Calendar Hacks

Posted by on July 15, 2014

As an engineering manager, there’s one major realization you have: managers go to lots of meetings. After chatting with a bunch of fellow engineering managers at Etsy, I realized that people have awesome hacks for managing their calendars and time. Here are some of the best ones from a recent poll of Etsy engineering managers! We’ll cover tips on how to:

To access any of the Labs settings/apps:

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Block out time

Create big unscheduled blocks every week. It allows for flexibility in your schedule. Some block out 3 afternoons/week as “office hours — don’t schedule unless you’re on my team”. It creates uninterrupted time when I’m *not* in meetings and available on IRC. Some book time to work on specific projects, and mark the event as private. They’ll try to strategize the blocking to prevent calendar fragmentation.

2-auto-declineAutomatically decline events (Labs): Lets you block off times in your calendar when you are unavailable. Invitations sent for any events during this period will be automatically declined. After you enable this feature, you’ll find a “Busy (decline invitations)” option in the “Show me as” field.

Office Hours: Blocks for office hours allow you to easily say, “yes, I want to talk to you, but can we schedule it for a time I’ve already set aside?” Better than saying “No, I cannot talk to you, my calendar is too full.” (Which also has to happen from time to time.) When you create a new event on your calendar, choose the “Appointment slots” link in the top of the pop-up:

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Then follow the instructions to create a bookable slot on your calendar. You’ll be able to share a link to a calendar with your bookable time slots:

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Declining meetings: Decline meetings with a note. Unless you work with the organizer often, do this automatically if there’s no context for the meeting. One manager has declined 1 hour meetings, apologized for missing them, asked for a follow up, and found that he really wasn’t needed in the first place. Hours saved!

Change your defaults

Shorter meetings: Don’t end meetings on the hour; use 25/50 minute blocks. You can set this in Calendars>My Calendars>Settings>General>Default Meeting Length. If you set your calendar invites to 25 minutes or 55 minutes, you need to assert that socially at the beginning of the meeting, and then explicitly do a time check at 20 minutes (“we have 5 minutes left in this meeting”). If possible, start with the 25 (or 30) minute defaults rather than the hour-long ones.

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Visible vs private: Some make their calendar visible, not private by default. This lets other people see what they’re doing so they have a sense of whether they can schedule against something or not–a team meeting–maybe, mad men discussion group, no way.

Custom view: Create a custom 5- or 7-day view or use Week view.

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Color coding:

Gentle Reminders (Labs): This feature replaces Calendar’s pop-ups: when you get a reminder, the title of the Google Calendar window or tab will happily blink in the background and you will hear a pleasant sound.

Event dimming: dim past events, and/or recurring future events, so you can focus.

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Editability: Make all meetings modifiable and including this in the invite description, so as to avoid emails about rescheduling (“you have modifying rights — reschedule as needed, my schedule is updated”) and ask reports and your manager to do the same when they send  invites. This can result in fewer emails back and forth to reschedule.

Rely on apps and automation

Sunrise: Sunrise for iOS does the right thing and doesn’t show declined events, which weaponizes the auto-decline block.

8-world-clockWorld Clock (Labs) helps you keep track of the time around the world. Plus: when you click an event, you’ll see the start time in each time zone as well. You could alternatively add an additional timezone (settings -> general -> Your Time Zone -> Additional Timezone).

Free or busy (Labs): See which of your friends are free or busy right now (requires that friends share their Google Calendars with you.

Next meeting (Labs): See what’s coming up next in your calendar.

Soft timer: Set a timer on your phone by default at most of meetings, group or 1:1s,  and tell folks you’re setting an alarm to notify everyone when you have 5 minutes left. People love this, especially in intense 1:1s, because they don’t have to worry about the time. It can go really well as a reminder to end in “Speedy Meeting” time.

Do routine cleanup

Calendar review first thing in the morning. Review and clean up next three days. Always delete the “broadcast” invites you’re not going to attend.

Block off some empty timeslots first thing in the morning to make sure you have some breaks during the day—using Busy / Auto Decline technology.

People don’t seem to notice when you note all day events at the top of your calendar. If you’re going offsite,  book an event that’s 9am-7pm that will note your location.

Think ahead (long-term)

Book recurring reminders: For instance, do a team comp review every three months. Or if there is a candidate we lost out on, make appointments to follow up with them in a few months.

Limit Monday recurring meetings: Holiday weekends always screw you up when you have to reschedule all of those for later in the week.

Track high-energy hours: “I tracked my high energy hours against my bright-mind-needed tasks and lo-and-behold, realized that mornings is when I need a lot of time to do low-urgency/high importance things that otherwise I wasn’t making time for or I was doing in a harried state. I thus time-blocked 3 mornings a week where from 8am to 11am I am working on these things (planning ahead, staring at the wall thinking through a system issue, etc). It requires a new 10pm to 6am sleeping habit, but it has been fully worth it, I feel like I gained a day in my way. This means I no longer work past 6pm most days, which was actually what was most draining to me.”

Create separate calendars

Have a shared calendar for the team for PTO tracking, bootcampers, time out of the office, team standups etc.

Subscribe to the Holidays in the United States Calendar so as to not be surprised by holidays: Calendar ID: en.usa#holiday@group.v.calendar.google.com

Subscribe to the conference room calendars if that’s something your organization has.

Create a secondary calendar for non critical events, so they stay visible but don’t block your calendar. If there’s an event you are interested in, but haven’t decided on going or not, and don’t want other people to feel the need to schedule around it, you can go the event and copy it. Then remove it from your primary calendar. You can toggle the secondary calendar off via the side-panel, and if someone needs to set something up with you, you’ll be available.9-mergeWhen using multiple calendars, there may be events that are important to have on multiple calendars, but this takes up a lot of screen real estate. In these cases, we use Etsy engineer Amy Ciavolino’s Event Merge for Google Calendar Chrome extension. It makes it easy to see those events without them taking up precious screen space.

And, for a little break from the office, be sure to check out Etsy analyst Hilary Parker’s Sunsets in Google Calendar (using R!).

Posted by on July 15, 2014
Category: people

3 Comments

Lara, thanks for this summary of good advice.

I have one question: How do I change the default setting to allow others to edit an event? I can’t find a place to change that and my searches are failing me.

HELP!

    Hey Greg! Try in Settings > Calendars > “Shared: Edit Settings” link > “Make changes to events” under “Permissions Settings”

Great post! The “Busy (decline invitations)” lab is a great find. I saw you mentioned using Sunrise also. Is there a way to set that option on events created in Sunrise or have events default to “Busy (decline invitations)”?