Four ways to use Google Calendar as your to-do list

Building your hustle toolbox

Over the weekend, after I gave a friend some advice about how to study for the MCAT, I had a kind of “oh, crap” moment. With the start of med school only a few months away, I suddenly realized that I need to get back into serious study mode, and sooner rather than later.

My experiences have shown me that having the right toolbox is an important part of executing said study mode. So what are the best tools to help you stay on top of your schoolwork?

Calendar + to-do list = good stuff

There’s no shortage of productivity tools for students, but for me it’s hard to beat the tried-and-true. Google Calendar was key to building and keeping my MCAT self-study schedule, as well as to making time for exercise, family, and myself.

However, I expect that the traditional course load of med school will require more than the flexible time management that made me a G-Cal believer. Case in point: my cheap spiral-bound agenda was indispensable during my last few years of college. That agenda was nothing more than a glorified checklist, but it helped me make sure I was getting the important stuff done.

Given the importance of managing both time and tasks, I was excited to hear that Google Calendar offers a few options for tackling both at the same time:

1. Capture tasks as all-day events

G-Cal allows you to create all-day events. The key here is to use those all-day events as your to-do items/tasks. You can add them by checking the “All-day” box when editing an event, and you can move these items around by either changing their date or dragging and dropping in the calendar view shown above. Items may be ranked by importance using prefix numbers or special characters. This approach can also be used in other electronic calendars, such as Apple’s iCal or Microsoft’s Outlook.

For more info, check out this helpful video by Simpletivity founder Scott Frieson.

2. Create one or more calendars dedicated to tasks

Google Calendar also allows you to set up multiple calendars, which can be laid over one another so that they can be viewed at the same time. The key to this approach is to create several calendars that are categorized by the info that they contain, such to-do items vs. appointments vs. general information.  Items can be added as specific events at the beginning of each week and then moved around as time goes on. Like the first approach, this one can be used in other calendar platforms.

For more on this option, check out this great post by Lori Donley, creator of Sorted by Lori.

3. Use the default Reminders calendar (works best with Google Inbox and mobile)

Google also offers a default calendar labelled Reminders. This system is similar to the idea of creating a calendar dedicated to tasks, and can be used in much the same way. In fact, Reminders look just like an old event you create in G-Cal, but they are marked by a small icon  of a hand with a string tied around a finger. These to-do items may be checked off as completed, making them seem much more like a paper checklist. Reminders are easily created and edited from Google Inbox, a platform that offers a twist on email, as well as from the Google Calendar mobile app. However, if you are interested in setting due dates for your Reminders, you will have to be creative because this calendar does not seem to offer an easy way to do that.

For more info, check out this helpful video by Christopher McCaffrey. This tutorial explains how to use both the Reminders calendar, and its alter ego, the Tasks calendar, which we look at below.

4. Change Reminders calendar to Tasks calendar (works best with good ol’ Gmail)

If you look at the settings for the Reminders calendar (by clicking on the downward arrow to the right of the word “Reminders”), you’ll see the option “switch to Tasks”. You can use the Tasks calendar much like the Reminders calendar. Still, this system feels like an oldie-but-goodie, allowing you to create multiple Task lists, add descriptions and due dates (helpful for different courses), and generate new Tasks from Gmail, with a link back to the source email thread. However,  the Tasks calendar does not seem to offer an easy way to notify you with reminders to follow-up on a certain Task.

Because Tasks is not optimized for use beyond the computer or web browser, you may be interested in looking at a paid mobile app like Readdle’s Calendars, which allows you to set multiple reminders for individual Tasks. (I am not compensated for using or recommending the product.)

As I mentioned, the video by Christopher McCaffrey linked above covers both the Reminders and Tasks calendars, which are two sides of the same coin and cannot be turned on at the same time. Not sure why.

Experiment to find the best fit

So the good news is that there are many options for combining your calendar with your to-do list. The flip side to that is that no option is perfect, so it’s up to you to find the best fit for your needs and your style.

With that in mind, I’m interested in hearing from you. What tools do you use to stay on top of your schoolwork? What about your life beyond the classroom? Do you know of any other ways to combine calendar with to-do list? Share by commenting below, and keep on hustlin’!

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