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

11. Keep your calendar up to date.  It’s frustrating when your colleagues are trying to set up appointments, and it appears that you’re open, so they send out a meeting request to a large group.  You respond, “Sorry, I have a conflict on that day/time,” to which they respond by banging their heads on the desk in frustration, asking, “Then WHY didn’t you have it on your calendar?”  Truly, if an organization is going to predictably use shared calendaring to coordinate meetings, you must keep yours current.  It’s fine to use a traditional paper method as well, but if you schedule something on your “other” calendar, make sure to update your electronic one at regular intervals as well.

12. Include travel time in a single appointment and put the actual meeting time in the subject.  If your meeting starts at 11:30, but it’s going to take you thirty minutes to drive there and fifteen minutes to get out of the building to your car, block out your calendar starting at 11:00 (so others can’t schedule with you).  Then write @11:30 in the subject line, so you know the actual meeting time.

13. Do not accept a meeting invitation if the requestor can’t state in one sentence the exact reason you are meeting.  For example:
– To inform our department of changes in the holiday pay policy.
– To sell management on our division’s plan to automate payroll processing.
– To brainstorm the best way to resolve the association’s budget deficit.
– To determine realistic sales goals for each region for next year.
– To discuss the critical skills required for successful performance as a first level supervisor.

14. Send lengthy reading materials at least 48 hours in advance.  Participants express frustration with wasting time in meetings reviewing materials that were just handed out.  They don’t have adequate time to digest the information and formulate questions.  They could have reviewed that document while waiting in the doctor’s office yesterday.  Don’t waste everyone’s time by forcing them to sit there and read together like kindergarteners—their time is much too expensive.

15. If updating a meeting already scheduled, send an update to the existing appointment.  If you have already set up a meeting and invited participants, sending an email about the meeting forces them to either copy and paste the additional information into the meeting or have two meeting blocks for the same event side by side on their calendars, forcing them to open two items to get complete information.  If you need to add information, send out a meeting update.  To contact meeting attendees with a reminder or other message, open the original meeting request, click the Actions menu, and select “New Message to Attendees.” 

16. Avoid meeting request responses.  If you’re sending a meeting request to a large group and don’t need or want responses, in the open new meeting request, on the Actions menu, uncheck the line Request Responses.  To make this the default.  Tools, Options, E-mail Options, Tracking Options, “Delete blank voting and meeting responses after processing.”  Or create a Rule (under Tools, Rules and Alerts, start from a blank rule) to automatically delete messages responses with certain words in the subject line.

17. Schedule time for preparation and action.  Depending on your level of involvement in the meeting, you need time to get ready.  You might need to start your preparation days before if you need to create a report or give a presentation.  When you accept a meeting, immediately go into your calendar and block off at least 15 additional minutes separately for prep time, a bio break, refreshing beverages, and transfer time—and add more as necessary for mental preparation and review.  Don’t walk into the meeting “cold.”  In the same way, block out time at the conclusion of the meeting to review action items, activate them into your time management system if you can’t complete them right then, and get organized.

18. End meetings before the top or bottom of the hour.  If you’re the one scheduling the meeting, don’t use the standard Outlook settings of hour or half hour blocks.  If one meeting is from 1:00 to 2:00, immediately followed by another from 2:00 to 3:00, you will by default be late to your 2:00.  So use either :15 or :45 start and end times, to allow transition time.

19. Limit attendees. Think through who really needs to be there.  Don’t worry about “hurting someone’s feelings” if they aren’t included.  If you simply want to keep a stakeholder or player in the loop, select them as “optional,” instead of “required.”  Always assume that higher-ups have things to do that are much better uses of their time than sitting in your meeting.  Think about how much money people are paid, and ask if your meeting is worth an hour of their pay PLUS what they otherwise could have been doing if they weren’t stuck in your meeting.  Only invite people if they have a direct contribution to make to the meeting objective, and the desired decisions would not be able to be made without them.  If their presence is only required for ten minutes, give them the first ten minutes, and then allow them to graciously depart.  Keeping others who aren’t invited informed can be done with a quick email summary or inclusion on the distribution list of any meeting notes or minutes.

20. Confirm everything.  I’ve often shown up for a meeting and the other person “forgot.” You’d like to think adults are all responsible and will do what they say they will do, but it’s always better to dash off a quick email.  “Looking forward to seeing you on (date) at (time) at (location).  Let me know if something comes up.”  I don’t make people confirm that things are correct; I ask them to let me know if there is a change.  Also make sure you get directions and map it out well in advance of trying to run out the door.  I look at my calendar for the next day before I leave work and make sure I’m ready to roll on everything.