Best Practices for Scheduling Your Day and Setting Appointments Part I of III

Numbers 1-10 of 30 scheduling tips:

1. Determine if you really need to meet in person.  How many times have you attended a meeting and asked yourself, “Why am I here?”  Hopefully, you’ve started protecting your time from every person who wants a piece of it.  If my clients want to meet in person, I charge a consulting fee.  For telephone calls, no charge.  Ninety percent of the time, a conference call will suffice.  Extra travel time and expenses are involved when meeting in person, so avoid it unless dialogue and brainstorming are required.

2. Have meeting requests and responses go to your delegate, not to you.  Don’t wade through all the responses; that’s why you have an assistant (if you do).  Under Tools, Options, Delegates, select “Send meeting requests and responses only to my delegates, not to me.”  Brilliant.

3. Create a private calendar to post appointments you don’t want others to see.  We are all used to email folders, where we file email.  Most people, however, have never created a calendar folder.  A calendar folder IS a new calendar.  To create one, follow the same drill for creating an email folder (right-click on the Calendar in the folder list and select New Folder).  However, make sure the folder contains “Calendar Items” in the drop-down box.  Give your new calendar a name such as “Kids Summer Schedule” or “Laura’s personal calendar.”  I kept track of my kids summer activities in one, so my husband would know where his schedule was impacted for driving duty.

4. Check your appointments as Private when you don’t want others to read the text.  Yes, you can!  The Private box is a little, tiny box in the bottom right-hand side of your screen (Outlook 2003) when you create a new appointment.  People who share your calendar will still see a block and that you’re unavailable, but they can’t read the appointment text. 

5. Use the Category box to indicate the project, team, or committee.  Every time you schedule an appointment or accept a meeting invitation, indicate what project it’s related to in the Category box.  Use the Master Category List to add your labels.  “Tag” each appointment with one or multiple categories.  Then under the View menu, select Arrange by, Current View, By Category.  Then you can see all meetings, past and present, you had with a certain group, person, project, committee, etc.

6. Can’t find an upcoming meeting with someone you know you scheduled?  Tired of searching your calendar manually to find it?  Instead, get into the habits of using the Contacts box at the bottom left of each appointment, to indicate whom you’re meeting with (can be multiple people).  To find all upcoming meetings with a particular person, go to that Contact’s address card, select the Activities tab, and in the drop-down box, select Upcoming Tasks/Appointments. The people must be loaded in your personal Contacts list (not just your company’s global address book) for this to work.  If a meeting invitation is used, this feature is automatic, and you don’t need to select the names. 

7. As a courtesy to your coworkers, send a meeting invitation instead of an email when you’d like to connect.  Rather than emailing colleagues and asking, “What’s your schedule today?  Can we get together for 30 minutes?” take a minute to schedule a meeting invitation.  While in your Calendar, select Actions, New Meeting Request, Scheduling Tab, Add Others, Add from Address Book, and select attendees.  Check their availability on the calendar (this assumes you’ve been granted access to their calendars) and find an open time (or select AutoPick to let Outlook find the next available date/time).  Send the meeting request.  When invitees receive it, they can simply click Accept, and Outlook moves the appointment to their calendars for them.  This saves the recipient time and also saves you from trying to coordinate multiple calendars manually.

8. If someone does send an email wanting to meet, convert it into an appointment.  If your colleagues don’t understand the meeting feature and insist on sending emails for appointments, you can quickly turn an email into a Calendar item.  Right-click on the email, select Move to Folder, and then Calendar.  A new appointment window automatically opens, containing your email and any attachments.  Fill in the date, time, and details, and then Save and Close.  The message is moved from the Inbox into the Calendar automatically.  No more manual copying and pasting!

9. Use labels to quickly “see” the layout of your schedule for the day.  Right-click on any appointment in your calendar.  Select Label.  Select Edit Labels.  Change the text to display the colors as you’d like.  Pick colors consistently with your team (travel, multiple locations, training, personal, vacation, meeting, video conference, etc.) so you can quickly see where team members are working and what they’re doing.

10. Block out time to work.  Sometimes you might want to actually schedule an appointment to WORK.  To protect your time from others, schedule a Task on your Calendar (Outlook 2003).  With the Task Pad view in the Calendar showing, click on a Task you’d like to complete.  Hold the left mouse key down while you drag it to your calendar and release.  An Appointment window will pop up, automatically inserting the task into the text portion of the appointment item.  Fill in the time you want to work on the task on your calendar.  Change the Show Time as field to Tentative, if desired.  Save and close.  The task will still be kept in your Task Pad, but now you’ve blocked out time on your calendar to work on it.  NOTE: Do NOT put things you need to DO on your Calendar (that’s what Tasks are for), because if you don’t complete it, you’ll have to move it manually (not so with Tasks).

© 2008 Laura Stack.  Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.  She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations.  Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces.  She is the bestselling author of three works published by Broadway Books: The Exhaustion Cure (2008), Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004).  Laura is a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, and Day-Timers®, Inc and has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, and the New York Times. Her clients include Cisco Systems, Sunoco, KPMG, Nationwide, and 3M.  To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401.  Visit to sign up for her free monthly productivity newsletter.