Scheduling a meeting? Save everyone some time with these simple, considerate behaviours

Have you ever spent more time trying to schedule a meeting than was spent on the meeting itself? Are you often interrupted by emails or instant messages from others who are trying to schedule some time for a simple conversation in the next few days?

Author: Daniel Banks, President, TVB Associates Inc. (June 11, 2021). Image: Shutterstock.

Six common time wasters

Minimizing interruptions is essential to the productivity of today’s knowledge workers. Taking just a few steps to cut out these six common time-wasting behaviours when scheduling a meeting will not only benefit you, but will also show consideration for others’ time.

Time Waster #1: Vague meeting request

A message from Sally asks, “Should we meet sometime to discuss Project X? What do you think?”

No reason for a meeting is specified, which shifts the burden of thinking about whether a meeting is needed onto you. If she is serious about the need for a meeting, then she should state why and take initiative to offer some times that work for her.

Time Waster #2: Unclear scheduling question

On Friday afternoon, Li sends this message to the Project team: “We need to discuss the status of Project X because (list of reasons here). Perhaps we should meet sometime next week?”

Although he has provided a desired time range (i.e., next week) and a valid reason for the meeting, he has said nothing about why it needs to happen next week or when he is available within that five-day range, thereby shifting the scheduling burden onto others. Furthermore, it isn’t clear who is responsible to determine whether the team should meet at all, or who should set the meeting time.

Time Waster #3: Non-specific response

Project team member Rita replies to everyone, “Thursday may work for me, depending on the time.”

How should her teammates interpret that reply? She hasn’t shared the critical information: What time on Thursday would work for her? And what times on the other four days could work, if any? Almost certainly someone will have to prod her for more information, wasting more time.

Time Waster #4: Offering only one option

Then Arun asks, “Can we meet on Thursday at 1:00 pm?” Nearly everyone agrees. Then Jill, the last invitee to respond, says she can’t make it at that time. The cycle repeats with, “Can we meet Wednesday at 10:00 am?” That option looks promising based on the first few responses, but ultimately doesn’t work out. So the cycle repeats again and again, causing frustration (and wasted time) for everyone.

Time Waster #5: Time preference seeking

On Tuesday, Anton gets the idea to offer three options that haven’t been tried yet: Thursday at 3:00 pm, Friday at 10:00 am, and Friday at 1:00 pm. Mariam replies to everyone, “Friday at 1:00 pm is best for me.”

Mariam has shared her preference, but not any information about her availability for the other two options, which will surely lead to further messages and more wasted time if Friday at 1:00 pm isn’t the best for everyone else as well.

Time Waster #6: Non-committal meeting invitation

Now it is Wednesday. Arun tries to end the confusion with, “OK. Let’s aim for Monday at 3:00 pm. Thanks.”

Unfortunately, there is no commitment here. The non-committal wording “Let’s aim for Monday at 3:00 pm” means that the door to rescheduling has been left open, and the cycle may start again if someone raises an issue with the indicated time.

Using considerate scheduling protocols to cut out the time wasters

Getting clear schedule information is the key to scheduling a meeting efficiently. Ideally, if everyone maintained an up-to-date calendar that was accessible to everyone else, finding a time would be simple. But this is usually not the case.

There are some free online tools that allow invitees to input their availability and then show the best available time for the group overall. Such tools are particularly helpful when a meeting has a lot of invitees.  

When you are limited to email or instant messages, everyone must be forthcoming about when they are available to meet. The most considerate questions and responses will be clear, specific, and provide all the needed information. Be sure to keep the following considerate protocols in mind.

Considerate Protocol #1: Justify the meeting

The requester of the meeting should justify why the meeting is necessary, so people understand their need to participate and are motivated to respond effectively and efficiently to the request.

Considerate Protocol #2: Proactively offer multiple time ranges over several days

Take the initiative to set a good example by offering multiple options for the meeting, expressed as ranges of time. For example, don’t say “I’m available Friday at 1:00 pm.” Rather, say, “I’m available Thursday after 2:00 pm and Friday between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.”

The greater the number of attendees, the more options you need to offer to avoid multiple rounds of scheduling messages.

Considerate Protocol #3: Proactively offer all times that you are available

To maximize the probability of finding a time quickly, you need to provide all the times that you could be available. Often, the most efficient way to express your availability is by stating the times when you are unavailable. For example, “I’m available any time this week except Thursday from 1:00 to 2:00 pm and Friday from 10:00 am to noon.”

