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Using Google Calendar as a Project Management Tool – A Guide for Power Users

Google Calendar is one of my favourite tools to manage my life and business. There is absolutely no way I could ever drop it. I went through phases of using Trello, Asana, paper notebooks, and so on, but Google Calendar has always been my go-to central project management platform. In this article, I will share with you why Google Calendar is my staple programme for managing projects and how to become a Google Calendar power user.

Is Google Calendar for You?

As a way of introduction to this article, let me tell you what my project management needs are.

I am a part-time office worker and part-time freelancer. I have a limited amount of time to work on commissioned projects during the week so I need my project management process to be easy & efficient when I sit down to do it.

I often answer client e-mails on the go, therefore, I need a tool that I can easily update on my phone with new meetings or rescheduling appointments, and immediately sync with my computer.

I don’t need to see complex charts or the percentage of completed work because I track that in a Google Spreadsheet report I send to my customers.

I need reminders because I am busy and sometimes I forget about my tasks.

I am working remotely and want to be able to share project progress and important milestones with my customers.

Oh, and I would rather not pay for a project management tool because I prefer to invest in specialised content marketing software.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? If the answer is yes, you need to give Google Calendar a try.

But let’s also do a simple reality check here before I soldier on with this article…

Google Calendar is a super simple calendar-based project management tool and expecting it to jump through hoops is a waste of time. GC is not meant to go into extreme details such as task assignment or quantifying progress, and it will not show you a Gantt chart-style timeline. Treat Google Calendar as your project calendar with note-taking, lists-making, notifications functions, which gets more advanced once you start exploring different integrations.

Google Calendar is for you if:

  • You want a clutter-free simple tool with a sleek layout
  • You like a calendar style project view
  • You need task scheduling with time view
  • You don’t need charts, graphs, tables, and so on
  • You like syncing your tool across multiple devices
  • You like free things

Google Calendar isn’t for you if:

  • You want a dynamic view of your tasks
  • You are a visual planner (thinking of Trello makes you happy)
  • You need a detailed task, subtask and sub-subtask breakdown and assign tasks to team members
  • You need to integrate your tool with e-mail, publishing programmes, CRM and whatever

Google Calendar = the simplest project management programme for small business owners

So you have decided to give Google Calendar a go? To me, Google Calendar outranks Trello and Asana because it’s like a foolproof command centre of a list-maker on steroids. Think about GC as your ultimate project control panel. Let’s take a look at the dashboard:

Using Google Calendar as a Project Management Tool - A Guide for Power Users
My Google Calendar, set to show me the month view. It’s empty as I unselected my calendars to hide their contents 😉

The browser Google Calendar view offers a spacious calendar section, which can be adjusted from day view to a week or month view, as well as a full year calendar (without event details), custom timeframe (by default, this option is set to 3 days) or a schedule (just a list of dates and to do’s).

The same goes for the Google Calendar mobile app. By the way, all Android phones have Google integration built-in but I suggest downloading GC app anyway and disabling the default calendar.

On the bottom left in the in-browser view, you will see the list of your calendars, as well as calendars you are subscribed to (for example, national holidays in Austria).

The panel on the right side under your profile picture (synced with your Google Account because you can only view Google Calendar when logged into a Google Account) is a recent addition. By default, you will see two icons: Google Keep, which syncs your notes, and in-app task manager. 

Using Google Calendar as a Project Management Tool - A Guide for Power Users

How to use Google Calendar for project planning

The following section explains the process of setting up & getting into a project management routine. Remember that the basic principles of project management still apply! No idea how to be a project manager? Check this course out: Business Fundamentals: Project Management – a free course with optional certification from the Open University.

#1 Planning a project in Google Calendar

The best way to structure projects in Google Calendar is to categorise them into different calendars. Basically:

Project = dedicated Google Calendar

Keep the projects as separate calendars even if for now you do not plan to share them. The reason is that if you decide to share a project calendar, you will save yourself a data privacy headache – sensitive data, such as contact data (for example, email addresses), won’t have to be hastily removed.

You can create an unlimited number of new calendars and colour code, share or hide them. I have the following calendars:

  • personal
  • shared with my partner
  • work
  • content marketing
  • health tracker
  • individual project calendars

Individual project calendars, as well as my work calendar, are coded according to the same project key I have created for myself. The beautiful thing about Google Calendar is that it’s searchable so I can search across all visible calendars (when you hide a calendar, it won’t be included in search results).

