How much time do you spend going back and forth with others via email to schedule meetings — and then, all too frequently, to reschedule them?
Ross McCammon wrote a funny and useful column for the July issue of Entrepreneur magazine about how to reschedule more efficiently, and I’m happy to be part of it. While he focuses on rescheduling, most of the tips can help you be a better scheduler, too.
Why does your scheduling process matter? It’s part of your overall productivity and efficiency. In other words, the less time it takes you to set up a meeting, the more time you can devote to your most important work.
Here’s the tip I shared for the Entrepreneur column:
A mistake I see people make over email is not responding in a way that moves the conversation forward. Don’t just say, “Tuesday’s good.” Say, “How’s 1 p.m. Tuesday?” Take the conversation to the next step.
This streamlines the decision-making and keeps you from getting stuck in the whole “What’s good for you?” stalemate we often fall into when trying to schedule meetings. You may think you’re being nice by deferring to others’ needs, but it puts all the burden of scheduling on them, McCammon points out. It’s actually politer and more respectful of others’ time to take the initiative and suggest a time.
Here are some additional tips for being a more efficient scheduler:
Where will you meet? If you’re scheduling a phone conversation, who’s calling whom? As you schedule meetings, think through the details like these that you’ll need to decide and proactively address them. This shows the others involved in the meeting that you take initiative. It also averts the possibility of time-wasting misunderstandings (like each of you waiting for the other to call) at meeting time.
Offer More Than One Time Option
While it isn’t very helpful to tell others you can meet whenever works for them, neither is it useful to give only a single time when you’re available. Suggesting a few times when you’re available narrows down options while still giving flexibility. One of my favorite tools for meeting scheduling is WhenIsGood. The reason I like it is because your participants won’t be required to set up an account, log in, or otherwise provide any information. They’ll just click the link you provide and be presented with options.
You’ll reduce your chance of miscommunication if you’re really specific when talking about dates, even when it seems obvious. For people who are very busy, it’s easy to end up in the wrong week or month on their calendar when scheduling. Instead of “How’s next Thursday?” try something like “How’s Thursday, Sept. 15?”
Put that all together and your ideal scheduling email might read like this:
How’s Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m., or Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m.? Would it be convenient if I met you at the coffee shop on the corner near your office?
Or, if you’re doing a phone call instead of an in-person meeting, your second sentence could be:
Just let me know which of those is good, and I will call you then on your office number, if that works for you.
Don’t Forget Time Zones
Finally, if you frequently schedule meetings by phone with people in other time zones, don’t forget to specify which time zone you’re talking about. It’s helpful to list the time options you’re considering in their time zone, or include both your time zone and theirs if you fear confusion. For example, if you’re in the Central time zone, and they’re Pacific, say:
How’s 9 a.m. Pacific/11 a.m. Central on Thursday, Sept. 15?
Also note that some places participate in daylight savings time and some don’t, so “central time,” for example, might not be the same everywhere.
Putting a little extra thought into details like these helps you schedule meetings more quickly. It also reduces the chance of time-wasting misunderstanding that causes someone to miss the meeting, knocking you back to Square 1 on scheduling.