Considerate Protocol #4: Volunteer to take on the scheduling role

Proactively take responsibility to schedule the meeting—especially if youare the one who requested it. Ask people to send their availabilities to you directly, so they don’t spam everyone by using “Reply All.” Otherwise, invitees may be uncertain about who is actually responsible for finalizing the meeting time. Taking over this responsibility will ultimately save you time by avoiding the dithering that may result when no one takes the initiative to set a date and time.

Don’t look at it as extra work. Rather, if there is more than one option that works for everyone, then you get to choose the time!

Considerate Protocol #5: Send meeting requests well in advance

Unless the meeting is with people you are in frequent contact with, offer times a week in advance. The more attendees, the longer the lead time you may need. An additional benefit to this strategy is that people are more likely to agree to meetings that are still a week out.

Never offer times that are such short notice that it would require people to respond during their off-hours. For instance, sending a message at 5:30 pm on a Friday saying “Can we meet first thing Monday morning at 8:00 am?” is not considerate of others’ personal time.

Considerate Protocol #6: Every invitee should give a concrete response that covers all of the times offered

If you are responding to a meeting request, be forthcoming about when you are available to meet. Don’t dither with “maybes” or preferences. Commit to being either available or not. Don’t hold back information about your availability in hopes of getting a time that works better for you. If others play that game too, the meeting will almost certainly be delayed—which in turn reduces the time available to deal with the urgent matter for which the meeting is needed.

If you are responding to the times offered, say something like, “I’m available all of those times except for Friday at 10:00 am to noon,” and only say that if you already have a prior commitment on Friday during that time. 

Set the example, and don’t expect or accept less consideration from others.

Considerate Protocol #7: Only send responses to the person scheduling the meeting

Use of “Reply All” on a scheduling email is often a sign that it isn’t clear who is responsible to schedule the meeting. As a result, the wasted time multiplies with the number of invitees.

Considerate Protocol #8: Allow the scheduler to be scheduler

The scheduler may have access to more calendar information than you, so don’t jump in with your own decision about the meeting time. Acting on incomplete information is likely to confuse others and may start another round of scheduling messages—or worse, seem disrespectful to the scheduler. If you think there is enough information to set the meeting but the scheduler hasn’t acted, inquire to him or her directly.

The bottom line

Clearly justify the reasons for the meeting well in advance. Openly share all the time ranges in which you are available over a multiple-day period. Take responsibility to set the meeting time and date by asking invitees to send their responses to you directly. If you are not the scheduler, send the scheduler a concrete response about your availability for all the times offered.  

By setting a good example, others may soon recognize the value of these simple, considerate behaviours that reduce the time lost to back-and-forth messages about scheduling—especially when that time could be much better spent preparing for the meeting about the urgent issue at hand.

Five tips for working from home

Never waste a crisis. If you or your staff are being forced to work from home due to COVID‑19, this is a great opportunity for you and your organization to learn how you can take advantage of technology to work differently and more productively. Organizations of all kinds are adapting; even my church is figuring out how to live stream and hold internet meetings.

Author: Daniel Banks, President, TVB Associates Inc.
Originally published: Canadian Association of Research Administrators (April 2020)

I have been working from home for almost five years now, and I love it. Avoiding a commute in the Greater Toronto Area can redeem as much as three hours per day—time I can invest with my family instead. I spend my lunch break with them, and seeing them “at the water cooler” throughout the day ensures I stay engaged in family life—even if I’m putting in long hours on a big project.

I work most productively at home because I’m not being interrupted as much as when I’m “at the office.” Today’s knowledge work usually requires people to concentrate on a task for a bare minimum of 15 minutes, and many tasks are best done with a few uninterrupted hours (see Cal Newport’s book, “Deep Work”). For another perspective on the benefits of working from home, see Michael Hyatt’s blog,

Over the past number of years, I’ve learned quite a bit about what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to working from home. Here are five tips for making the transition as successfully as possible.

  1. Set up an office room

Avoid working from the dining room table or other spaces in the middle of household life. Convert a bedroom into an office so you will have a door to close when appropriate. The kids may have to learn to share bedrooms, like large families have traditionally done.

You don’t need to invest a lot of money to set up an effective home office. All you really need to get started is a flat worktop and a chair. I bought two folding tables (about $80 each) from an office supply store and put them together in an L‑shape. This gives me plenty of working space; even one would be enough. I also have a small two-drawer filing cabinet, which substitutes for drawer space. For general storage, I put an old dresser in the closet to store various office supplies.

