these tips work in Google Calendar on the web with Chrome on a laptop or desktop system.

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

How to update Google Calendar working hours

Go to your Google Calendar settings, then select Working Hours from the left-side menu. Check the box to Enable Working Hours, then select your work days and enter your available work times. Once set, Calendar will alert people when they attempt to schedule meetings with you outside of your selected hours.

You may either enter a single set of hours (e.g., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or enter more than one working period per day. The latter approach lets you enter several working segments, such as 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Figure A). This allows people who have other obligations (e.g., a parent who needs to drop-off or pick-up children from school activities) a way to define working hours as flexibly as needed. Use the + to the right of each day to add a segment or select—to remove a segment. Settings save automatically.

Figure A 

Screenshot of Working hours, shows non-contiguous hours on Tuesdays, from 9:00 to 11:00, 13:00 to 15:00, and 19:00 to 22:00.

Enable and edit working hours to encourage people to only schedule meetings with you during selected times. 

How to add calendars of interest

Browse calendars of interest to quickly add contact birthdays, holidays (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, along with holidays for many countries around the world), sports (baseball, basketball, cricket, football, hockey or rugby) or the phases of the moon (Figure B).

Figure B 

Screenshot of the Google-provided calendar, with Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox, and Regional holidays listed, along with Baseball, Basketball, Cricket, Football, Hockey, Rugs, and Phases of the moon, and, of course, birthdays.

Browse calendars of interest to add birthdays, holidays, sporting events or phases of the moon as additional Google Calendars.

Free third-party calendar services let you select and subscribe to calendars for things such as soccer (i.e., football outside of the U.S.) and weather. Check with your favorite team or event organizer to see if they publish a public Google Calendar to which you may subscribe. 

How to toggle calendars on or off

A key Google Calendar feature is the ability to toggle the display of individual calendars on and off quickly. Most people leave their own calendar displayed most of the time, along with a calendar or two of a close colleague or family member (Figure C). But the many calendars of interest that can be helpful when planning (e.g., so you don't schedule an event that conflicts with an important game in a client's city) will likely be ones you most often leave toggled off.

Figure C 

Andy Wolber's Google Calendar selected, with three other calendars unchecked and not displayed.

Only those calendars selected display data.

How to get a daily agenda in Gmail

You can choose to get a daily agenda in email for any Google Calendar you can access (Figure D). If you check email before you review your Calendar, this can be an effective way to get a preview of your day. This also is an excellent option to select for calendars you rarely have toggled on, but that contain events you don't want to miss. Try to limit the number of daily agenda emails you receive to a few calendars—if you flood your inbox with several agenda emails each day, there's a high likelihood you'll simply start to ignore them over time. 

Figure D 

Screenshot of Google Calendar other notifications section, with Daily agenda: Receive a daily email with the agenda for this calendar set to Email (as opposed to None).

Choose to receive a daily agenda email with Calendar activities. You may select this notification individually for each of your calendars.

How to display additional time info

If you coordinate events or communicate often with people outside of your time zone, you might enable a secondary time zone in Google Calendar (Figure E). Go to your Google Calendar settings, choose Time Zone from the left-side menu, check the box to Display Secondary Time Zone, then pick the time zone to display from the drop-down menu. The secondary time zone displays side-by-side with the hour-by-hour view on Google Calendar.

Enable the World Clock to display the current time for various places below the month-view calendar. You may add several different locations (Figure E). The current time for each selected location displays (along with a sun or moon icon), to indicate whether it is daytime or nighttime in each location.

Figure E

Screenshot of the Google Calendar Time zone and World clock settings. Time zone set to show Mountain Time and UTC. World clock configured to show UTC, Pacific Time, and Eastern Time.

Display a secondary time zone alongside the hourly time displayed on your calendar. Additionally, enable the world clock to show the current time (on the left-side of the Google Calendar screen) for one or more time zones.

Note: You may choose UTC/GMT as a time zone option for calendars. I encourage you to do so, since I'm one of those people who thinks humanity should switch to a single global time zone.

How to turn on offline calendars

If you use Google Chrome to access Google Calendar on a laptop or desktop, a checkbox lets you Turn On Offline Calendar (Figure F). The setting is at the bottom of the Google Calendar General Settings screen. Once selected, Chrome stores calendar events locally. However, when you're offline, neither reminders nor tasks display. However, this does mean that you can review your schedule on a plane, train or boat when you're without an internet connection. The system stores events within the past month along with future events.

Figure F 

Screenshot of Google Calendar Offline settings, with Turn on offline calendar checked.

Turn on offline calendar access, so you can view events from the past four weeks as well as future events when you lack internet access.

What are your favorite Google Calendar tips?

Other than event notifications, what Google Calendar features do you rely on? If your work shifted from in-person to remote, did it affect how you used Google Calendar? What Calendar tips do you wish your colleagues or friends knew? Let me know, either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber). 

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