Stay on Top of Your To-Do List (and Never Pay a Parking Ticket)

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Your life is busy, and you have got enough on your plate without needing to remember to move your car every week, pay oddly timed bills, or show up for one-time weekend appointments. Luckily, a finely tuned calendaring system can help.

Take a service like Google Calendar. With the right setup (which we'll detail below), you can access it from any Web browser, plug it into your favorite desktop calendar, and manage it from your phone so you can quickly add any item to your schedule no matter where you are.

Of course, scheduling is just one half of the picture. Remembering your appointments is the other. And that's the best part of this system: You'll receive alerts reminding you of all your scheduled events, no matter where you are or what you're doing.

The Setup

In this article, we detail a three-tiered approach to managing your schedule from the Web, from your desktop, and from your phone, so you'll have a bulletproof system for keeping on top of your schedule. The glue that holds this system together is Google's free calendaring application, Google Calendar. If you don't already have a Google account, you'll need to sign up for one before you can use Google Calendar.

First, let's take a minute to get familiar with Google Calendar and some of its handier features.

Use Quick Add to Translate Your To-Do List

Quickly add any event to Google Calendar, using plain language.
No matter how streamlined a calendar is, you won't want to add events through the normal steps, which require you to give your event a title, hunt for the right date and time, and set up notifications to remind you of the event.

Rather than go through this time-consuming process every time, do yourself a favor and get comfortable using GCal's Quick Add feature. Type any plain-language appointment-related text--such as "Pick up dry cleaning from A1 at 1pm next Tuesday"--into this box, and Google Calendar will translate that notation into an event on your calendar, with the proper date and time.

Next, to ensure that you don't forget, you could manually edit the event and set a custom notification to remind you when the event is approaching. But suppose that you're prone to forgetfulness--or just have too many things going on every day--and you want to have some type of default reminder set up for every event of your calendar.

Go to Google Calendar; click Settings, Calendar Settings, Calendars; find the calendar you want to adjust default notifications for; and click Notifications. Once there, you can set up one or more default reminders for any new event that you subsequently add to your calendar.

Set up default notifications so you always receive a reminder before an event.
For most events on my calendar, I like to get a reminder a day ahead of time, just to make certain that an appointment is on my radar; then I like to receive another reminder an hour before the scheduled event time.

Likewise, you can set up your own defaults to suit your preferences. Bear in mind that you can override the defaults if you prefer a different sort of notification (you may want more advanced warning to make sure you move your car in time, for example) or if you decide that you don't want any reminder at all.

Use Calendar in Your Other Google Apps

Google Calendar integrates with Gmail to help you quickly create new events based on an e-mail message.
If you're an avid user of Gmail, Google's e-mail program, Google Calendar can save you even more time. Gmail automatically recognizes when the text of an e-mail suggests an event or appointment and provides you with a Quick Add link that you can click to automatically populate a new Google Calendar event with may of the event's details--the what, where, and when--already filled out.

Google Tasks integrates your to-do list directly with Google Calendar.
Similarly, if you're a fan of Google's relatively new to-do list, Google Tasks, you'll appreciateTasks recently added integration with Google Calendar. Now, when you set a due date on a to-do item in Tasks, it will automatically show up as an event in Google Calendar. (If you don't see your Tasks in Gmail already, make sure that you've clicked the Tasks calendar under the My Calendars sidebar.)

Remember Recurring Events

Whether it be a birthday, monthly rent payments, bimonthly bills, quarterly taxes, or even meet-ups on the third Tuesday of every month, Google Calendar can help you quickly and easily create recurring-event notifications so you'll never forget another repeat appointment.

To set up a recurring event in GCal, either add a note

about the recurring activity to your quick-add text (e.g., "Move car every Tuesday at 8am") or click the Create Event button in Google Calendar and set your recurring schedule in the Repeats section.

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