πŸ“…βœ… CalCheck and meeting note accountability

A calendar notification approach to getting things done

January 26, 2020
productivity , walkthrough

I rely on a feature in my calendar to manage recurring chores in my email inbox. I schedule those types of tasks, like paying certain bills, in a dedicated calendar. This method, which I call CalCheck, then sends me an email on the day I need to complete that item.

The email becomes an unaffiliated object, like a ticket, that I can defer/delete/complete. I find it helpful.

Where it really became useful was when I began applying it to meetings at work. I use this process to keep myself honest to actually take and publish meeting notes, and I've found it to be the best accountability tool for that goal.


🎯 I have a few goals for this project:

  • Plan recurring to-do list items and manage them as they come due
  • Schedule recurring to-do list items which have complex frequencies like “every third Thursday”
  • A single view of what needs to be done, with a record of what was completed
  • Don't introduce a new app - keep things where I already live (Cal and Email)
  • Never forget to publish meeting notes

πŸ—ΊοΈ This walkthrough covers how to:

  • Convert to do list items into a task management system using Google Calendar and Gmail
  • Use existing calendar invites for work meetings to create tasks for note taking and publication

⏲️Time to complete: ~15 minutes


Recurring chores

I start by listing out what has to happen and when. This method only really works for recurring tasks that happen on a set schedule.

I use a separate calendar within my Google account. Keeping the CalCheck calendar distinct is important. I want to be able to toggle between showing or hiding these items so that I can focus on the actual scheduled events.

Next, I need to make sure that the CalCheck calendar defaults to send an email reminder for all-day events.

Then, I'll create an all-day calendar event for each task that needs to be completed. Energy bill due every 7th day of the month? Recurring event.

I can then look at the CalCheck calendar, filtering out normal events, and review what I need to knock out on a given day.

Getting emails

As those events come up, I get a separate email for each task (I have them set to arrive at 9 AM). Those emails then become a simple task list within my normal inbox. In this case, I need to pay my Vodafone bill.

This works particularly well in the native Gmail app thanks to the email deferral feature. If a task has some flexibility, and I want to do it when I get home that night, I'll just swipe to defer it to return to my inbox at 6 pm.

If something unique occurred, I'll reply to the email making a note of that. Otherwise, as I complete things, I'll archive the email.

If I don't complete the task, and give up on it altogether, I'll delete the email. This way, I can search for a given task and see a history of when I actually did it.

What about task management apps?

One reason I like this system is that tasks become unattached objects. Other task management systems chain items together in a way that can disrupt a set cadence.

How?

For example, if you have a task due on a Tuesday, and you defer it to Wednesday, then next week's task shifts to Wednesday. Additionally, if you have a task set for a Thursday, and decide you won't do it, deleting the task deletes the entire recurring to-do.

I also live in my inbox for most of the day. This pattern zipper merges the recurring chores and the one-off emails that I need to handle into a single view.

Automation

Over time, this calendar becomes an opportunity for automation. I can periodically review the events that persist and ask myself “how can I offload that?”

In Google calendar, the “Schedule” view makes it easy to audit where I keep spending time.

Can I set up autopay for certain bills? Should I consider a recurring groomer appointment to save me the time that I spend giving Mopac a bath? Good opportunity to really evaluate what little actions wind up becoming big time commitments when multiplied by a recurring cadence.

Meeting notes

I extended this approach to my own habits at the office. This is a different use case, but even more important.

If a meeting is larger than just a 1-1, someone needs to publish notes. Written notes build institutional memory. They help handle the difficulties of working across time zones. Missed a meeting that happened in another region? Get caught up in 5 minutes. Documented meetings also become reference points and reduce ambiguity.

Couple exceptions: daily stand-up's, lunches.

I try to be a voracious note taker. Whether I am the most junior or most senior attendee, it doesn't matter, I'm going to make an effort to write something down. And then clean it up and put it in our company wiki or email a follow-up to a customer or partner.

This didn't just happen. It took discipline and the CalCheck method to make this a habit. Here's how.

In Google calendar, you can configure a setting that will send you an email 10 minutes prior to the start of an event in your calendar.

When you create an event, it will default to sending this notification.

The notification now adds value in two ways: I get a nudge when a meeting is about to start and I now have a “task” in my inbox that sits there until I publish the notes I took. Until I write and post my notes, that email sits there, shaming me.

I'm not batting 1.000 yet. I get lazy too, but I'm better than I used to be and I'm going to try to keep that up.

If other urgent items keep piling up, I'll defer that email to tomorrow morning and, at 9AM, that email will return in my inbox reminding me to actually post notes.

What's next?

After several years of losing to chat apps, email seems to be making a comeback (see SuperHuman or Front). Email is ubiquitous, it's cross-platform, users can send messages to recipients in other organizations. We can triage our inbox much more effectively than picking up a phone to several dozen or hundred chat bubbles. I hate chat.

CalCheck converts my email inbox into a comprehensive task management app. However, that is also dangerous. Using my inbox as a way to manage my tasks, and prioritize where I spend time, makes me more susceptible to distraction. I lose a bit of control over what is in scope and out of scope because anyone can send me an email that now falls into the queue.

That said, Gmail's “Defer” feature mostly solves that problem. Even if I introduce some overhead keeping my inbox organized, it's worth it to stay accountable and never drop the ball with meeting follow-up.

Want to stay up to date? Sign up for my newsletter below. I'll send you an email when a new post is published.