18 tips and tools to make Google Calendar better

Get the most out of Google Calendar with these 18 tips, tools and tweaks for power users.

Supercharge your Google Calendar experience

Google Calendar seems like a simple enough service -- you put in appointments and schedule meetings, right? -- but don't be fooled: Beneath its surface, Calendar is filled with advanced settings and powerful options. You just have to know where to find 'em. 

We've collected 18 tips and tools to make Google Calendar better -- more useful, more customizable, and better suited to handle your day-to-day needs. From refining the user interface to expanding the service's functionality, these 18 items will help you take your Calendar experience to the next level.

1. Embrace multiple time zones

Nowadays, many of us have colleagues who live in different parts of the country or world. Not to fear, though: Google Calendar makes managing multiple time zones easy.

Click the gear icon at the top-right of the Web interface and select "Labs." Look for the option labeled "World clock," click the button to enable it, and then click the "Save" button at the bottom of the page. You'll now find a customizable world clock to the right of your calendar. It'll show the current time by default and the time for a specific event when you've clicked an appointment. You can change what time zones are displayed by clicking the "Settings" link beneath the clock.

2. Make upcoming meetings impossible to miss

Meetings are important -- allegedly, at least -- so why chance missing your next appointment? In addition to its regular reminders, Google Calendar has an optional "Next meeting" module that'll put a countdown to your next appointment at the very top of your calendar.

Click the gear icon and head into the "Labs" section, then enable the item labeled "Next meeting" and click the "Save" button at the bottom of the page. VoilÀ: Your personal countdown clock should now be in place and ticking away to the next exciting item on your agenda.

3. Get a daily agenda in your inbox

Do you live in your inbox? If so, you might find it helpful to get a daily agenda of your Google Calendar appointments delivered via email.

The service is simple to set up: Click the gear icon on the Calendar home screen and select "Settings," then click the "Calendars" tab at the top of the screen. Look for the link labeled "Reminders and notifications" next to the calendar you want and click it. At the bottom of the page that comes up, you'll see an option labeled "Daily agenda." Click the checkbox alongside it; starting the next day, you should receive a list of your daily appointments at 5:00 sharp each morning.

4. Create SMS reminders

Google Calendar has its own native notifications, but with a little Internet magic, you can make your upcoming alerts arrive via SMS as well. The secret lies in a powerful little service called IFTTT (short for "If This Then That"). The free service lets you connect various Internet and mobile services together, using user-submitted "recipes" to control how they interact.

To get Google Calendar SMS alerts, you just need to sign up for IFTTT and then enable the Calendar SMS recipe. Plug in all the pertinent details, and you'll be pinging away in no time.

5. Set and check appointments by speaking

Why type when you can talk? If you have an Android device, you can interact with Google Calendar simply by speaking aloud.

First, activate Google Voice Search by tapping the microphone icon on your device's home screen. Then say something like "Schedule a meeting with Jim tomorrow at noon" to make a new appointment. You can get spoken info about upcoming events in a variety of ways, too, like asking what your plans are for tomorrow or when your next haircut is.

Even if you don't have an Android device, you can access a limited range of Voice Search commands from a desktop PC by clicking the microphone icon on the Google home page.

6. Save time with Quick Add

Google Calendar has a full-fledged form you can use for creating new events, but you can often save yourself a lot of trouble by using the service's Quick Add feature instead. All you do is click the red arrow next to the "Create" button on the main Calendar page. Then type in your info in plain English -- telling Google what, with whom, where, and when your appointment is.

You might type "meeting with Bill in conference room B tomorrow at 3 p.m.," for instance; from that, Google will put the details in the right fields and create the event for you. You can even have Quick Add send out invitations by including attendees' email addresses in your text.

7. Go offline

A calendar's only useful if you can actually access it, and whether on a plane, on a train, or in the midst of a power outage, we all find ourselves without Internet access from time to time.

No need to fret, though: Just make sure you set up Google Calendar's offline functionality in advance. Install the free Google Calendar extension for the Chrome browser, then head into Calendar, click the gear icon, and select "Offline" from the menu that appears. Follow the prompts to enable offline access for your PC, wait for the initial sync to complete, and then sit back and work comfortably knowing your precious appointments will always be available.

8. Sync Outlook with Google Calendar

Google's native software for syncing Microsoft Outlook with Google Calendar may have gotten the axe, but that doesn't mean Outlook users are completely out of luck. CompanionLink specializes in keeping your Outlook calendar, contacts, and tasks seamlessly synced with your cloud-based Google Calendar. You just install the software on your Windows or Mac PC, put in the appropriate credentials, and let it do the work from there.

CompanionLink costs $50 for a lifetime license that works on up to three PCs. You can also opt to buy a three-month subscription for $15 if you prefer.

