How to effectively manage the calendar in Outlook

You expected to have a calm day at work …and it turned out to be a marathon of meetings, jumping from one meeting to another 🏃‍♂️, and you ended up as tired as the athletes after the Tokyo 2020🗼 marathon (by the way, 86 °F/ 30C 🔥 in the shadow).

If this situation is familiar to you – not running an Olympic marathon – but running from meeting to meeting and barely not having time to breathe – no worries.

Take a deep breath 🌬

another breath🌬.

okay, we are good to go.

I will show you the tips and tricks that I personally use and helped me to reduce by 57% the time I spent in my Outlook.

How to effectively manage the calendar in Outlook

According to a recent study (by, 83% of enterprises globally use Microsoft Office.

In other words: 8 out of 10 companies globally use Outlook.📆

There are high chances that either in your current job or in your future job, you will be using Outlook.
Thus, it is worth the investment of time in order to become an advanced user and be the next Outlook guru 🥷.

Organizing Outlook calendar

I like to think that people are as organized as their calendars in Outlook.
My experience tells me that there is an intimate connection between

performance and how organized is the calendar.

  • Top performers tend to have a very organized calendar. 📈
  • Poor performers tend to have a very messy calendar. 📉

Why is that?

Top performers tend to be clear on the priorities for the day, tend to be ready with presentation/data for the meetings and tend to show up on time to the meetings..

Poor performers tend to rush from one meeting to another, tend to use very often “let me check it and I will get back to you” and tend to be later for the vast majority of the meetings.

Outlook Time Management with calendar and tasks

Top 3 tips to take your productivity to the next level and reduce by 57% the time you spend in your Outlook:

  • Start the day reviewing the calendar, tasks, and inbox.
  • Use categories in your calendar.
  • Learn how to say No to the meeting invites.

Start the day reviewing the calendar, tasks, and inbox

Start the day always the same way -> reviewing your calendar and not your inbox.

You read it correctly – start with your calendar✅ and not with your inbox❌.

Why not start the day by checking your inbox?
If you start checking your inbox first, and you see there is an urgent request waiting for you in the inbox📧, there are high chances you will naturally jump into that “fire” 🔥 and lose control over your priorities for the day, for example, a meeting that it is about to happen.

On the other hand, if you start your day by checking your calendar📆, you will see which meetings you have for the day. Meetings you need to get prepared in advance, meetings you need to just attend, or simply meetings that are a one to connect with your manager

To put it simply

First check your Calendar 📆,
Second check your tasks📋 (or whatever other solution you use to see what it is on your To-do list)
and thirdly , your inbox 📧.

One: Calendar, Two: Tasks and Three: Inbox – Now in Spanish 🇪🇸: Uno: Calendar, Dos: Tasks and Tres: Inbox

The best way is to force your Outlook to start always showing your Calendar
How to show your calendar first when opening Outlook:

File / Options / Advanced & Start Outlook in this calendar

Step by step

Step #1 Click on File

Step #2 Click on Options

Step #3 Click on Advanced and Start Outlook in this folder: Calendar

If you want to learn more about my daily and weekly cycle in order to effectively manage my Outlook, click here.

Outlook category management

Every meeting that lands on your calendar should be labelled.🏷
The easiest and most effective way to label a meeting is using Outlook categories.

Why is key to using categories in Outlook?
In a blink of an eye 👀 – you would be able to recognize which meetings you are leading, which meetings you need to be prepared or which meetings are one-to-one connect with your manager or your peer.

See a below real-life example of what a week in my calendar looks like:

You may be overwhelmed by seeing so many colours🌈 – no worries you will get used to it after understanding the major benefits of organizing your calendar in such a way.

What does it mean for every colour?

Every colour has a meaning, and every colour is linked to a different category:

  • Red colour – Meetings that I lead
  • Orange colour – Meetings that I attend but don’t lead
  • Green colour – Time to prepare meetings and/or time to focus on projects/analysis/system
  • Grey colour – Time to check my calendar, tasks and Inbox
  • Purple colour – One to connect with my manager and team members
  • Blue colour – Time booked for lunch (at least 30min daily – unless critical reasons I never skipped)

How can you set up categories in your Outlook Calendar?

Go to your calendar, click on a meeting you have already scheduled, locate the tags area (upper right side) and click on categories.

You will be able to:

  • Customize as many categories as you want.
  • Assign a colour for each category.
  • Set up a shortcut for every category.

How to say No to a meeting

It seems easier than we think to say “No”. Two letters “n” and “o”. However, we don’t use “No” enough.

Bringing some numbers,
according to a recent study (,
32% of workers attend meetings they think could have been an email,
and what’s more worrying
nearly 79% of professionals are stressed due to the lack of time to get all the jobs done every week.

To put it simply,
we don’t say No enough and we end up very often in meetings that either are not needed or easily could have been an email.

It is crucial we learn how to say No, so we can focus only on crucial meetings and have plenty of time to focus on analysis, projects or tasks that really make the difference.

I like to differentiate 3 different situations where I usually say to the meeting invite.

Situation #1
No agenda, no meeting

Simple: if you are invited to a meeting and there is no clear agenda and no clear expectations of what is needed from you – go and reject the meeting.

See below examples of how to say No to a meeting, and still feel good about it ☺️.

Situation #2
Another meeting that could be an email

There is clear agenda and clear expectations of what is needed from you, however, if you still think that this meeting topic could be effectively resolved via email or via Teams, go for it and challenge the meeting leader.

Be clear about what you want to say and why you think this meeting is not needed

Situation #3
Clashing with another meeting

There can be the case that the meeting you invited has a clear agenda and clear purpose, you think the meeting is really needed however it is clashing with another meeting another priority.

Politely reject the meeting and propose an alternative timing when to address the topic.

One of the biggest challenges earlier in my career was how to communicate when I wanted to reject a meeting, this was indeed one of the main sources of headaches.

Let me save you some headaches by bringing you real-life examples (you can implement already as of tomorrow ) of how to effectively decline a meeting.

I like to differentiate three parts of my declining message. Greeting part, Message part and Closing part.
It is easier to understand with an example

Greet the person – Part1
Hi [meeting organizer’s name],

Direct message providing reason and alternative date if needed – Part2
Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend due to [ mention reason and alternative date] ­

Closing email with your name – Part3
[your name]

Examples of how to say No to a meeting

Example #1 – when a meeting you are invited to is clashing with another meeting.

Hi Daniel,

Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend due to clashing with another meeting I need to lead, feel free to schedule it at another time, my calendar is up to date.

Mister Paton.

Example #2 – when you feel you are not needed in the meeting you have just been invited.

Hi Daniel,

I will not be attending this meeting; I don’t see much value added in joining this meeting. If there is anything specific you need from me, send me over offline, thanks!

Mister Paton.

Example #3 – when there is no clear agenda and purpose for the meeting you have just been invited.

Hi Daniel,

I will not be attending this meeting; If you could share a clear agenda and expectations from the meeting so I can assess if my participation in this meeting is really needed or if this could be worked via email, thanks!

Mister Paton.

If you need some guidance on when a meeting is needed or not – click here

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