Alerts - An Entrepreneur's Best Friend
How Using Calendar Alerts Can Increase Your Productivity
It happened for what felt like the hundredth time, and I wasn't going to let it happen again. I had just received a text message reading, "We still on?" It indicated that I had indeed forgotten to call someone at a prearranged time. In the previous months I'd missed many of these phone calls, in addition to other appointments. It was time for a revolutionary change. No longer would I inconvenience others because I couldn't keep my own calendar straight.
Calendar Not Enough
This wasn't the first time I required an organization revolution. When I first started my freelance business I let deadlines slip all the time. This can become the undoing of a freelancer. Only after I missed a deadline and lost valuable business did I resolve to use my calendar. That helped keep me organized at a base level -- creating a calendar appointment serves as a reminder of itself, and then checking the calendar every morning creates reinforcement.
As business has expanded, the calendar just hasn't been enough. Yes, I still check it every morning, but it contains quite a bit of information these days. The information overload, combined with normal daily routines, means that unexpected events, such as phone calls and interviews, continue to slip through the cracks. Thankfully, the solution is relatively simple.
Turning to Industry
Oftentimes the best way to solve a problem is to find a strong analogy. The analogy creates a reference point, which we can more easily access. The analogy for creating a bulletproof organization system stemmed from a few articles I'd read about how electricity companies have used new technology to more efficiently deliver power to their entire grids.
One technology in particular that struck me was SCADA, the energy management system that many industries employ. In a SCADA system, the system gathers information about a network's or process's efficiency and reports it to an end user. If the information isn't acted upon, the alerts repeat, so that there is no excuse. The operator will always know the network's or the process's status, because he'll be constantly informed.
The application to personal organization seemed pretty obvious.
Calendar Alerts Ensure You Never Miss Anything Important
When you create a new appointment in most calendars, you're able to set various reminders. Previously I thought these were a mere annoyance. Stop popping up at me, I'd say on the rare occasion I'd forgotten to remove the pop-up reminder. It wasn't until I started missing appointments, despite their appearances on my calendar, that I rethought the idea of alerts. Couldn't these reminders and alerts act as my personal SCADA system?
And so began the process of alerting myself prior to every event. Now when I create an event in Google Calendar, it gets both the email and pop-up alert. The email comes first, an hour before the appointment (or an hour before departure if it requires a commute). Then comes the pop-ups -- yes, plural. One comes 45 minutes before the event, in case I miss the email. Then another comes a half hour after that, as a subtle nudge that hey, it's time to get a move on.
The alerts don't stop there, though. No, I don't get just one alert an hour before the event. I get at least four. By syncing my Google Calendar with my iCal, I'm creating duplicate entries. When that first pop-up hits, it pops up not only from Google Calendar, but also iCal on my computer. It's a punch in the face: you have something to do, so don't forget! I also get alerts on my iPad and iPhone (and the iPhone alert is audible). There is absolutely no way I can forget the appointment in question.
Back to the Analogy
Think of your workday as the power grid. You have a grid map, which is your calendar. You can constantly check the grid map and make sure that everything's running to standard, but that's a waste of time. It's better to have a system monitor the grid for you and alert you of abnormalities. That's where alerts come into play. They're your reminders that you're about to encounter something outside of routine, and that you must act on it. An administrator for the power grid might send a team to repair a down wire. In the same way, you might call into a conference.
Entrepreneurs live busy lives. We don't work in the same way employees do; we don't have sets of instructions that we repeat every day. We try to maintain some sense of order, but our capacity for that is limited. Organization is of the utmost importance. Sometimes a mere calendar isn't enough. For the forgetful entrepreneur, a SCADA system composed of unignorable alerts might be the most efficient solution. It's certainly helped me - I've missed not a single call or appointment since implementing the system and bashing myself over the head with alerts.