Power through schedules with 21 Google Calendar tricks

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Maybe you charge through your plans with Patton-like precision, planning everything down to the minute. Or, like Marilyn Monroe, perhaps you've "been on a calendar, but never on time." It really doesn't matter which approach you take—Google Calendar can fit your style.

The service is accessible wherever you go, and it offers granular controls for Type A personalities as well as color coding for the style-conscious. It's even socially aware, allowing you to add calendars outside your organization, and to involve your social network in events. However, you're likely to curse every now and then when it freezes (although Google guarantees 99 percent uptime), or when calendar clutter makes you miss a meeting.

You'll access most of the following tips through the gear icon above your calendar.

This guide will help you take control, whether you're a Google Calendar novice or a power user. Most of the tips apply both to the free Google Calendar and to the one bundled with a paid Google Apps for Business subscription.

Not all of the useful shortcuts are official features. Google is constantly brewing new concoctions, so visit its Labs to find unique tools. Unlike with desktop software, Google can roll out new features whenever it likes.

Work faster—and focus

1. Use keyboard shortcuts

Don't reach for your mouse or touchpad—Google offers a long list of keyboard shortcuts that can save you time. Most are pretty intuitive; for starters, press the letter C on the keyboard to create an event. For more, check out the full list of shortcuts.

2. Find any date in a hurry

Skip right to the day when you need to plan.

Need to know what you did last summer, or want to prevent conflicts for future plans? Don't wade through the weeks to find a specific date. Visit the Labs from the gear icon, enable 'Jump to date', and then click Save. Now the 'Jump to date' tool appears to the right of your calendar, and you can punch in any day to do just that.

3. Customize calendar navigation

Use your mini calendar.

It’s not immediately obvious that you can see your calendar in more than the Day, Week, Month, or 4 Days views that Google displays, but you can. Just go to the mini calendar to the left of the main calendar, and highlight the time frame—such as two weeks—that you wish to see. Your main calendar immediately adjusts. What if you always prefer to count your days in an unusual amount of time, such as three-week increments? Click the gear icon from your calendar page, and in the General settings change both 'Default view' and 'Custom view' to 3 Weeks. Once you save, you’ll see 21 days at a time whenever you open your calendar.

4. What’s on your agenda?

See your upcoming plans in a colorful text list.

If you’re a power user with a ton of shared calendars and appointments, the Day view can be hard on the eyes. You can bring up a plain-text list of events for the day ahead by clicking the Agenda button above your calendar.

5. Dim less-important events

Carpe diem! Who cares what happened last week? Why let that weekly reminder to change the litterbox dominate your calendar? You can make past and repeating future events look a little less vivid. Click the gear icon, and on the Calendar Settings page find 'Event dimming'. Check one or both of the Dim past events and Dim recurring future events boxes. (On the other hand, this option may not be for you if you tend to forget Tuesday’s sales meeting.)

Now your most urgent reminders and appointments are darker than others.

6. Hide weekends

You’re using Google Calendar only for work, so tuck Saturday and Sunday out of sight. You can show just Monday through Friday by clicking the gear icon and choosing Hide weekends on the General settings page.

7. Minimize all-day events

The company’s out-of-office calendar entries are hogging space at the top of your workday. Get them out of the way: Simply find the tiny triangular arrow that appears below and to the left of the first day of the week, and click it. Now you’ll see a synopsis, like '19 events', instead of a pile of text.

8. Keep both work and play at your fingertips

Flip between your Jekyll and Hyde calendars.

If you’d rather not have private events appear in your work week, you can toggle easily between your home and work calendars. Say that you’re already signed in to your Google Apps for Business account. Click your email address in the upper-right corner of the Google Calendar page, and select Add account. Enter the details for your private Gmail address. Now, the next time you click your email address in that corner, you’ll see both identities there, and you can switch easily between the two calendars.

Make scheduling smarter

9. Schedule an event with a one-liner

Google Calendar can understand some of your language, which means that you can add an event with one line of text, and you don’t need to fuss with the full Create Event form. Start by clicking anywhere in your calendar, and then fill out the text field. As Google suggests, think like a reporter and supply the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” in a phrase. You can even set up recurring events by adding, for example, “the third Thursday of each month.” By default, any event lasts an hour if you name a start time without an end time, or it lasts all day if you don’t list a time at all.

Think like a reporter: Create an event in one phrase.

10. See when a colleague is available

Expand the Other Calendars drop-down menu to the left of your calendar. You’ll see a list of third-party calendars if you’ve already added some. If your company uses Google Apps for Business, you should be able to add coworkers’ calendars. Just start typing someone’s email address, and Google will try to autofill the rest. Either select an email address or completely spell it out, and that person’s color-coded appointments will suddenly appear on your calendar.

Displaying someone else's events helps if you need to touch base frequently.

11. Check whether everyone can meet—in the room with the view

Hire the Smart Rescheduler as your personal assistant.

