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Using a digital calendar

The quality of the calendar and your skill in using it both matter.  A musician can play better music with a better instrument.  However, simply owning a high quality instrument is not enough to make good music.  A musician also has to refine their technique.  Below we have tips for choosing a quality calendar and information on how to use it.

Selecting a good digital calendar

Easy to use

Calendar apps are easy to use when most things that you need are accessible in the same place (ie. title of event, time/date, frequency, alarms, notes, location, etc). They should be intuitive.


Just like paper planners, the features of calendar apps have multiplied over the past few years. Don’t mistake more features for better. Try to find a calendar that has all that you need but not lots of extras. Too many features will be distracting and confusing.

Integrated to-do list

To-do lists are integral to an effective calendar system. Make sure your digital calendar has one that is integrated and double check that it’s integrated across all device platforms. Some planning systems have a to-do list that you can access on a web browser but not a smart phone app. This won’t work.

Accessible on multiple devices

In our section below on how to use a digital calendar, we talk about why it’s so important to be able to access your calendar from your computer. Of course, you’ll also want to be able to check it from a more portable device (such as a phone). Make sure that your calendar system is accessible on multiple devices. A surprising number of calendar apps are designed to only work on limited platforms.

Ability to set alarms and reminders

Using alarms and reminders will help you remember important tasks or events. The more seamlessly this is integrated into your calendar, the more efficiently you can use this tool. It helps to have the option to set different kinds of alarms (i.e. email, text, notification, etc.).


If you have trouble with short-term memory or benefit from jotting down thoughts when they occur, it’s helpful to have a notes feature that is integrated with your calendar. That way, if you have a thought about a paper you’re going to be working on in several days, you can tag your note to show up during the time window you have scheduled to write your paper.


If you coordinate with other people (family members, roommates, partners, etc.), it can be helpful to utilize a shareable calendar system.

Tips for organizing your digital calendar

Digital calendars get cluttered quickly. To maximize their utility, you’ll need systems for keeping them orderly and visually simple. Our tips use a Google calendar, but many digital calendars use similar features so you can adapt these tips as needed.

Week starting on Saturday

Most students start working over the weekend for the following week so it makes sense to have your schedule start on Saturday.

Use multiple calendars

Keep your schedule organized by using a different calendar for important exams and assignments. Some people find it useful to create several different calendars for different aspects of their life. Having multiple calendars allows you to easily hide information, which can make planning simpler. If you do use multiple calendars, we recommend color coding by using a different color for each calendar This will help you make sure that you’ve assigned each item to the correct calendar. In general, keep all your calendars visible. You can deselect calendars during your planning session to make your schedule easier to understand.

Using your digital calendar

The Cardinal Rule of using digital calendars

There is one rule you must abide by if using a digital calendar. You must access your calendar on a computer at least once a day. It’s incredibly tempting to only look at your calendar on your phone. But phone screens are not big enough to give you the necessary overview for effective planning. Commit to looking at your digital calendar on your computer daily.

The first week of the quarter

You’ll have the most to fill in at the beginning of each quarter. It’s important to block off some time to dedicate to planning at the end of your first week. It can be tedious to front load all this planning but it makes a HUGE difference and will save you lots of time down the road. It can also help you avoid the panic of getting way behind and all the emotional and logistical energy needed to get back on track if you fall behind.

1) Enter your class schedule and other regular events. You can set your classes up to recur for the length of the quarter.

2) Block off tentative times for studying. Consider what times of day you study best and map out regular study times based on availability and preference. You’ll modify these each week but it helps to block off time at the beginning of the quarter.

3 ) Enter dates for all your assignments and exams. If possible, enter these in a way that stands out from your class schedule such as on a different calendar or in a different color (see tips on using multiple calendars).

4) Identify pinch points. These are times in the quarter when you have more than you can get done in one week. For example, if you have two midterms and a paper due in the same week, you’ll need to start working on them the week before to ensure that you pass your exams and finish your paper. Often, students have a couple busy weeks in a row. In that case, you have to think about how you’re going to spread the workload over three weeks.

To identify pinch points, use a monthly view and hide all parts of your calendar except for your assignments and exams. This will allow you to see which weeks are the busiest.

Some students find it hard to absorb all the information on their calendar in a way that allows them to identify pinch points. In that case, it may be very helpful to complete our pinch points worksheet, which allows you to easily see the points of the quarter where you’re likely to fall behind unless you plan ahead.

5) Highlight pinch points. Put a reminder about your pinch point weeks on your monthly view so you know they are coming. You will also want to put a reminder on the week before your pinch point week so that you know it’s coming (we chose Sunday because that’s when we set up our plan for the next week but you might prefer a different day). If you have a few pinch point weeks in a row, you may want to put a reminder two weeks out.

6) Break down very large projects. If you have projects that you’ll need to work on over multiple weeks or the whole quarter such as compiling a portfolio or writing a large research paper, you’ll want to break them down into parts. Assign due dates for when each part needs to be completed in order to finish the project by the end of the quarter. Try our worksheet for tackling big projects.

Every Sunday afternoon

Block out time every Sunday to create your weekly schedule for the upcoming week. Take a moment to look at the monthly view of your schedule before diving into scheduling out the weeks. Make sure also to reference your to-do list to figure out what needs to get done. If you’re entering a pinch point period, break down projects and tasks so you can spread them out.


Plan to look at your calendar at least every morning and every evening. Open your calendar on a large screen at least once a day. It helps to tie planner checking to a behavior you already engage in consistently. For example, some people chose to check their planner every time they brush their teeth. Others make it a ritual with morning coffee, lunch, and after finishing their work for the night. You can also set alarms on your phone to remind you to check your calendar.

Any time anything changes, gets assigned, gets scheduled, or you think of it

As soon as you learn about a change in a due date or an extension on a project, you should immediately update your calendar. That goes for personal things as well. If you suddenly remember something you need to get at the store, that should go immediately into your calendar (probably on your to-do list). Whenever you schedule an appointment (ie. doctor’s, therapist, meeting with professor, etc.), you should immediately put it in your calendar. Get in the habit of (politely) interrupting people and saying, “hold on, I need to write that down in my calendar.” Most people will not only be understanding but they’ll feel good that you’re taking it seriously.