Schedule meetings with yourself to block off your time for more important work than meetings.

Space and time

Unless you meet with clients for a living, your calendar is probably your least-utilized productivity tool. Even worse, most of the time, your calendar is a tool that other people use against you, by carving out your work time for their needs, rather than a tool you use for your own empowerment. Still, the calendar is hugely important.

Unlike your email, task list, work journal, or notes, your calendar has power over space and time. It tells you where you are supposed to be, and when. It provides structure in a way that a task list can't, and defines your commitments in bold, brightly-colored boxes.

That's why, even if you only have a couple meetings scheduled per week, you still check your calendar every morning. It's also why you should take control of your calendar and use it to stake your claim on your work day.

Schedule offensively as well as defensively

Being a knowledge worker requires a delicate balance between meeting with clients and actually getting client work done. You rarely can do both at once, and—I'll just come out and say it—most meetings are a waste of time. That's a simple fact of life. Within reason, try to avoid meetings as much as you can.

Step 1: Don't schedule meetings unless you really have to.

Phone calls, instant messanging, and hallway chats are often a lot more effective, and much quicker, than formal sit-down meetings. Suggest these and other ways to communicate with your clients, keep them happy, and always stress that you wish to save their time and budget, not your own.

Step 2: Block off time on your calendar for actual work.

In some workplaces, clients will take advantage of any and all open space they see on your calendar, and fill up your entire week with meetings, most of which are not terribly productive. This leaves you with almost no time left to do your actual work.

Unless you plan to work overtime every single day, I strongly encourage you to block off time on your calendar specifically to get work done. To do so, simply schedule meetings with yourself and use that time wisely. Book a conference room (preferably a distant one) if you can swing it, or slip out to a nearby coffeeshop, to hole yourself away and get your work done. This is astonishingly effective if you have clients or coworkers interrupting you at your desk all the time.

You can also block off time on your calendar for:

An interesting side effect of reducing your availability on your calendar is that clients and coworkers will actually respect your time more, because there is less of it available to them. You just have to be careful to not be too inacessible to your clients. Make sure to be attentive to their needs and get your work done.

Step 3: Establish office hours.

College professors have office hours, which are set times each week that they are available for one-on-one meetings. Students get to schedule time with them to discuss their work (or anything, really), but only during those pre-defined hours. I see no reason why you can't set up office hours at work, as long as you aren't too inflexible about it.

If you lead a team at work, or are a subject-matter expert of some sort, let your coworkers know when you will be available to them. Set aside blocks of time as office hours, and let your team and immediate coworkers know those are the office hours in which to meet with you. You can use this time for one-on-one meetings with your direct reports, to answer their questions, or to review their work and provide feedback.

Office hours can be as formal or as informal as you want. One of my former bosses hoisted different colored flags by the entrance of his cubicle. Each color represented a different degree of availability at the moment.

Ticklers, recurring tasks, and reminders

Todo.txt, by design, does not support due dates, recurring tasks, or reminders. Your calendar, however, is designed for those sorts of things. Put your most important due dates in your calendar, and schedule some time for final reviews if your work before sending it out. Set up recurring tasks as recurring calendar entries and perform those tasks at those times.

Modern calendar systems support file attachments, too. These are not only useful for attaching agendas to meeting invitations. They can be used to set up tickler file entries for time-sensitive documents, such as forms you need to fill out or reference documents you will need in the future. All you need to do to create a tickler file entry is to create a calendar entry, attach your documents to it, and, optionally, set up a reminder.