When it’s critical for all hands to be on deck, this tool is a godsend. Click the gear icon to visit the Labs. Scroll down, choose Enable for the Smart Rescheduler, and then click Save. Back on your calendar, select that crucial meeting. Look to the right of your calendar for the Smart Rescheduler module, and click Find a new time. Google will load the team’s calendars, displaying everybody’s availability all at once. It even shows what time it is for people in other time zones. If your company uses Google Apps for Business, you’ll also see suggestions for available rooms in the building.

12. Hide events you’re not attending

Don’t get confused by a lingering calendar entry for a meeting you’re skipping. Click the gear icon, and under the General tab of Calendar settings, just say No to 'Show events you have declined'. Immediately beneath that option, you’ll see another setting to help clean up your calendar. By default, anytime you receive an event invitation, Google pencils it in. But you have other options under 'Automatically add invitations to my calendar', including the choice not to see those events unless you’ve accepted the invite. Don’t forget to click Save.

No need to keep the confabs you're skipping on your agenda.

13. Let Google Calendar RSVP for you

If you’d rather not waste time replying 'No' to any meeting happening when you’re predisposed, this tool will save time. Visit the Labs after clicking the gear icon, enable 'Automatically decline events', and save. The next time someone invites you to something that happens when your calendar is booked, they’ll get an instant reply.

14. Don’t miss the next meeting

Stay on track with this little ticker.

Do you often show up unfashionably late? Is your boss starting to notice? Blare a reminder for your next meeting in big, bold letters by adding a module to your calendar. You’ll find it by visiting Labs from the gear menu and enabling 'Next meeting'.

15. See who’s free or busy

Add coworkers to your 'Free or busy' list.

This tip is useful if you frequently meet with the same person and already share a calendar with that coworker. When you enable the 'Free or busy' add-on (from the gear drop-down menu, choose Labs), that module appears along the right edge of your calendar. Type in your colleague’s email address, and you’ll get an always-on 'free' or 'busy' status message. No more walking down the hall to their empty office.

Manage multiple places

16. Show two time zones

Let Pacific and Central time coexist on your calendar.

Say you’re splitting the month between San Francisco and Chicago. You might as well know what time it is in both cities at a glance—and your calendar can help. Click the gear icon, and choose Settings. Under the General tab you’ll see your current time zone, Pacific. To add Central time, click Show an additional time zone, and choose Central from the drop-down menu. Back on your calendar, you'll see that times for both the left coast and the third coast now appear side by side.

17. Manage multiple time zones

Your developer is in Ho Chi Minh City, your designer is in Reykjavik, and your investor is in Palo Alto. If you need to track a ton of time zones all at once, the Google Calendar's world clock takes up less space than the item described in the previous tip. Add the clock by visiting the Labs from the gear icon. Scroll down and choose Enable next to 'World clock'. From the module that shows up on your calendar, you can add Indochina Time and Greenwich Mean Time alongside your current Pacific time.

18. Know the weather

Let Google check the weather for you.

Now you know what time it is in Chicago, but what should you wear there? Let your calendar make the forecast. Click the gear icon, and in General settings scroll down to enter your zip code. Beneath that field, pick Celsius or Fahrenheit under 'Show weather based on my location'. Once you click Save, you’ll see icons such as storm clouds or a bright sun beneath your all-day events. Click the storm clouds for the day’s details—and get out your galoshes.

Connect your calendar with the world

19. Add calendars from around the Web

Get your game on the calendar.

Google Calendar uses the iCalendar format, which makes sharing your calendars and subscribing to other people’s calendars easy. If you plan your work hours around the Green Bay Packers, for instance, click the tiny arrow to the right of Other Calendars, and then choose Browse Interesting Calendars. Click the Sports option, and find your team. You can also search the Web for a topic that interests you, and add “ICS” or “ICAL” to the query. Among the results, you may find a webpage with an option for adding related events to your calendar. As long as you’re signed in to your Google account, the option is just a click or two away. Return to the Other Calendars list to assign a hue to each calendar (click the tiny arrow next to any calendar in your list), so you can distinguish between them at a glance.

20. Schedule events from your social network
Maybe you’re already using Google+ for work, such as for holding videoconferences on Hangouts. If you’ve built up enough contacts on that network, it can come in handy for planning your big launch event. From your Google+ page, find the blank 'Share what’s new' field and click the calendar icon to its right. Next, type the details of your event. (At this point, however, Google+ doesn’t have natural language capabilities, so you can’t just spell out “Fundraiser next Tuesday at 7pm.") Invite any or all of your contacts, or circles of contacts, in the 'Invite...' field. Before you click Invite, select a picture to dress up the event. You can also integrate Facebook events with Google Calendar: From your Facebook event, start by clicking Facebook’s gear icon and choosing Export Events.

21. Share your calendar

Maybe your company is launching a weekly YouTube show, or the ink just dried on your book tour. Save your fans time by publishing such events, and making your calendar available to the public. Below your mini calendar, click the tiny arrow next to 'My calendars', and then choose Create a new calendar. Fill out all the fields, and select Share this calendar with others, then Make this calendar public. (If you prefer, you can limit the sharing here to individuals or groups at your company.) When you're done, add a link to your calendar from your website, and don't forget to share it on Facebook and Twitter: You can grab the embed code and the URL for your new calendar by visiting Settings from the menu that appears when you click the arrow next to the calendar.

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