Some things are best done in cooperation with others. That is why we need to have meetings. In order to meet, we need to find an appropriate time when everyone is available.
But here is where it gets tricky.
Finding a time which suits all involved can be an elaborate task.
How much time did you actually spend trying to find a time when all can be present in the last month?
If you add it all up, it might actually amount to several hours of e‑mailing back and forth where the dialogue runs something along the lines of:
A: “Could we meet?”
B: “Sure, some time next week.”
C: “Next week sounds good to me as well”
A: “OK then. How is Tuesday?”
B: “I am only available during the afternoon.”
C: “Not a good time for me, but I am available Wednesday morning.”
B: “No can do, I have another meeting to attend then.”
A: “How about meeting the week after next?”
It would not take so long if this entire e‑mail conversation took place within fifteen minutes, but when a few people are engaged in the conversation, it could easily take a whole day or more to arrive at any conclusion.
If only two people are meeting, it is often easiest to just give the other person a call and discuss the matter until you find a suitable time, but if you are three, four or even more who intend to meet, just reaching everyone by phone is a challenge in itself.
Luckily there are a handful of tools which make the procedure of synchronizing schedules quick and easy.
Which is great, since you probably have more urgent things to get on with than spending your time flipping back and forth through your calendar?
Here are some suggestions of tools which can aid you in making appointments and scheduling meetings, so that you have more time to spend on more important matters.
- Use the automatic meeting-time-finder in your company-calendar program. There is a feature in most of the regular calendar-programs which automatically helps us find the next opportunity to have a meeting. The feature is called “Group Schedules” in Outlook, “Scheduler” in Lotus Notes and “Available Meeting Times” in iCal.
Once you have stated who the participants are for the meeting and how long it will be, the function will quite simply find the first possible time when all parties are available.
This does however require that all participants are using the same calendar-server, that is, are part of the same organization. If one or more of the participants are clients, suppliers or some other external party, this method is no longer helpful.
But, do not despair. There are other ways.
- Use a semi-automatic meeting-time-finder online There are online-services which provide aid in booking meetings smoother, regardless if the participants make use of Google Calendar, Outlook, Lotus Notes or a regular agenda.
The service I have chosen to use personally is Tungle.me. A similar option is Calendar.
If you want Tungle.me to function as an automatic meeting-time-finder, every participant needs to publish his or her calendar at Tungle.me, which means you have to reveal when you are available and when you are not (but does not list what you do when you are busy). As this does not correspond with my preference, I have chosen to use Tungle.me as a semi-automatic service.
When I wish to arrange a meeting, I go to Tungle.me, initiate a new booking, state who I wish to invite (by entering e‑mail addresses) and how long I want the meeting to be.
After doing this, I indicate when I am available in the coming weeks by highlighting times in the Tungle.me calendar and finish off by sending the invitation.
When the potential participants receive the invitation, they simply click on the link, get the same calendar on their screen and just highlight which of my highlighted times that would suit their schedules as well. When all the participants have responded, Tungle.me tells me at which times everybody were available, after which I confirm a time for the meeting.
The service makes my life easier since it saves me a whole lot of e‑mails I would otherwise have to send back and forth to the other participants.
Since I have chosen not to publish my entire schedule, it is not a fully automatic process for me, but the additional effort I need to invest by stating my availability is worth it since it still saves me time.
- Analogue method for finding times to meet. The option which requires no digital communication is that you make sure to schedule a time for the next meeting before rounding off a meeting you are having right now (which naturally requires that it concerns the same group of people). If you all take out your agendas, synchronizing your plans will be done with ease.
Less trouble gives more time to what matters
Using one of these methods of finding times for meetings will quite simply save you time. By doing so you are letting a system take care of all the administrative work and effort necessary.
When working on a project a while back, it was part of my assignment to call thirteen different people from different departments within the organization to a meeting in December for a two-hour work-shop. I gave the names to Outlook’s scheduling-function and within a few seconds it gave me the first possible time when all participants would be available – and it was in the end of February.
Could you imagine the circus of phone-calls and e‑mails I would have had to engage myself in if the scheduling-function didn’t exist?
What is your way?
What is your favorite tool when it comes to simplifying scheduling of meetings? Feel free to comment below!