Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

A Pattern Language for Productivity, Pattern #11: Hard Landscape

by Andre · 6 Comments

A calendar serves two purposes:

  • It shows what times are committed
  • It implies by omission what times are available

The first one is obvious. The second one contains a subtle corollary: A calendar is not a To Do list. The quickest way to erode the authority of a calendar is to fill it with tasks that may or may not get done that day. Use a calendar for planning, not goal setting.

Tasks fall into two categories of time commitments: hard landscape and discretionary time. In landscaping, “hard” features like patios and fences are non-negotiable fixtures, unlike plants and rocks that can be moved to accommodate shifting design priorities. In a task management system, a calendar is most effectively used for fixed activities like meetings, deliveries and scheduled performances. The whitespace on the calendar is used for working off of Next Actions lists.

Three main types of entries go on the calendar:

  • Appointments
  • Commitments to and from others
  • Optional events or information specific to a day and time

Look at the calendar not just for things to do, but for intervals of discretionary time to complete the highest priority next actions that can be done in that time in your current context. The calendar and action lists work together. One is not a substitute for the other.

Optional events are time-dependent events like a concert, seminar or television show. They’re not “hard landscape” in the sense that they have to be addressed, but that they happen on a specific day and time that makes the opportunity lost afterward.

Some items are specific to a day, but not necessarily to a particular time. Things like filing taxes or shipping an order need to happen by the end of the day or the workday, any time within the day is fine. Day-specific items can be entered as “All Day” or “No Time” events on your electronic calendar. On paper calendars that organize the day in hourly line items, place day-specific entries in the “To Do” sidebars to avoid binding them to a certain hour. Take care of the calendar entries before next action items.

Items that are time-specific, of course, go on the calendar at their appropriate time. The advantage of taking the hard landscape approach is that you keep as much clutter as possible off of the calendar, so that when you look at it, you’re sure that the entries for that day are the ones that actually need to get done, and not just “shoulds.”

Tags: A Pattern Language for Productivity


  • A Pattern Language for Productivity, Pattern #21: Weekly Review // Apr 30, 2008 at 7:32 pm

    [...] Hard landscape items on calendars are as valuable for seeing the discretionary time between them for working off action lists as they are for tracking the appointments themselves. For calendars, action lists, and other support material to work effectively, they need to be examined and updated regularly; otherwise they fall into disuse, and the mind takes up the slack for tracking actions and projects, which is unscalable. The short-term memory space, the “mental RAM,” that defines our attention span is too limited to track dozens of projects simultaneously. [...]

  • Keep a Full System and an Empty Head // May 26, 2008 at 6:02 am

    [...] schedules, like meetings or draft submissions, and tasks that don’t fall into this “hard landscape” scheme are kept off the calendar to reserve as much slack as possible for unplanned [...]

  • Anxiety as a Compass to Accomplishing // Jul 5, 2008 at 3:57 am

    [...] most anxiety inducing next action is the linchpin to releasing that energy. Assuming there are no hard landscape items that take precedence, try completing the action that’s most making you anxious first, [...]

  • Reclaim Time by Unscheduling Abritrary Tasks // Aug 7, 2008 at 5:57 am

    [...] hard landscape approach to calendar management is founded on the premise that less is more. The fewer commitments [...]

  • Team Taskmaster mobile edition // Aug 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    [...] there’s a better approach. Use your calendar primarily for what Kibbe calls “hard landscape” itemsĀ  — that is, externally committed appointments like a conference call or staff meeting. If [...]

  • Six Time Management Tools from Julie Morgenstern // Jul 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    [...] that holds everything you intend to do, and when you intend to do it. Unlike Dave Allen’s hard landscape approach to getting things done, where only non-discretionary time is scheduled, Julie recommends [...]