9. Put your Calendar in Chrome

If you use Google's Chrome browser, a free extension called Checker Plus for Google Calendar can make Calendar a core part of your Internet experience. It puts a special icon in your browser's toolbar area; hovering over the icon will show you a quick rundown of your next couple appointments, while clicking it will bring up a full interactive pop-up calendar for viewing detailed information about any event and also for adding new events.

Checker Plus can deliver customizable rich HTML notifications, too -- regardless of whether Google Calendar or even Chrome is actively open -- with the option for event details to be read aloud.

10. Take some shortcuts

Like most Google services, Google Calendar has a robust list of ready-to-use keyboard shortcuts for the mouse-aversive among us. From anywhere on the Calendar website, press the question mark to see a list of available keyboard shortcuts. There's no shortage of handy commands -- things like "c" for creating a new event, "e" for viewing event details, and "q" for opening up the Quick Add box.

11. Turn Google Calendar into a weather forecaster

You probably look at Google Calendar every morning to see what's on your agenda, so why not get a weather forecast while you're at it? All you've gotta do is head into Calendar's settings and look for the option labeled "Show weather based on my location." Click on the Fahrenheit option -- or Celsius, if you prefer -- and make sure you've also set your location in the field above it. Then click the "Save" button at the bottom of the page.

Once you refresh Calendar, you'll see small weather icons at the top of each day. You can hover over the icon to get more info or click it to see even more detail.

12. Get extra info in your calendar

In addition to your own personal appointments, Google Calendar can show you all sorts of info about the world around you. Head into Calendar's settings and click the "Calendars" tab at the top of the screen to get started.

Look for the link on the page labeled "Browse interesting calendars." Once you click it, you'll see a list of available add-in options, including holidays for a variety of countries, sports schedules for practically any sport and league imaginable, phases of the moon, and even all of your contacts' birthdays. You can preview what any calendar will look like and, once you're ready, add it into your setup by clicking the "Subscribe" link alongside it.

13. Put your to-do lists in your calendar

Google may not make a big deal about its cross-product Tasks service, but its functionality sure can be useful. And -- surprise! -- you can access and manage it right from Google Calendar.

To get Google Tasks into Google Calendar, click the text in the left column of the page labeled "My calendars" and then click the "Tasks" option that appears beneath it. That should cause a Tasks sidebar to appear on the right-hand side of the page. The Tasks sidebar gives you full Google Tasks access: You can view and check off existing tasks, add new items, and move among multiple lists. And, as usual, everything you do is synced and applied across all Google products.

14. Customize your calendar views

Most people tend to look at calendars by the day, week, or month -- or maybe in a list-style agenda. But that doesn't mean you have to be limited to those options. Google Calendar has an extra option you can customize to meet your own personal needs. It's the button located between "Month" and "Agenda" at the top of the screen -- and you can change it to whatever view works best for you.

Head on over to Calendar's settings and look for the option labeled "Custom view." It'll be set to four days by default, but you can change it to anywhere from two to seven days or even make it a two-, three-, or four-week view.

15. Get a year-long perspective

Sometimes it's helpful to see things in perspective -- to look at an entire year's calendar on a single screen. Google Calendar can help you do it; you just have to enable the setting first. Click the Calendar gear icon, select "Labs," then find and enable the option labeled "Year view."

When you save and return to your calendar, you'll see a new widget in the right-hand sidebar that lets you enter any year and click "Go" to see a year-long display. From the year view, you can click on any individual date to jump directly to it and manage its events.

16. Jump to any date you want

Google Calendar has an excellent search utility -- naturally -- but you may find yourself wanting to browse through a particular day's agenda to see what events occurred or what appointments you have scheduled. 

Clicking through months to find the day you need can get cumbersome fast, so instead, click Calendar's gear icon, go into Labs, and enable the aptly named "Jump to date" option. It'll put a convenient box on the side of your Calendar that lets you quickly input any date and jump right to it -- no scrolling required.

17. Collaborate in Calendar

Why keep your agenda to yourself? You can share your Google Calendar with a co-worker, spouse, or anyone else to make planning and collaboration a cinch. And you can always control exactly how much that person will be able to see and do.

Head into Calendar's settings and click the "Calendars" tab at the top of the screen, then click the "Share this calendar" link next to your own calendar. Enter the email address of the person with whom you want to share and select the level of access you want them to have. Even if you opt to allow someone to see all events by default, you can still set individual events to be private and thus visible only to you.

18. Let Calendar be the bad guy

No one likes being the bearer of bad news, so the next time you can't make it to an event, let Google Calendar do the dirty work. Just activate Calendar's hidden option called "Automatically declining events," located in the service's Labs section.

It gives you a new choice when creating events to show yourself as busy and to turn down any conflicting invites that come in. It's all automated, so when the invites arrive, you don't have to do a thing. Saying no has never been so easy.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.