Managing an executive calendar can be challenging. Many people and tasks vie for your time, and you want to make the most of every day. Staying on schedule is essential—lateness or missed meetings send a message to clients and employees that they are not valued, and over time can erode your reputation. At the same time, creating time and space for everything and staying on track can make your life and your work much more manageable.
1. Prioritizing Calendar Management
The first step in calendar management is to prioritize people and tasks in your business. Who are the people you need to spend time with directly? What meetings or duties are not worth your time? A valuable tool for prioritizing is the Eisenhower Matrix, named for the famous former general and president who said, "I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent." The Eisenhower Matrix divides priorities into four segments:
- Urgent and Important: these are priorities that only you can address and require immediate attention. Examples include board meetings or calls or investor calls. These should get to the top of your inbox and on the calendar right away.
- Important but not urgent: these priorities require your attention, but you can schedule them for later, within a week or so. You can schedule a meeting request from a direct report or a check-in with a critical customer for a later date.
- Urgent but not important: these are priorities that others can do, and you delegate them to someone else. For example, if you have an executive assistant, you can offload scheduling meetings, planning travel, and preparing documents.
- Neither important nor urgent: these are priorities that you should not do at all. You can save an awful lot of time by removing busy work from your inbox and calendar. If you are asking yourself, "Why am I in this meeting?" Skip the next one.
It can be super helpful to build out this matrix and keep it handy when you are bombarded with requests and need to prioritize. You create four quadrants:
- Urgent and important in the top left quadrant
- Important but not urgent in the top right quadrant
- Urgent but not important in the bottom left quadrant
- Neither urgent nor important in the bottom right quadrant
2. Document Your Meeting Preferences
Everyone works differently and has different tolerances for meetings. It is helpful to document your meeting preferences to make the best use of your time. You can share these preferences with your team so that you are all on the same page—especially when you share your calendar with others to facilitate scheduling.
- Time of day: what time of day to you like to meet?
- Duration for diverse types of meetings: not all meetings need to last an hour. You can shave a lot of time with shorter sessions.
- Meeting locations: if meeting at restaurants or coffee shops, which are preferred? Do you like video meetings or in-person? This preference may vary depending on the contact and the nature of the meeting.
- Buffer time between meetings: Frequent back-to-back meetings often get executives behind schedule. Transitioning from one call to another takes time, and a break between sessions can work wonders for your focus and attention. Five to 15-minute buffers between meetings work wonders.
- Restricted times: An effective way to make sure you can focus on key projects is to block off time for "deep" work like strategy and planning.
- Out-of-office notifications: some executives are happy to stay connected while out of the office for work or personal reasons, while others are not. If you are out of the office and others can see that on your calendar, make it clear whether you will respond and what kind of response expectations people should have.
3. Calendar More than Meetings
You do not have to limit your executive calendar to business meetings. Having your entire schedule in one place will make it easier for you to stay on track and avoid missing events or double booking. Non-meeting tasks that you can add to your calendar include:
- Personal appointments
- Family commitments
- Networking with colleagues
4. Color Code Meetings
Color-coding calendar events can provide a quicker view of your schedule and make it easier to rearrange meetings and commitments when needed. For example, since a deadline is not a meeting, you can quickly see that you are available at the time scheduled as a deadline. You can color-code events by:
- Type of activity (business, personal, health, deadline, etc.)
- Priority level
- Internal or external
- Onsite or off-site
- Recurring meeting
5. Send Reminders and Confirmations
One of the most powerful ways to save time is sending reminders about upcoming meetings and meeting confirmations to attendees. Attendance no-shows can be a huge time drain and demoralizing, especially when you travel to a meeting.
In most calendar platforms, you can automate sending reminders to yourself—defining when and how many reminders to send. You may want to send yourself, for example, a reminder 24 hours in advance and 15 minutes in advance. Also, it is best to send a confirmation request at least one day before a meeting to make sure it is on the radars of all the attendees.
6. Create Templates for Calendar Invitations and Confirmations
Your life will be much easier if you develop templates for calendar invitations and confirmations. If you have a template, you will not have to start over every time you send a confirmation email, and you will not forget to include valuable information. A confirmation template can consist of:
- A message that says you are looking forward to your meeting.
- The day and time
- Any phone numbers or video call links
- A request to respond to confirm or change plans
7. Gather Documents for Executive Meetings
Another way to improve your efficiency is to make sure any required documents and information will be ready for the meeting. You can use the meeting invitation or confirmation to note anything attendees should bring. Meeting documents include:
- Minutes from the previous meetings (if recurring)
- Profiles of the attendees that are unfamiliar to you
- Financial or committee reports
Trying to get this information on the fly during the meeting will waste time and slow you down.
8. Review Your Calendar Daily
Review a summary of tomorrow's schedule at the end of the day. Reviewing the next day's schedule in the afternoon is recommended because it allows you time to notify people if your plans have changed and a meeting needs to be rescheduled or canceled.
9. Privacy in Shared Executive Calendars
If you share your executive calendar with others, be careful about any meetings you don't want others to see. For example, if you are securing loans and other financial transactions, you can be vague about an individual or firm involved. If you are traveling, there are personal security issues to consider. Do you want people to know when you are away from your home and your family? At the very least, make sure anyone you share your calendar with knows your preferences for your location information.
10. Delegate Wisely, and Kindly
In earlier times, executives had secretaries and receptions that served as their gatekeeps. The gatekeepers were the ones who said "no" to requests for an executive's time. If you are the one saying "no," use delegation to help requesters get what they need. You can do this by:
- Redirecting the person to a more appropriate resource as a starting point
- Offer help connecting them with a more appropriate resource
- Explain how the person will get better results with a more appropriate resource
- Offer support if the person hits roadblocks with the resource you recommend
The Value of Executive Calendar Management
Managing your calendar may seem like a headache, but "the seat of your pants" is not a good operating model. Doing some front-end organizing and standardization will go a long way to boost your productivity and relieve stress. You will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that everything is under control--as much as possible.
If it all seems like too much, consider outsourcing your executive calendar management. Prialto has provided virtual assistants to U.S. executives since 2008 and, in that time, has mastered calendar management along with a host of admin work. To learn more about working with a Prialto virtual assistant, download our guide.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.