Pro work tip: Build a color-coded work calendar

If you’re living with a default blue and white Outlook calendar, you’re missing out. Not sure what I mean? Take a look at this out-of-the-box calendar:

It’s a veritable wasteland of sameness. Every meeting looks identical. There’s no way to get a sense of what’s coming up each day; it’s just an overwhelming blob of blue.

Now let’s take a look at the same calendar with color-coded categories for meetings and work time:

The color coding helps me see what kind of day (and week) I’m going to have. Each meeting and event has an associated category with an assigned color. Events shaded in yellow are training seminars. Items showing up in red are leadership meetings. Project meetings are orange and design reviews are aqua.

The colors help me pace myself through the day. I know an afternoon of “red” meetings is going to require more focus and diligence. And I know days with more aqua meetings are my favorite (design review meetings are creative and fun).

I also use colors to help schedule upcoming meetings. I know, for example, that I can’t go directly from a leadership meeting to teaching a training class. I simply won’t have enough time to prepare and transition. Color coding makes this planning work easy – I know never to schedule a “yellow” training event immediately after a “red” leadership meeting.

Outlook supports color-coding by allowing me to set up categories for my meetings and events. I can use the Categorize dropdown to select an existing category or create a new one. Adding a color to each category ensures my meetings and appointments are shaded consistently.

I have 7 basic categories in my calendar (each with a different color):

  • Design reviews (aqua)
  • Leadership meetings (red)
  • Project work (orange)
  • Team meetings (green)
  • Training classes (yellow)
  • Heads-down work time (grey)
  • Out of the office / personal time (purple)

These 7 categories help me differentiate between my meetings without creating too much overhead. (It only takes a couple of clicks to categorize new meetings so they appear in living color.) My meeting color palette may be too much for some (or not enough differentiation for others). It’s your calendar, so adapt the coloring and categories to suit your needs. And make sure the colors you use reflect your personal preferences. If there’s a meeting or event you look forward to, give it one of your favorite colors. Seeing the color on your calendar will be a great pick-me-up.

I recommend starting small and adding color categories to a few of your recurring meetings. This will give you an opportunity to see how you like the results before you re-categorize all your meetings.


  1. I do this!

    I granularize a bit: Project meetings are Green (internal ones are light green; client meetings are dark green); Sales calls are blue (again, light blue is an internal meeting; dark blue with the the client)

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