Beginning Mac: iCal


Calendars have come a long way from the days of a pocket diary, with software able to manage your schedule and information much more reliable and accessible. iCal for OS X is the bundled calendar application, and works surprisingly well. It appears simple on the surface, but packs a wide range of different features and functionality.

This article will walk you through iCal from first opening the app, to having a diary filled with important events, recurring appointments, alarms, attachments, and attendees.

Getting Started

The first step is to open iCal for the first time from your applications folder. You’ll be presented with a window which looks something like this:


Before getting started, you might want to change a few preferences to match the way in which you work. Click iCal > Preferences in the menu bar to review the options available. You’re able to change the days per week, starting day of a week, default alarms for events and a whole range of other options. Once you’re happy with the settings chosen, close the preferences window and we’ll get started adding a few calendars and events.

iCal Views

There are three main viewing modes which can be used within iCal; Day, Week and Month. The month view can be seen above, here’s what to expect when viewing by day or week.

Week view shows you a clearer breakdown of each day:


And viewing by day makes a complicated schedule much easier to make sense of:


Dealing With Calendars

Within iCal, you are able to run several ‘Calendars’. These would commonly represent different projects or areas of your life. These are a few of the calendars I have running:


You can have as many or as few as needed, and adding a new calendar is simple. Click the ‘plus’ icon towards the lower left of the iCal window to add a new calendar (or hold Shift whilst pressing it to add a new group/folder). Once added, right click the new calendar and select ‘Get Info’ to bring up an options window:


Here, you can alter the color of the calendar, or ‘publish’ the calendar through MobileMe — this is a more complicated step, which you probably won’t need to explore at first.

Dealing With Events

Once a few calendars are in place, you’ll need to enter your events/appointments. To do so, right click on the appropriate day, then select ‘New Event’. Type a name, then double click the event. This will bring up a window similar to the following:


A number of options are available within the new event window:

  • Location: Enter the place where you’ll be meeting
  • All-day: If it’s an all day event, select this option to let iCal know
  • From/To: You can enter the start and end time (or days, for an all-day event)
  • Repeat: This allows you to schedule an event to re-occur at a set interval (every day, week, month, year, or a custom schedule). It works brilliant for birthdays, or regular bill payments etc
  • Calendar: Here, select the appropriate calendar for the event
  • Alarm: I’ve covered these various options below
  • Attendees: Again, these are covered below
  • Attachments: You can add files and documents to a calendar event so you have all the information you need at hand


There are several different ways to be notified of an event:


All the different notification methods can be set to occur either at the time of the event, or a set period before. The first two cause a reminder to pop up on your screen with the details of the event, or you can perform more complex actions such as automatically sending an email, or running a file/script.


iCal has fairly robust built-in support for dealing with attendees. Integration with Address Book means that sending invitations to attend is simple. Emails are sent to request the person’s attendance, to which they can reply in the way which best suits them. iCal will show a question mark next to the invitee’s name until they respond:


To Do Lists

If you have a list of tasks which need completing, but don’t have a set day or time, you can use iCal’s To Do feature. Clicking the ‘Push Pin’ icon in the lower right corner of the window will display the list of current To Do lists. Adding a new one is as simple as right clicking and selecting ‘New To Do’.

In the same way as calendar events, To Dos are assigned to a particular calendar. Priorities of High, Medium and Low can be assigned to automatically rank tasks in their order of importance:


Time Zones

The final feature to be mentioned is that of automatic time zone support. Clicking ‘Enable Time Zone Support’ in the preference window as outlined at the beginning will add the following text to the upper right of the iCal window (obviously varying depending upon your time zone):


Now, when scheduling meetings you are able to note the time zone in which it will occur. iCal will factor in the difference between your current location and automatically ensure that you’re notified about the meeting at the right time.

If you’d like to add an event which is independent of any time zone, you can select the ‘Floating’ option when adding a new entry.


When first opening iCal, it doesn’t seem like a particularly powerful or complicated application. However, as you start to enter calendars, events and to dos, it becomes clear that it can offer a comprehensive solution to managing your schedule.

I hope that this article has provided a good overview of the iCal basics. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!