26 tricks to help you tame Google Calendar

Many of Gcal's best features lurk beneath the surface. Here's how to handle it like a pro.

Desktop calendar applications are great if you're always at your desk or if you're diligent about syncing with your PDA or phone. But if you like to travel light, it may be time for you to switch to a calendar that you can access from any Internet terminal. Google's free Google Calendar is one of the most robust online calendars available. And I have the goods on how to get the most from Gcal's advanced features.

Getting started with Google Calendar is easy. If you already have a Google account (for Gmail, say), you don't even need to sign up. Just click Calendar at the top of the Gmail screen, or surf to google.com/calendar and log in. If you don't have an account yet, click Sign up for Gmail on the home page, enter your name, create a log-in name, and choose a password and security question.

Choose your views

Agenda view:

Once you're logged into Google Calendar, you can quickly switch between day, week, month, and other views by clicking the tabs along the top of the calendar. The Agenda view conveniently displays your appointments in chronological order, starting with the present date, without the screen clutter of a day, week, or month view.

Custom view:

The tab marked 'Next 4 Days' may seem arbitrary, but it's a gem of a feature. You can customize the tab to display your preferred time period, from two days to four weeks. Click Settings in the upper right corner of the screen (or press s), and then scroll down to 'Custom view' on the General tab. Choose an option from the drop-down list and click Save.

Quick selection:

A cool way to display a relevant stretch of days is to click and swipe over the minicalendar on the left, selecting just the days you want; the main display reflects your selection.

Hotkey navigation:

It's easy to use the keyboard to navigate through your calendar. Just press d, w, m, x, or a to jump to day, week, month, custom, or agenda views, respectively. Press n (for "next") or p (for "previous") to go forward or backward, respectively. (Or press the j and k keys to accomplish the same things.) Press t to jump to today's date.

Make dates with destiny

Quick additions:

Google Calendar provides a couple of easy ways to add items: One way is to click Quick Add in the upper left area of the calendar page (or press q) and start typing. Like a real person, Google Calendar assumes that words such as "Monday" and "Wednesday" refer to days of the current week; and in keeping with this understanding it adds the item to the appropriate day.

Click and go:

A second approach is to click a day or time (depending on your view) in the main calendar and to start typing in the box that opens. Google Calendar recognizes most expressions of time (7:00 PM, 7p, and so on), and it schedules the associated calendar events accordingly.

Drag and drop:

Need to reschedule? You can easily change dates and times by dragging and dropping an appointment. If a whole month is visible, dragging changes only the day. But if a day or week schedule is displayed, you can drop on any time to change the time, too.

View and edit:

Double-click any event to see all of its associated details. You can change some details on this page; but for major modifications, you must click the event and choose edit event details.

Easy erase:

Need to cancel an event? Click an item once and click Delete to zap it. Then click Delete (or press the spacebar) to confirm the deletion. 

Share and share alike

By default, only you can see events on your calendar. But you can make entire calendars--or just individual events--public if you like.

To change the default setting, click Settings in the upper right (or press s). Click the Calendars tab. Click the link under Sharing to open the appropriate calendar. Then use the checkboxes to instruct Google Calendar whether to share everything with the whole world or just a subset thereof. To share with specific people only, leave those checkboxes empty and use the controls underneath to add the names of the privileged few. Then click Save.

Seeing multiple

You may need different calendars for different purposes--work life and social life, for example. To accommodate such divisions, click Add below the minicalendar on the left. Having multiple calendars lets you establishcustom privacy, sharing, and other settings for each one.

Living color:

You can give the text of each of your calendars a custom color (use the pop-up menu to the right of the calendar name), or you can use the checkbox to the left of the name to show or hide events on that calendar. This color-coding makes all of the entries for a given calendar easy to identify at a glance.

Choose a calendar:

When you have multiple calendars, Google Calendar adds a drop-down list to the New Event popup balloon so you can specify which calendar should display the new event. The Quick Add box is less flexible, however. If you use Quick Add (press q) to create an item, the program will add your event to your first (uppermost) or main calendar, even if you've hidden its events.

Switch calendars:

To move an event from one calendar to another, click the event and then click edit event details. Choose another calendar from the Calendar drop-down list, and click Save.

Public calendars:

You can make your calendar automatically display holidays, sports events, television shows, or other items of special interest to you. Just click Add above your calendar list, and choose Add a public calendar. In the 'Add a Public Calendar' page, select a category on the left, and then click Add to Calendar for each calendar you want to add. You have hundreds of options to choose from, ranging from schedules for your favorite sports teams to concert tour dates to campaign stops for political candidates.

Add iCal calendars:

Want to integrate a Web-based calendar set up in the iCalendar format that Apple's iCal and Microsoft's Windows Calendar use? Just choose Add by URL from the Add menu, and type the desired Web address.

Change your mind? To hide or delete any calendar from your list, click Settings on the upper right (or press s) and click the Calendars tab. Then click Hide or click the trash can icon to the far right of the calendar that you want to suppress or zap, respectively.

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