Tips and Tricks: Making the Most of Google Calendar


Picture 10There’s more to Google Calendar (GCal) (s goog) than meets the eye. At first glance, it seems no different from the printed desktop calendars that used to dominate employee desks. You input your tasks, appointments, and other commitments on their designated dates and refer to the calendar every day. The difference is that with Google Calendar, even the smallest tweak can change it from a simple list of appointments to a comprehensive business tool. Here are some ideas you can start with.

Customize Your Calendar

Like most apps, GCal isn’t “one size fits all”. You can customize several elements to make the calendar fit your needs. Here are some settings you can change:

  • Custom views. By default, GCal gives you the following views: Day, Week, and Month. The day and week views can be too short for some, while the month view can be too long for others. You can create a custom calendar view by going to Settings > Custom View and select anything from two days to four weeks.
  • Multiple timezones. Since most web workers have professional contacts all over the globe, it might be a good idea to include multiple timezones in your calendar. Just remember that you need to use the Day or Week views to see the timezones compared side-by-side.
  • Aesthetics. Apart from the color of each calendar you set up, you can’t really change much of the visuals within GCal itself. Here are some alternative ways to change the calendar’s look and layout:
    • Helvetical. For a minimalist calendar design, you can install Ad Taylor’s Helvetical user script which gives GCal a simpler, cleaner look. If you’re working with a small monitor or a netbook, keep in mind that the large Helvetical header may lessen your usable screen area.
    • Better GCal. This add-on by Gina Trapani is handy for netbook users, as it allows you to collapse the header and the right sidebar, which is handy if you want to install some GCal gadgets but can’t afford to have them hog your screen. It also comes with a sleek gray skin for your GCal interface. I can’t seem to get some of the other features to work, though.

Use Your Calendar as a To-do List

This may seem like common sense — after all, many people use Google Calendar to record their tasks. But my approach helps to keep me organized and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I created a new calendar and named it “Done”. Whenever I’m finished with an item on my list, I simply transfer it to the “Done” calendar. This calendar is hidden, so if I do all my assigned tasks for the day, my agenda for the day becomes clear and empty, giving me the same feeling of accomplishment when I achieve Inbox Zero.

To add a bit of fun, I uploaded a background image so that when my schedule clears, I can see the word “Done!” for that day (see screenshot below).You can upload your own image for this purpose via Settings > General > Calendar Background.


Use GCal an an Appointment Scheduler

It’s easy to book appointments with Google Calendar if your clients and colleagues have Google accounts, but what if they don’t? Some third-party tools can help:

Use GCal For Invoicing

If you want to use Google Calendar for invoicing, you can do so with Google Calendar Invoice Creator, a free Adobe Air (s adbe) application. To see how it works, check out the review and tutorial that Thursday wrote. gTime is a similar application, but you only need your web browser to use it.

GCal + Google Docs + Gmail = Collaboration

Apart from just scheduling meetings, you can also use a combination of GCal, Google Docs and Gmail for minimalist project management. The calendar sharing option makes this possible.

Here’s an example: When there’s a new design project for my team, I add a new event on our shared calendar and invite them all to it. I’ve enabled the “Attach Google Docs” feature from Google Calendar Labs, so I have the option of adding a design brief that everyone can refer to (see screenshot below). Unlike using Google Docs by itself, this allows you to attach group-wide email reminders and deadlines to your files. Just remember to share both the calendar and the file.


Also, if you need to add a calendar item while reading your email, simply click on the “More Actions” button, then “Create Event”. Gmail Labs also has Google Calendar and Google Docs gadgets for your sidebar if you need to refer to them often in one interface.

Integrating these three apps isn’t necessary if you already have existing, more robust collaboration software. But if your team is hesitant to use new tools or if you can’t afford to pay extra fees, this simple freebie approach is worth a try.

Search for Past Events

The search function is Google Calendar’s simplest and most overlooked feature. It comes in handy if you want to know the last time you did something, whether it’s a maintenance task for your car, cleaning up your hard drive, or sending greeting cards to your clients. Google’s own Matt Cutts uses this feature to keep track of his haircuts.

How do you use Google Calendar? Do you customize it in any way to suit your needs?

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