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Stay Organized with Calendar Apps, Reminders, Alarms

Time-management tools can keep your work, home schedules on track

spinner image mobile calendar app with people using it for various scheduling and production tasks

Life can get hectic.

No matter how hard we try to keep our lives organized, it can be challenging to make time for loved ones, schedule and reschedule appointments, and plan activities weeks ahead. Factor in work — whether you’re a full-timer, side hustler or volunteer — and managing it all gets tough. But using technology to keep track of your daily routine can amp up your organizational skills.

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Digital calendars synchronize among devices and people, smartphone alarms notify you when an important event is approaching and smart speakers let you capture a grocery list as you’re thinking about what you need. You can even create virtual sticky notes.

Calendar apps replace appointment books

With digital calendars, you have options. Depending on the hardware you use —  desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet — and whether you prefer Apple, Google/Android or Microsoft software, most devices have free built-in calendars that automatically synchronize your entries among apps.

Add a doctor’s appointment to Google Calendar on your computer, and it will immediately show up on the Google Calendar app on your smartphone when you’re connected with Wi-Fi or cell service. You may need to download the same app for another device if it uses a different operating system (OS), the core software that runs your computer and manages all software.

A host of third-party apps work on most platforms. Many are free to download and offer some features free but require a monthly subscription or onetime fee for other features, such as syncing across multiple devices.

First, you’ll need to download each app from the Apple App, Google Play or Microsoft store. They don’t come with your device. Each touts the ability to automate, collaborate and customize while allowing you to potentially chat in real time, communicate with teams and manage projects.

Some synchronize with specific operating systems, but all are cloud-based. Apple Calendar comes installed but works only on iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches. Fantastical calendar also works only on Mac-supported devices, including Apple Watch.

Both Microsoft’s Outlook Calendar, which comes free with a Microsoft Outlook account, and Google Calendar, which comes free with a Gmail account, sync across all devices.

While not tied to a specific OS, apps such as these combine calendars with other task-management features for a simple, streamlined experience:

• combines to-do lists and even more complicated project management. It’s compatible across all systems, even smart home speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

• integrates work and personal calendars and can help you analyze the way you use your time.

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• Calendly, which has a free version, can handle complex scheduling and follow-ups. A paid plan offers metrics that track how you use the calendar and offers ways to optimize your time.

• ClickUp lets you chat with teams in real time and plot activities using an interactive whiteboard feature.

• Todoist, a popular to-do task management app, promises to keep you organized, focused and calm. 

Setup is easy. Locate a date and type in the name and time frame of your appointment, meeting or event. Many calendar apps support color-coded entries for separating work and home tasks.

Alternatively, you can compare your individual calendars with side-by-side or overlay views. You can flag an important entry, choose from daily, weekly or monthly views, identify recurring meetings and focus on your day’s tasks with a magnified “today” option.

Reminders, alarms keep you on your toes

You can add appointments that block off time on your calendar. Enter the duration of your appointment, whether a 30-minute call to a grandson or your monthly three-hour poker game.

When someone sends a calendar invite via email and you click to accept, the event is added to your calendar. If it requires dialing in or attending a Teams or Zoom video chat, a phone number or link to the online chat is included in the invitation. If you have two things scheduled simultaneously, your calendar will flag the conflict.

You can set reminders, often 15, 30 or 60 minutes beforehand. Or give yourself more time to prepare, such as two days before an anniversary or birthday.

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You’ll hear a chime on a laptop or tablet, feel a slight vibration on a smartphone or smartwatch or see a pop-up notification while you’re in any application.

Sometimes sharing a calendar with a spouse, partner, child or designated caregiver can be convenient. In general, go to Settings, search for your app, choose Options and select something like Share with specific people or Add people to this calendar.

Just like a bedside alarm clock, your calendar’s alarm can notify you. You can choose the sound, a vibration, flashing light or pop-up window on your device.

How you’re notified depends on the device you’re using and if you’ve selected Accessibility options. Smart watches synchronized with a smartphone can give you a slight tap on your wrist to alert you to something.

But you don’t need a digital calendar to take advantage of sophisticated alarm functions on computers, smartphones, smart watches and tablets. Simply type alarm in your device’s search field to find it.

spinner image amazon echo show 15 on a white wall near several stools
The Amazon Echo Show 15 has a screen big enough for the day’s appointments, notes, recipe suggestions and reminders.

Manage your to-dos with voice assistants

If you prefer a voice-enabled personal assistant, such as Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, ask to set a reminder request. The same goes for smart speakers and smart displays such as Amazon Echo or Google Nest that can help you stay on top of things by using the wake word or phrase like, “Hey, Siri,” “OK, Google” or “Alexa.”

Follow with your message: “In 2 hours, remind me to pick up Jane from the airport” or “Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., remind me to call the doctor about my lab results.” These are great for timing meals or even short naps.

A voice-activated reminder can help with recurring events, too: “Alexa, add to the calendar every day at 8 a.m., ‘take my pills.’ ” Summon your personal assistant to check your calendar: “Hey, Siri, what’s on my calendar today?” or “OK, Google, when is my meal with Michael?” or “Alexa, what time is my first meeting tomorrow?”

To tie your digital calendar app to a smart speaker, launch the Alexa app on your mobile phone for an Amazon Echo speaker. Go to Menu | Settings | Calendar & Email and select the calendar account you want to synchronize. The process is similar for Apple and Google.

Some smart displays synchronize your digital calendars with alarms, reminders, notes and other features. The largest available now are the Amazon Echo Show 15, a 15.6-inch display measured diagonally, and the 10-inch Google Next Hub Max. These are usually placed in a busy room of the house for visual reference to important dates, recipes, reminders and photo slideshows.

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