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When you look at your calendar, what do you see?

As an academic with the intention of being productive in your writing, your calendar is either your friend or foe.  We are going to have a series of short articles to help you make friends with your calendar.

Let’s start with determining what kinds of time your current calendar represents for you. For this quick exercise, you will need some colored pencils (and if you don’t have colored pencils or highlighters, see if a colleague or your child does and borrow theirs).

  1. Print out your online calendar for two weeks and be sure to print in black and white. If you have a paper calendar, please make a photocopy of it (in black and white).  You’re going to use color to represent each of the four kinds of time I’ll teach you about and that’s why you want to start from a plain canvas.
  2. Using your green colored pencil, go through and highlight any and all places in your calendar that you would designate as Free time. Use your own definition of Free time.  One of the main components in my definition is that it is guilt-free.
  3. Next, using an orange colored pencil, highlight any and all places in your calendar that represent Fixed time. This would include appointments, classes that you’re teaching or that you’re taking, meetings, specific times you need to be somewhere to fetch another person, presentations you’re giving, office hours, etc.
  4. The third color you’ll be using is blue. Highlight those places in your calendar that are set aside for Focus time. Maybe you are coming up to a deadline in a grant proposal or an article submission and you’ve blocked time in your calendar to work specifically on that project. Since your students are likely submitting papers, projects, and exams, you have time set aside to focus on the grading.  Or maybe you’ve developed the productivity habit of doing weekly planning at a certain time each week.  What about the practice you have of taking the last 45 minutes of your day at the office (before you run for the train in the afternoon) to focus on closing out projects for the day and making a last pass through your email?  All of these and other such activities may be represented by designated/protected time on your calendar…for Focus.
  5. The final of the four colors you’ll use here is purple. Purple is for Flow time. Flow is time that is set aside to think and work, but you are not sure exactly what will come about during that time.  Flow time is essential for academics and it is time you likely do not protect very well.  Any time you see on your calendar that you have set aside for free-flowing work, thinking, processing, and allowing your brain to explore, color that in with purple.

From doing this exercise with many faculty members in workshops, I can make predictions about what your calendar looks like.  It probably looks like a mosaic with fairly small pieces – and displays more orange and blue segments than purple.  Whatever you have showing, it’s a starting point for your thinking and planning for a more “just whelmed” calendar.

In upcoming articles, you will learn more about each of the four kinds of time you need to plan and protect – and how to do so:  Free, Fixed, Focus, and Flow.

Meggin McIntoshMeggin McIntosh, also known as “The PhD of Productivity®,” is professor emerita and founding director of her university’s Excellence in Teaching Program.  She is now an executive coach for high-achieving academics who are intent on making a difference through their work.  Whether she’s coaching, teaching workshops, or writing, Meggin’s mission is inspiring joyful work.  You’re welcome to explore and receive many of Meggin’s publications, videos, and classes through her hubsite  More and more of them are being offered freely each month so be sure to take a peek if you want more joyful work in your life.