Living an organised life in the cloud, part 2: Fixed Blocks

This is part 2 of a series of posts, describing how I organise my life and everything in it. Rather than an ad hoc scattering of random ideas hodge-podged together, I had time recently to engineer a system that really works. My life is now much less stressful, much more productive, and much more fun! This makes me a very happy man, and in this post I describe how I organise the Fixed Blocks component of my life.

Fixed Blocks (FB’s) of time are the first and easiest thing to organise: meetings, doctor’s appointments, plane trips, blocks of time I’ve set aside to work on Projects and any other commitments that are happening at a definite time and place. Historically, I used a paper diary for these. This is great because its freeform entry is very flexible, but paper brings with it a whole slew of problems. It’s hard to move things from one time to another, there’s limited space to add extra detail and helpful information (maps and photos, documents), and it’s very difficult to get a long term view.

Nowadays, I use a Google calendar, which brings with it the freeform feature but has a whole slew of other advantages. Importantly, I’ve also made the decision that the Google calendar is the one place where all of my FB’s will end up. Mostly this happens directly, and when I have other calendars – e.g. in Outlook at BCG – I synchronise those with the Google calendar so that everything appears in it. In turn, because everything’s in this calendar, all my devices which subscribe to its Exchange feed give me the same view of my life. By turning on the Google labs functionality I can also add attachments to my events.

Additionally, I find a couple of other things very useful: TripIt is an absolute godsend for dealing with travel details across multiple time zones, and now that I’m set up with it all I need to do to make sure all my flight details are in my calendar is forward the email I get from the airline to plans@tripit.com.

Similarly, sometimes when I’m organising to catch up with a friend they aren’t able to definitely commit to a time then and there. In that case I do two things: Firstly, I add the event to my calendar, but prefix it with “Prov:“, for provisional. This helps me keep track of the current plan and make sure I don’t double book myself. Secondly, I also add a dated Anytime Task (i.e. “any time that day”, a bit of a fudge on the “any time” concept, but more on that in part 3) to my system, to make sure I confirm the plan with them nearer to the time.

Thirdly, a good technique for dealing with repeating events is to put them in the calendar as all day or zero-time events. I’ve used this trick for a while now, and people have been amazed at how I never forget a family member’s birthday. If only they knew…

Anyway, this set of techniques means I am always on top of my commitments and can tell a friend or colleague if I’m busy or free at a particular time at a moments notice. I do need to make an effort to digitise everything, but the cost of not doing it (missed appointments or stress) is so high that it’s been an easy habit to build. What’s more I always know when I’m busy and so I always know when I’m free. Which means I can do more and see my friends more often – I don’t have boring spare evenings or spare weekend days by accident, only when I choose to block them out in my calendar as me-time!

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