The Art of the Calendar: Three small actions that dramatically impact balance and sanity

Take a moment to reflect quickly on two items: 1) What is the goal of your calendar 2) How often do you review the effectiveness of your calendaring system?

Chances are for question one some of you thought of responses such as: keep organized, track what I need to do, ensure I get to where I need to be [ideally on time 🙂 ], help me plan for work / life balance, and/or keep me sane!

The great news is that all of the responses are on point! Would it surprise you to learn that for question two, not many leaders step back to reflect on the effectiveness of their calendaring system? As the school year nears the middle of the year, many leaders find themselves calendar-challenged as quarterly and benchmark data is available and needs to be reviewed, school improvement plans need revisiting and updating, school social events for staff, students, and parents require your presence, and school-wide “resets” need attention → all resulting in your time for classroom observation and coaching silently getting hijacked, and the “balance” you are chasing suddenly seems like a far-fetched memory.

You are not alone! And THANKFULLY others have shared their strategies to conquer the elusive calendar. 

Over the years of coaching and developing school leaders, I have come across an abundance of tools and resources for self-organization, change-management, and project management. Oddly enough, I have found very few dedicated to the “art of calendaring.” Nevertheless, our calendars serve as the gate-keeper of informing how we spend our time. As I reflect on my experiences, I have identified three “small moves” that have helped leaders at all levels stay in control of their calendar and life.


1. Color coding and nomenclature

One way to start planning your system is by taking a “zoom in and zoom out” approach to create a matrix of how you spend your day. Essentially, you are listing out what your weekly and monthly activities look like. TIP: Some leaders also zoom out three months. After listing out activities, group them into buckets. Ideally, the matrix will have activities aligned with your identified buckets, list an impact statement (why this matters), have a color identified, and a symbol as a shorthand mechanism. Below is a sample matrix some leaders have started with and adapted to meet their context.

Buckets Categories (activities) Impact Statement Color Symbol
Deadlines & Urgent Due dates (submissions/reports)

Urgent meetings / activities

Ensure high priority items are meet  Red !
Meetings Staff, Leadership

School Professional development

Ensure I am informed of meetings so I can attend or review notes Yellow ?


Culture Duty


Meet / greet

Commit time to developing a strong culture through presence and or participation Orange *


Instruction Observations

Instructional Rounds

Walk throughs

Ensure students and staff are engaged in high quality instruction  Green ***@
Planning Preparation time

Summarizing/follow up

Individual Work Time

Build time for preparation, follow-up, and deeper thinking.  Grey  


Personal Time Personal appointments

Departure time

Self / Family Time

Individual calendar review time

Create time for individual appointments

Establish time for self/family

Black ***@


Organization Priority District meetings (CEO, Central office) Keep prepared to meet district driven visits or meetings Purple ***@
***out of the building

***@ designated point person

? Tentative attendance

# Planned attendance

! Urgent

* Busy but available


2. Consolidate to one calendar 

Managing one calendar makes life easier versus having to look at three different places for your work, personal, and family calendar before making a commitment or realizing too late you accidentally double-booked yourself.  These days it appears that mostly all calendar systems can be integrated with other accounts and will allow you to click “on” or “off” what calendars your want to view. This will allow you to see any overlapping activities or potential conflicts.

TIP: If you share you calendar with other team members there is also a way to make specific calendar events private or only certain parts accessible (e.g. title of event). This is also a place where having a symbol system helps others know if you are accessible or who to go to.


3. Plan for Self-Reflection 

Add a work-block time to your calendar either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly to review your calendar system by conducting a self-SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). I have found it helpful to have a printed copy of my weekly calendar where I can jot down notes daily regarding what’s working or challenges I encounter, and I file the calendar until it is my calendar review time. I only get rid of the printed calendars after I have reviewed them in a self-reflection meeting. Other leaders have also shared that keeping daily notes helps ensure every thought is logged in preparation for planning for adjustments.

In Leading Change: Step by Step, Jody Spiro states, “leading change is complex. Yet, it can be well managed by breaking it down into a series of practical steps that enable the leader to be intentional about each tactic (move).”  I truly believe this thinking also applies to calendaring for success.


Final thoughts: 

School leadership is about leading change based on our context and by example. Leading change to results requires us to be intentional about “how,” “when,” and “what.” While calendering may seem like something small, I have witnessed leaders “show up” calmer and more focused and energized when they are managing their calendar well. The impact is multiplied as the leader teaches their team  (lead teachers and other administrators) how to collectively get organized to leverage their time for high impact.

Two additional resources I highly recommend for review with some helpful information on calendaring are: 

 The Together Leader and Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager’s Guide to Getting Results (chapter 11)




Are you ready to take these ideas to your leadership team? Effective teams 

1) implement a common system, 

2) ensure their calendar aligns with team, individual and organization priorities, 

3) have an accountability partner to reflect on what’s working and areas of opportunity, and 

4) have visibility into each other’s calendar and help each other be successful.


Try out these changes to create more balance and impact with your time.


JC Contreras is a principal coach for Ensemble Learning and a 2016 national EdWeek Leader To Learn From for principal supervision. If you would like to continue the conversation about calendering and making every second count for you and your team, you can connect with him directly at If you are curious how Ensemble Learning can support your school or organization find success for all students contact Elise Darwish, Ensemble Learning CEO, at


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