How Your Calendar is Killing You (And What To Do About It)


You likely have one of two problems with your calendar.

Maybe your calendar looks like a maze from which there’s no escape. You’re so tightly scheduled with meetings, appointments and commitments that your first rest-room break opens up in late 2022.

Or maybe your calendar is just the opposite, other than a few meetings, it looks wide open. There’s white space everywhere.

Yet (and don’t miss this), almost all of us end up in the same place: you feel completely overwhelmed.

If you’re a hyper-organized person, you may write everything down, but you feel crushed by the burden of running from meeting to meeting, task to task, obligation to obligation with no breathing room.

On the other hand, if you’re someone who doesn’t tightly schedule yourself, you still get to the end of the day and feel like you got hit by a truck carrying 1000 things that ‘came’ up and derailed your best intentions. What happened to all that ‘free time’ you planned? It just vaporizes, day after day after day.  And you’re still not done with what you need to do.

Here’s the sad truth: when your calendar is out of control, so are you. And so is your life.

And most of us have a calendar that is anything but in control.

When your calendar is out of control, so are you. And so is your life. Click To Tweet

At least six things suffer when your calendar is out of control.

1. You work in it, but you never work on it

There’s a very good chance your greatest contribution to your church or organization isn’t sitting around in meetings or answering email after email after email.

But that’s what happens to you day after day.

The reason so many organizations and churches don’t grow is because leaders never take the time to work on things. Instead, they just work in them.

If you work in it, not on it, you:

Never go on retreat because nobody has the time.

Don’t do long-term planning, because next week is still on fire and you have to solve that.

Never thank your best people with a lunch or dinner out or an afternoon of your time because you don’t have time.

Never plan for the future in bold and imaginative ways.

Working in it, not on it, is a sure-fire way to stunt the growth of whatever you lead.

Working in it, not on it, is a sure-fire way to stunt the growth of whatever you lead. Click To Tweet

2. Other peoples’ priorities hijack yours

When your calendar is out of control, other peoples’ priorities hijack yours.

Here’s an example.

For me, one of the most important things I can do is write.

Whether that’s my next sermon series, next message, next book, next blog post or questions for my next podcast, writing is hands down one of the most important things I do.

Yet every text, every phone call, every email, every knock on the door is someone asking you to get their priority done, not yours.

But nobody ever cancels their meeting with me and tells me “Hey Carey, I just wanted to make sure you had enough time to prepare for the next podcast interview and edit your next book.”

Instead, I get dozens (or often, hundreds) of emails every day asking me for something someone else wants.

The principle: No one will ever ask you to complete your top priority. They will only ask you to complete theirs.

Effective calendar control is the best way to manage this reality.

No one will ever ask you to complete your top priority. They will only ask you to complete theirs. Click To Tweet

3. You use your gift, but you never develop it

What’s the difference between a world-class performer and an average one?

It’s easy to say it’s gifting alone, and there’s a smidge of truth to that.

But as Malcolm Gladwell has shown, a lot of it has to do with time. People who spend 10,000 hours developing their gift tend to become world-class.

Think endless violin practice, football drills, speeches, or even thousands of sets in tiny nightclubs before your band really gels.

Most of us are gifted at something.

The challenge with being gifted is you can probably ‘wing it’ better than the average person.

Honestly, I know I can do this with preaching and public speaking. Put me up there with zero prep, and I’ll still be decent.

The problem is far too many preachers do this week after week after week. So do many musicians, leaders, thinkers and managers.

When you live this way, you cheat your gift. You use it, but you never develop it.

Development takes time. Time to read, research, refine, edit, craft, practice, and try again to make it magnificent.

You are far more likely to become world-class at something if you work at it than if you merely use your gift.

Again, leaders who can’t control their calendar will never develop their gift. There simply won’t be the time for it.

Too many leaders cheat their gift. They use it, but never make the time to develop it. Click To Tweet

4. Your Dream Dies

This one is so sad.

Repeat the pattern or accidental living, overwhelm and calendar clutter long enough, and soon you’re not in your twenties anymore.

Then your thirties fly by. And before you know it, you’re forty or fifty.

You look back over the last few decades and you notice something died along the way: your dreams.

Because you couldn’t keep up, you never wrote that book, launched that church, pursued that hobby, took that really awesome vacation with your family, or developed yourself to your potential.

Instead, you filled your life with, well, you can’t even exactly remember what you filled your life with. Except it was really intense all the time, and you don’t have much to show for it.

When your dreams die, a part of you dies.

If you can’t control your calendar, that’s exactly what happens far too many times.

When your dreams die, a part of you dies. Click To Tweet

5. Your family comes in second

For too many years, when my calendar was out of control, my family never got my best.

They got my leftovers.

Worked sucked the life out of me. Things were growing so fast I couldn’t keep up. I didn’t know how to keep up.

If you give everything you’ve got at work, you’ve got nothing left over for the people you love most at home.

