The 3 Ultimate Rules for Scheduling Meetings

Without meetings we get no new business.  We miss sales opportunities.  Projects are delayed.  The client doesn’t get the results they expected.  The new job candidate is scooped up by someone else.

Why does your scheduling process matter?  Efficiency in scheduling means you can devote more time to your most important work.  And critically, the work you end up doing will actually be even more relevant after finally connecting with the right colleague through that meeting!

So while scheduling meetings is a key driver of your overall productivity and efficiency, too many otherwise successful people muscle through an ad hoc time consuming process.

Today we present three rules for turning this around and becoming your best through scheduling and preparing for meetings with an eye towards success.  In the end, missing these rules will cost you.

Rule 1 – Don’t Schedule Too Far in Advance

New ideas peak our excitement. Our minds are filled with the possibilities. But with time, reality slips in. Where once there was excitement or at the very least many options, with time our hands become tied.

That’s why they say to strike while the iron is hot, which is especially true when teams need to meet.  If meetings are scheduled too far into the future we lose momentum.

Put extra thought into the details leading up to your meeting to get them scheduled now instead of when the discussion become irrelevant.  Every proactive step you can take reduces the risk of someone missing the meeting or a conflict that brings you back to square one with scheduling.

Rule 2 – Timing Specificity Gets Things Done More Quickly

The clearest way to follow rule one above is by communicating regularly and with specificity.  Consider these common mistakes that often result in a “What time’s good for you?” stalemate.

Always move the conversation forward.  Don’t just say, “Tuesday’s good.” Say, “How’s 1 p.m. Tuesday?” Take the conversation to the next step in order to actually move the conversation forward.

Deferring specifics increases everyone’s burden.  While you may think you’re being nice by deferring to others needs, it puts all the burden of scheduling square on their shoulders.  If they aren’t interested in meeting things will never move forward.  Be polite and more respectful of everyone’s time by taking the initiate and offering specifics instead of “What’s good for you?”

Don’t ask all attendees blindly for times that work — it’s too ambiguous and open-ended. Give your team some ideas/options that they can respond to — it will prompt them to check their calendars and really make sure Tuesday afternoon is open or Monday before 9 am is off-limits.

Eliminate miscommunications by emphasizing clarity.   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 Wednesday?” try something like “How’s Wednesday, Oct. 15?”

Don’t forget time zones!  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?”

Consider using an online appointment scheduling service like Appointment.one to remove all doubt about time zones, when the team is actually free, and the specific days you’re talking about.

Using an online appointment scheduling tool, often available for free, gives instant visibility into the days and times (including timezones!) when you can meet

Rule 3 – Agendas Drive Attendance and Planning

Every meeting should have a purpose, perhaps you need to make a decision or you need to work together as a team.  Make this known so attendees are prepared to work (or discuss).

Start your agenda with your meeting’s WHY.  In 5 words or fewer, show what this meeting is about.  This is the subject of your meeting and will sell it to dubious attendees.

After that, only providing a detailed meeting agenda has been shown to further increase attendance rates.  This should be obvious – would you rather walk into a room to face the unknown or be prepared?  Without an agenda the meeting may as well have no purpose and be a waste of your time.

This all being said, your meeting agenda really needs to be more than a quick list of action items.  Make sure your attendees know who else will be there.  Will their peers attend?  The regional director?  Mapping attendees and their roles gives you a solid foundation for how the meeting will flow, be it a more tactical laundry list of action items or a more strategic discussion with longer-term implications.

Some meeting planners take advantage of this by including names, titles, and even direct links to LinkedIn profiles, such as the example below:

Appointment.one People View is highlighted above, which automatically includes details about all meeting attendees directly in the invitation for quick reference

A side benefit of this prep work pops up when the conversation inevitably goes off topic during your meeting, since you can refer back to the agenda and get things back on track.  Simply rein in the discussion or redirect by suggesting a follow-up, “Let’s schedule time to discuss that later it it’s helpful, since we only have 10 minutes left”.

Your Reward for Following the Rules

Now that the hard work is done, you and your colleagues are ready to meet.  Everyone will show up, they’ll know what to expect, and will be ready to make magic happen.