2. Invest in quality connections

Have you ever been frustrated in a virtual meeting when people can barely communicate because of poor audio or bad internet connections? It probably happens more often than we want to admit.

Working from home, you’ll be relying on virtual meetings now more than ever. Invest in reliable high-speed internet and quality phone connections with good audio so you’re not the weak link. Don’t rely exclusively on your cell phone, as the audio quality often isn’t great.

Get a dedicated telephone line for your home office space so you only get work-related calls when you are working. This line can be a traditional land line, but internet-based phone lines (i.e. VOIP) are an option to save money. (The audio quality of such connections has improved over the years; just keep in mind you’ll need a back-up phone for the rare times when your internet connection does not work.). Importantly for self-isolation during covid-19, you can sign up for a VOIP service online, the phone adapter will be shipped to you, and you can install it yourself—no need for a technician to visit your home.

Pay for a reliable internet-based video meeting service, if your employer doesn’t already provide one. Free services like Skype are not reliable enough for professional communications. Any paid service will be better.

3. Get good communications equipment

For your telephone, make sure it has a corded handset as an option for better audio, even though you may use the speaker frequently. The phone I had when I first started working from home was a cheap cordless model, and what a pain! Too many times I had to repeat myself or ask others to repeat. On speaker, it had only one volume level: too loud. Make sure your unit has adjustable volume controls. If you use your telephone a lot, get a headset that plugs into the phone, so you don’t have to hold the handset (sometimes audio quality on speaker will not be good enough, regardless of your phone).

For internet-based meetings, get another headset with a microphone that will connect to your computer. The microphones built into laptops and computer monitors are located too far from your mouth for optimal sound. The headset microphone will help others hear you. An over-ear headset will also help screen out background noise to help you concentrate on the conversation.

For video conferences, the webcam that’s built into your computer is an entry-level option. Purchasing an external webcam can give you better video quality. Also consider the lighting in your home office. Even the highest-resolution camera can’t make you look professional if the lighting is poor. You may need to supplement your overhead lights with desk lamps to distribute light adequately and avoid shadows on your face. There is at least one webcam that builds in a flat light to prevent this specific problem (i.e. the Razer Kiyo).

4. Use your audio and video communications to full advantage

When we’re working in person, we build relationships with our team. These working relationships become a kind of social capital that is necessary to maintain an efficient, effective, and trusting work culture.

It can be hard to build that social capital with your colleagues unless there is frequent visual (or at least audio) communication. These more personal forms of communication simply build trust faster. Text communications (e.g. email, instant messages) are easily open to misunderstandings and just aren’t suited to many conversations.

When I started working from home, I had seven years of social capital already built with my main coworkers, which enabled me to make the transition to working from home easily. But if you’re relatively new to your role, or are working with a new member of your team, then it’s a good idea to proactively reach out via video or audio to start building social capital.  

5. Set schedules with boundaries

Set a regular working schedule and stick to it, for the sake of both your family and your work colleagues. Ideally, your schedule should mirror your company’s regular “office hours.” If not, it should substantially overlap with the work schedules of your closest team members, so that you can connect with each other frequently and on short notice. 

Some people promote working from home because it allows you to work whenever is best for you. This is true to some extent. However, the problem is twofold. First, it is easy for competing responsibilities (e.g. parenting, errands, housework, etc.) to gradually consume more and more of your time—and, conversely, pressures at work can sabotage your family duties. Secondly, in most cases, your work is not just about you; you must consider what is best for your team as well.

Talk to both your employer and your family about what they can expect from you while you are working from home, and stick to it within reason. If you need to deviate from the schedule once in a while, that’s OK—but first decide how you will make up the difference in terms of your work or family responsibilities.

Lastly, it’s important to talk to your family about what kinds of interruptions are appropriate. In my case, my wife and I taught our four-year-old son about respecting boundaries by having him paint a door-hanger sign, which reads “Come in” on one side and “Shh… Daddy at work” on the other.

Now is the time to embrace the opportunity that working from home presents. After the COVID‑19 crisis is over, your team will rediscover the benefits of getting out of the house and back into an office environment. But if you can make sure that the benefits of working from home are not forgotten, then your team will be better able to accommodate those who work from a distance. And who knows? Some just might want to continue working from home at least part of the time.

For questions and discussion about working from home, you can reach me at: