If you're like me, you manage pretty much your whole life in three places: your to-do list, your email and your calendar.
To-do lists are a very personal thing, and there are plenty of different types and services with real differences. Email is the scourge of our age (the Huns had nothing on email), and there isn't a very good solution to that problem yet known to man.
But your calendar ... ah, the calendar. As you shuttle back and forth from LAX to JFK, trying to find a way to get things done faster than things that need to be done come up, and as you painstakingly migrate to every new email client and app only to find yourself back in Gmail in a week, your calendar can be the north star, the rock, the one thing that just works.
Google, Apple, or Microsoft
The first question to answer is one of platform. There are three big players in calendars (they're the same three big players in everything). And since we're talking cloud-based, the answer is Google. I resisted Google for a long time, because I generally live in an Apple world—Apple laptop, Apple TV, airport, phones, nano—in fact, I believe I have owned every single iPhone that Apple has ever produced.
But the reality is, Apple's calendar is not great. Whether you like the interface or not, it does not sync well enough for the modern executive. Cross-platform invites from Microsoft or Apple are not handled properly, and even all-Apple syncing between devices is prone to trouble in my experience. And if you're using iCal as a front-end for Google, do yourself a favor and stop. Syncing is a pain to set up, Apple changes it with every release, and it just doesn't work very well.
Microsoft has similar syncing problems, plus if you go with Microsoft you have to go all in on Entourage and Exchange. Way too much commitment for me, thanks. Google Calendar gives you the same ability to see when invitees, also on Google, are available. So just get a Google calendar.
Making Google Calendar Rock
I'm assuming you can handle most standard settings, but if you work in multiple time zones, as I do, you should add a second time zone by clicking "Show additional time zone" in "Your current time zone." That way, you can see, at a glance, what time something is in, say, CT and ET.
After you set up the regular settings, you want to go into tabs, also found under the settings sprocket. Turn on "Hide morning and night," which gets rid of the hours from, say 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., when you're unlikely to be taking meetings. (You set whatever times you want to hide.) This, in itself, improves the interface dramatically.
If you use Google docs, you'll also want to enable "Event attachments." And "Who's my one-on-one with?" will add invitees to your events so you don't have to type their names twice. Finally, you may also want to add "Next meeting," which creates a pane to highlight, well, your next meeting. I also like world clock.
Finally, add the Google Calendar (by Google) extension to your browser. It puts a button for your calendar in your browser bar, along with a flag with the number of hours till your next meeting. If you click it, you get a quick run down of your itinerary and quick add for your events. You don't need to keep the calendar tab open all the time, but you also won't miss your next appointment.
The Mobile Problem
The above is all well and good, of course, but if you can't take your calendar with you, well, what's the point? If you're on Android, you're good to go, because it natively syncs with Google Calendar. However, if, like me, you are an iPhone user, you have a problem.
Fortunately, I have the solution. I have tried pretty much every major calendar app that claims to work with Google Calendar and they are all a mess. I have spent a stupid amount of money, dear readers, on paid calendar apps (like $40!) so you don't have to. The answer is Sunrise.
In my tests, it was the only app that synced fully and accurately with Google Calendar and offered full invitation features as well. As a bonus, it's just about the best calendar app interface available too.
For Lazy Nerds Advanced Users Only
But wait, you say, is that all the nirvana I can get? Shouldn't there be something more? What if I basically want an assistant but don't want an assistant? Surely our robot overlords can take care of the modern nightmare of scheduling email threads (see, you get email involved and, like those Huns, it just ruins everything).
The best solution for this was Tungle, but since RIM is, like, even worse than email, RIM bought Tungle and then killed it. Dribble is just as annoying as an email thread, so again, don't. You're in luck. I have tested quite a few replacements, and ScheduleOnce is your best bet.
ScheduleOnce will take your Google info and present a calendar where people can request times to meet with you. You can create different meeting types with different rules. So you could have phone calls that require no lead time, but in-person meetings that need half an hour. Lunch could always be a minimum of 90 minutes (and two martinis), while those calls could be as little as 15.
Plus, you can set up times that you're generally available and then invite a bunch of other people to submit their availability. After that, finalizing the time is simple.
The interface is a little cheesy, but the functionality is great.
So there you go. Nirvana. I hope it's everything you'd hoped it would be. Now, go schedule something!
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