You’re so tired that instead of serving your family, you expect them to serve you.

That’s a perfect recipe for conflict right there.

Even if you’re winning at work but losing at home, you’re losing.

Even if you're winning at work but losing at home, you're losing. Click To Tweet

6. You come in last

I realize your life isn’t about you. I think most of us are working toward a bigger purpose. I am.

But when your calendar creates chaos in your life, you come in last.

Because if you’re at all service-minded, you will give until there’s nothing left to give.

That works for a season. Until it doesn’t.

Your energy is kind of like a bank account. You can deplete it only so far, and then eventually when there’s nothing left, you go bankrupt.

And that’s a bad situation for everyone.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

Love comes from the overflow. So does hope. And kindness. And joy.

God never intended for you to live your life depleted, burned out and hurt.

Ok, so maybe your Calendar is killing you. What should you do about it?

Years ago, when I burned out, I completely restructured how I approach my calendar, and it has resulted in the most productive years of my life.

Since moving to this new calendar system, I have

  • Spent more quality time with my wife and kids
  • Written 5 bestselling books
  • Produced and launched several online courses that thousands of leaders have taken
  • Started a highly successful leadership podcast
  • Started a top leadership blog that releases content 7 days a week
  • Led our church to over 1000+ weekly attenders
  • Started my own company

How was I able to do all of that?

It’s all in how I structured my calendar.

I would love to share that calendar template with you for free—you can customize it to fit your needs and tasks. And once you download it, there’s a free video explaining how I use it.

What’s your biggest struggle?

I really hope this helps!

The last thing I want is to see more leaders burn out or fail to thrive.

In the meantime, what are some time struggles you’re facing?

I’d love to hear in the comments as we try to get better together.

And don’t forget your free download.

How Your Calendar is Killing You (And What To Do About It)


  1. Cody Griggs on October 4, 2020 at 8:07 pm

    I’m having trouble exporting the calendar from google sheets to my iCalendar. Any suggestions?

  2. Matthew on April 15, 2020 at 6:36 pm

    This is the exact content that I needed today! Felt like you were reading my mail! Thank you for everything you do!

  3. Busisiwe Xulu on November 14, 2019 at 12:32 am

    ok, ok,ok Gooosh. How did you know i needed this? often times i plan but it never worked out.
    From the first point to last,it exactly what i needed o here. Thank you so much. Now i know how to handle 2020

    Anyway my greatest challenge is that i have Monday to Monday tight schedule for Church and Monday to Friday tight schedule for work . those are the challenges i am facing everyday and every year

  4. Suzanna on November 13, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Wow, I really needed this thank you so much for laying emphasis in this much-needed area of my life.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 13, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      So glad to help!

  5. JOAN ZEBERLEIN on October 4, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Carey,
    Is there any way to access this info still? I was trying to download the free template + listen to the video and it’s no longer available.
    GREAT stuff and interested in how it may help our LEAD team.
    Thanks in advance.

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    • Darcy Rist on November 13, 2019 at 5:40 pm

      Ministry ought not to be about the making of more money, yes-we all need to make a living, but it’s not about make more dollars, caqpilaizing on the learner. It’s about discipleship and leadership development. Thank you Carey for understanding that and recognizing that-cheers.

  7. Matthew Lilley on December 15, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Great and helpful reminders as always. Thanks!

    • Apostle, FAGAYO DAVID on September 6, 2021 at 11:32 pm

      A calendar is account down in each and every day, no matter of how you eat or sleep or stay but is after what you do in your Office.

  8. Allen Forget on December 15, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Hey Carey. Two time struggles that I face all the time are building in “margin” to allow for the unexpected and having to deal with meeting requests from people up the organizational food chain. It makes tons of sense to have a plan for time especially from a business perspective but if the organization does not operate on the same schedule it is difficult to manage your time within your time.
    Question, do you refine your time within your time or are your categories a broad scope?

  9. Jan Oller on December 14, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Carey: thanks for leading the way. I’m wondering if you feel research on church size and expectations of pastors has relevance to calendaring. For example, research on church size suggests that our smallest churches often have a matriarch/patriarch that determine what the church does, shape policy and practice. The next size up is very pastor-centric, looking for the pastor to make all the decisions, etc. The next step up has staff beyond a pastor and committees begin to make decisions, etc.
    Do you think that research has merit and if so, how do you see it impacting a pastor’s calendar?

  10. Dallas McLean on December 14, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Carey, This blog describes my wife and I to a T. I’ve known this for some time as well, but the problem is that it is not easy stuff to change and good intentions don’t account for much. My wife and I work together and we do everything opposite of each other (she’s detailed, I’m more free flow). This creates extra conflict with trying to get a healthy calendar. I am really excited to look at your calendar and see If I can bring some healthy function to our lives. The ironic part is that we are struggling through this while our organization is approaching the biggest growth opportunities we have ever had.
    Thanks for your encouraging blogs! I hope I can take your Hight Impact Leader course this year!

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