Calendar planner

I stopped relying on my Google Calendar to run my life, and it became my ultimate productivity hack


Digital calendars have come to dominate the working lives of many people.
  • Rochi Zalani says she had “calendar anxiety” feeling pressured to organize everything on Google.
  • After COVID-19 left her with “brain fog,” she gave up on that and found she was no less productive.
  • “Now I could also save the time I spent keeping my schedule in order,” she said.
  • See more stories on the Insider business page.

Every productivity hack preaches by following a routine, working at the same time every day, and putting all on the calendar.

I swear by calendar productivity hacks. Time blocking, color coding – you name it, I tried it.

That’s how I realized they weren’t doing anything for me.

I quit my job during the pandemic to become a full-time freelance writer. But instead of embracing the serendipity that comes with being independent, I tried to regulate every moment with a hyper-controlled calendar.

I programmed every minute – for work, for lunch and even for leisure. There wasn’t a minute that I was free to do anything other than what my schedule dictated.

I also spent a lot of time managing this Google calendar. At the end of each working day, I spent 15 minutes planning my next day. When life got in the way the next day, I would be irritated to change my schedule.

I wanted to leave nothing to chance. I called it “calendar anxiety”.

Then, in May, I contracted COVID-19.

I could no longer work the scheduled eight hours. In June, my doctor told me that I might not be able to work with my usual energy for a few months. The virus had left me brain fog. I decided to drop my schedule until I was fully recovered.

I noticed that I was working fewer hours: 30 hours per week at most, instead of my usual hours More than 40 hours. But I still hit my monthly income goal, did everything before the deadline, and left the office feeling fulfilled every day.

I was as organized as I had been while keeping a schedule. The quality of my work did not change and the customers were always satisfied. And now I could also save the time I spent keeping my calendar in order.

But was my productivity due to the bed rest I had to take during my recovery? I was skeptical that letting go of control might actually increase my efficiency. So I decided to continue the experience even after fully recovering in July.

In two months, it had become my ultimate productivity hack.

Before, the calendar ruled my day; each task had an assigned time slot. Now if I wanted to read a book and relax for a day or take a mid-afternoon walk, I could do that.

I started to run by intuition. There was no schedule to follow, just what seemed nice at the time. “Fun” was the last thing I thought of when planning my day with the calendar. Without it, I jumped into the job for joy rather than obligation.

I noticed that I was just as productive. The same tasks took a lot less time to complete because I had not given them a time limit. I closed my laptop earlier and spent more time with my family. The free time further stimulated my creativity.

Keeping a calendar had been ineffective the whole time – I just hadn’t noticed.

But it wasn’t all or nothing. There were a few fixed-term things that I still needed a timeline for. I still had to schedule one or two meetings every two weeks.

I enjoyed my white space.

The most surprising thing is that I’m still finishing whatever my schedule would tell me to do otherwise. My days aren’t much different from before – but now they feel effortless. I will never start programming every hour of my day again.

I feel like something fundamental has changed in my brain. My days have room for boredom, idle thinking and spontaneity.

For the first time in a long time, I am starting to feel free.