How I structure my Google Calendars for projects

  • Name of the calendar: Project Name / Year
  • Project phases: A blocked “All Day” event, which covers the entirety of each phase, for example, 1/03/2020 to 1/10/2020. This is the master project event so make sure it has the most important info such as link to the project folder, important dates and so on added to the event info.
  • Individual tasks to be performed on specific days, marked as events with specific time range: coded according to my project management system – searchable #Name + Task description
Adding essential project info to the “Phase” event helps keeping everything in one place.

Remember that “All Day” items show up at the top of the Google Calendar view. Be careful not to have too many of the “All Day” events – the dashboard can get messy really fast.

Also, tasks cannot be shared with other people. This is why I suggest that the “master to-do” list is saved in the Individual Task event. This is helpful if the team wants to have an exact overview of what the other people are working on that day. Whatever way you choose to have people track their individual task completion, the project manager should always receive a progress report on what has been done and what hasn’t been done.

I don’t really use the tasks option that often because I like to see all of the tasks I have done on the days they were completed. Right now, once you tick off the whole list of tasks, they will be moved to the ‘Completed’ section and will continue to accumulate there until you delete them manually. I simply add a checkmark to the name of the event/task I completed but don’t remove it from the calendar to be able to go back to it if needed.

How to check items off. I copy and paste Emojis from GetEmoji – https://getemoji.com/

#2 Adding tasks to Google Calendar

The cool thing about Google Calendar is that you can really plan out your project and create a detailed task list with reminders and subtasks distributed throughout your day, scheduling the task for the exact time you want to work on them. Wheeeey!

Using Google Calendar as a Project Management Tool - A Guide for Power Users
A sample project monthly view. You can see that Phase 1 of the project is set to extend over the whole month, while detailed Phase 1 tasks, for example, SEO work, are shorter assignments within the Phase 1 framework.

To plan project tasks, I create individual calendar events blocking off time during the day. This strategy is better than using tasks function if you want to:

  • attach files to tasks
  • add longer notes to your tasks
  • collaborate with other people on tasks (you can add them as event guests, which gives them visibility into the event notes/files and adds the event to their Google Calendars)
  • create recurring tasks (just repeat the event)
Using Google Calendar as a Project Management Tool - A Guide for Power Users
The individual task, which is visible to everyone, has a complete list of to-do’s and specifies who does what. Individual calendar users can input the same list to their Google Calendar Tasks tool to be able to track their progress. It can get tedious with copying the tasks into the GC Tasks so this step really depends on the person working on the project. The project manager still has to know what has been completed.
How a Google Calendar Task lists looks like – the sidepanel shows the individual tasks, while the calendar view shows the tasks as blue events with a pencil symbol next to them.

If you are a list person, you will love the tasks or Google Keep add-ons. Similarly to different calendars, you can create multiple lists of tasks, which will be visible in the right panel as well as in the main calendar view. You can set a due date for each task as well as a list of subtasks.

#3 Collaborating on projects

Google Calendar makes collaborating very simple: you can either share your entire project calendar with your clients, suppliers, work colleagues etc. or you can add them individually to events that you want them to participate in as participants (a word of warning – this works best if they use Gmail, I had some funky glitches with Yahoo or Outlook emails). If you are managing a project, you can create individual team member calendars to keep track of their progress.

To read more about sharing your Google Calendar, visit this Google Calendar help center section.

A big bonus is the time zone feature – each calendar can be set to a different time zone. You don’t appreciate having additional time zone display until you have to Skype with US-based colleagues! For information on using Google Calendar in different time zones, click here. By the way, you can also add Google Hangouts to your planned event – learn how to do it here.

Other cool things Google Calendar can do to make your life easier

  • Create a dedicated calendar for your goals, keeping track of/scheduling time to focus on your work towards them. In fact, Google Calendar mobile app lets you automate your goal setting with intuitive events- read more here.
  • Create a shared calendar with your family/partner for family events, birthday reminders, parties and even meal planning.
  • Batch your weeks (one of the secrets of highly productive people!) and plan your weekly schedules with repetitive events option.
  • Create events straight from your Gmail, such as your flight schedule or webinars.
  • Manage and group e-mail event guest lists.