Clean Calendar

Meeting Prioritisation Matrix

In step one of my productivity blogs I talked about having a clean inbox, allowing you to focus on your own priorities. This second step looks at focusing on achieving a clean calendar.

So what is a clean calendar? For me there are 5 characteristics:

  1. Only contains meetings that add value
  2. No unresolved clashes
  3. Have space and time put aside for your priorities
  4. No outstanding requests
  5. No offline meetings

Do any of these characteristics sound familiar to you? If so then read on…

Why is this so important?

Your calendar is your gatekeeper to your time, and if you allow it to become messy, disorganised or cluttered with junk you may very well start coming across as messy or disorganised.

Do you ever find yourself rushing from meeting to meeting, never quite on time for any of them? This comes across as unprofessional or rude at best, not to mention the wasted time for everyone waiting to start meetings. Golden Rule #2 Save a little time all the time applies here.

Some people are meeting-o-philes who’d rather book a half hour to discuss an issue than send an email or make a decision. If you’re not careful and accept every meeting request you get you’ll end up spending most of your time on other people’s priorities – not your own!

Oli Note – this is a similar point to one mentioned in Step One: Clean Inbox – if you allow your inbox to drive your activities, you end up managing other people’s priorities.

Strategy 1: Question Every Meeting Request

When you get a meeting request through in your inbox don’t just blindly accept it. Perform a few quick actions at the point you are looking at the invite that will ensure that you are streamlining your meeting attendance.

Ask two questions to yourself:

  1. Does this meeting help me meet my objectives or help with my priorities?
  2. Is the person requesting the meeting someone I want to invest time in?

If either of these answers are “Yes”, then the meeting should add value to you and your priorities. If both are “No”, then I would recommend thinking very carefully about accepting this meeting. Why would you want to waste 30 minutes of your precious time on something that will not help you, or help those that are worth investing time in?

Oli Note: A future blog Getting Tough With Meetings will look at ways to improve your productivity when in meetings, and will look at how you interact with the meeting organiser.

Strategy 2: Resolving Clashes in your Calendar

Resolving meeting clashes is quite easy – one meeting needs to stay and the other is dropped or rescheduled. The really important bit here is that you need to resolve the clash as soon as you are aware of it. This ensures that you have plenty of time to reschedule the second meeting at time when you are free.

So how do you work out which meeting is more important? I use the Meeting Prioritisation Matrix.

Meeting Prioritisation Matrix
Meeting Prioritisation Matrix

In essence, this model prioritises those strategically important meetings that have a large number of attendees. The exact number attendees that define Many varies between organisations, but a good rule of thumb is 5.

If one of the two meetings is in the Business Critical box, then it wins out, if one of the two meetings is in the Catch Up box, then it loses out. If both meetings are either Action Plan or Team Meeting then you need to use your judgement as to which stays and goes.

If both meetings are in the same box, then you again need to use your own judgement.

Oli Note: These days, you can often have access to colleagues calendars within your own organisation. This should mean that meetings are only booked when all attendees are free. In reality sometimes it is hard to find appropriately free time, but in some cases colleagues don’t seem to care. Repeat offenders get short shrift from me I’m afraid 🙂

Strategy 3: Book Time for YOUR Priorities

This is a classic strategy which I have used with great success over the years. Book a meeting with yourself! This ensures that you have the time flagged as “busy” in your diary, and people will be less inclined to book it out.

Work out what priority you want to work on, and set yourself some targets – it’s really as simple as that. I try to give myself 2 hours a day by using this method, and it really helps me achieve my goals.

Strategy 4: Outlook Tip – Colour Coding

Golden Rule #5 tells you to Categorise for your Lives – and this is something I think that adds value in your calendar. Outlook allows you to categorise emails, tasks and meetings by a number of customisable categories.

Outlook Categorise Button
The categorise button allows you to assign categories to your emails, meetings and tasks – and assigns each a colour

This is really useful – at a quick glance I can see how much time I am spending on each of my workstreams and then take action if the balance feels wrong. By keeping your calendar categorised and clean you can be sure that you are investing your time in the most productive way.

Strategy 5: Regular Spring Cleaning

Once a week I like to go into my calendar and check to make sure that it’s looking nice and clean; guess what? I put this in my calendar too! During this time I perform strategies 1, 2, 3 and 4 – just in case any clashes or other messiness has entered the calendar. I normally do this at the start of the day on Monday allowing me to enter the working week ready for anything!


I’ve talked through 5 strategies that should allow you to stay in control of your calendar and your time, ensuring that you are focus on your priorities and making sure that you are using your time wisely. Question every meeting request, resolve all clashes, book out time for your priorities, colour code your meetings and make sure you stay on top of all of these by regular spring cleaning.

I hope you’ve got some value out of this post – let me know what you think via comments below, or by the social media link buttons on the page!

Other resources

Harvard Business Review have an excellent blog coming from the management perspective, and focuses on priorities.

Another great article to read comes from Business News Daily, focusing on some of the tools you can use to help streamline your calendar.

Author: Oliver Gearing

Oliver Gearing is a beatboxing, acoustic looping, 38 year old father of 3. Sounds like an electrocuted version of Elbow

4 thoughts on “Clean Calendar”

  1. Oliver, I’m impressed.

    I want to invite you to IQTELL’s app for a private beta session. We combine all your calendars, emails, tasks and much more on our app and keep everything synced, so your methods will stay solid plus (and I’m sure about that) you’ll be able to find new ways to keep a functional calendar.

    Lets talk haim {at} iqtell {dot} com

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