You may have noticed that Google Calendar has some unique features. For example, you can find time for your goals and set reminders.
I played a very small part in these updates, but I learned a lot about my own productivity in the process.
I used to be an advisor to Timeful, a productivity app co-founded by behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, which was then bought by Google—and many of these new features originated with Timeful.
My role at the time was to talk to their product designers about integrating a cohesive productivity philosophy into the app. Productivity is about mind management, not time management, and while simple tools—such as to-do items—are useful, they don’t account for the shortcomings of real human behavior.
I can’t take credit for any particular Timeful or Google Calendar feature, but throughout the process, I was forced to think hard about my own productivity philosophy, and how best to implement it into my life.
Here are the three main things I learned:
1. We’re Bad at Estimating Time
My favorite Timeful feature (which I hope becomes a Google Calendar feature) was that you could set time estimates for to-do items, and actually drag them onto the calendar. It makes sense that if you have a list of things you want to do, there should be some plan about when you’ll fit those things into your schedule.
By estimating times, then seeing how well I did with those estimates, I learned that I was bad at estimating how long things would take. We’re all bad at it—psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls it “the planning fallacy.”
To fight this, start scheduling and estimating how much time it will take you to do certain tasks. When you see how far off you are, you’ll get better at making realistic estimates and thus better at getting things done quicker.
2. We Should Start Small
“Goals” is one Timeful feature that’s now in Google Calendar. You say what you want to do, and how often, and Google Calendar finds time in your schedule to do it.
I learned through experimentation the best way to reach your goals is to start with a small habit—a ridiculously easy habit—and then, actually put it on your calendar.
You can only muster so much willpower to do something. So, if you start easy, you can do it regularly, then up the goal. When you build upon this, anything is truly possible.
3. We Should Have Weekly Routines, Not Daily Routines
Your energy levels and mind state change throughout the week. So, you should work accordingly.
For example, I learned to make Monday and Tuesdays (especially mornings) my prime creative time on my most important project. Later in the week—as my discipline wanes—is for meetings and administrative stuff.
This isn’t so much a Timeful “feature” as it is what Timeful was intended to become: a product that tells you the best time to do the things that you intend to do. In determining the “best” time, your mind state is every bit as important as what time it is.
You might have noticed you don’t necessarily need an app to integrate these tips into your life. Get realistic about how long things take you, just how much willpower you have, and when your ups and downs are, and you’ll be well on your way to optimal productivity.
This article was originally published on Medium. It has been republished here with permission.