P. J. Barnes
Office Systems Coordinator
Office of Quality Improvement,
Over the years as a program assistant with the Office of Quality Improvement, I have been asked to schedule a number of complex meetings involving multiple individuals. There is no right or wrong way to schedule a meeting and unfortunately, no magic way, either. However, since there are many common sequences to scheduling, I have developed a system.
From the time you ask for someone's availability until you actually schedule a meeting, calendars can fill up quickly. One way I try to reduce turn-around time is by doing some pre-work.
Create a Grid
A grid allows me to view everyone's schedule together (Figure 1). At a glance, I can see common times and who has not responded. The grid lists the attendees across the top row and the possible days and times along the left-hand column. By leaving the second row blank, I am able to jot down information that aids in contacting the individual; such as, an assistant's name, phone number, fax or E-mail.
Determine Key Individuals
When trying to determine the available days and times you will be asking for, sometimes there are a few key individuals who must be at the meeting. I may quickly E-mail or call those individuals to find out their available times. It is these key individuals that are the first few columns of the grid. Then, to visually aid me, I put a heavy line down the column that separates the key individuals from the rest of the attendees.
Create E-mail Group List
One of the more successful ways to contact individuals is through E-mail. Since you will be corresponding with a group more than once, I create a special E-mail group just of those individuals. By doing this, you do not have to re-key the individual E-mail addresses every time you contact this group, and more importantly, you eliminate the chance of forgetting someone's name.
It is my goal to ask for meeting times only once.
Asking for Meeting Times
When asking for meeting times, I try to be as clear and concise as possible, eliminating any ambiguity or assumptions. It is my goal to ask for meeting times only once. I keep a sample E-mail handy. This sample acts as a check sheet to see if I am asking for all of the needed information.
Scheduling the Meeting
The turn around time between asking for meeting times and scheduling the meeting should be minimal. Therefore, while I am waiting for one or two people to respond, I draft an E-mail that schedules the meeting. When I do have the meeting day/time, I just add that information and my E-mail is ready to send.
In summary, I would like to restate the value of the grid. Sometimes my grids are a hand drawn "tic, tac, toe" version. I may only be scheduling a meeting involving two or three people, but I am sometimes scheduling up to five meetings at once. It is also important to note that this scheduling process is not so much a linear one, but rather, a layering process. For example, I don't wait to have the final dates and times before starting to create the E-mail meeting announcement. You want to be proactive. Ask yourself, "How can I reduce the time?"
The scheduling process I have outlined is by no means a new found way of scheduling. It should also not be viewed as an all or nothing approach to scheduling. You may find elements that will work for you, and you may have others that work better. So, if you have any thoughts or questions, or would be willing to share your scheduling techniques, I would be happy to hear from you.
P. J. Barnes is a Program Assistant in the Office of Quality Improvement. As part of her job, she not only manages office processes, but has developed and improved many processes. Results of her efforts include better service, fewer errors, and time saved.