Do you share your Outlook calendar? What can others see when they try to schedule a meeting with you? Are they getting a true picture of what’s going on, or do you have to constantly explain your availability? If you’re a busy person like I am, you want to enable others to quickly and easily choose meeting times that work for you. A good calendar is self-explanatory and doesn’t need communication back and forth to find the best time to meet!

So, here are 5 tips for using Outlook’s appointment calendar features effectively….

1. Block Out Time

Calendars aren’t just for scheduling meetings with other people. They are an effective time management tool for planning out your day as well. How often do you know you’re going to be busy 30 minute prior to an appointment because you’ll be preparing? Ever received a meeting invite for a time when you’ll have to be traveling to the next meeting? Block that time off in your calendar, and you can ensure no one schedules a meeting and interrupts that time! We can all stand for a little daily organization and planning in our lives… Here are some things I block out on my calendar: Proposal writing, prospecting calls, meeting prep time, travel time, etc.

Don’t forget YOU time. Appointments aren’t just for meeting with others, they’re for organizing your day, too.

2. Set Availability Appropriately

You can choose from 5 different types of availability when putting a meeting on your calendar. Here’s how I define those types:

  • Free“I’m available.” Use this as an FYI or note on your calendar that otherwise doesn’t affect your availability. For example: Memorial Day or a reminder to periodically check a website for an update.
  • Working Elsewhere“I’m available, but I’m not in the office.” Use this when you’re working out of Starbucks, home or elsewhere, but are generally available.
  • Tentative“Be careful, I may or may not be available.” Use this when you aren’t sure, but may end up being busy. For example, you may have not yet gotten confirmation from another party that a meeting will happen. (This also shows up if you have yet to accept an invite, which makes sense because you may or may not go until you accept.)
  • Busy“I’m busy, somewhere in the office. ” Use this when you have a meeting or are blocking out time, and you are in the office.
  • Out of the Office“I’m busy, and not in the office.” Use this when you have a meeting or are blocking out time, and you are not in the office.

Don’t make availability a guessing game! Set your meetings correctly, and people will clearly understand your availability throughout the day!

3. Share Enough

Has this ever happened to you? You try to schedule an appointment, but your invitee is “Tentative” for literally the entire week. You call her up, and she says “Oh, sorry, that’s just a reminder that it’s Conference week and I want to listen on occasion. Feel free to schedule something over it.” No problem, right? You send the invite and she declines because you actually sent it over another “Tentative” meeting invite she already had but hadn’t accepted yet. Now you missed your chance to meet, and your boss will probably fire you.

Whether you share with everyone in your organization or just a select few individuals, be sure to give out enough information so people can actually tell what’s going on. Showing only free/busy may not be enough. I share free/busy time, plus subject and location to everyone in my organization. That way, they have enough information to judge what might be possible in a tight situation. Feel like that’s too much information for some meetings? Be sure to put any sensitive details in the body of the meeting (which is not visible to others), or simply mark the appointment as Private and it will show free/busy time details only.

Sharing is caring! Set sharing as “Free/Busy Time, Subject and Location” to provide a view of what’s actually going on during your day.

4. Categorize Your Appointments

Many people know that applying categories colorizes your schedule and helps with organization. But did you know that other users can see your categories on your schedule? The only trick is that you have to decide on a “master” set of categories for your organization, or they will just show up as the default color on everyone else’s machine. This is great way to further detail what meetings are about, such as differentiating between “client” and “internal” meetings. For example, it may be OK to interrupt an internal meeting, but one should probably not interrupt a client meeting!

Colorize with categories! Come up with an organizational set of categories for scheduling, and use them to coordinate and colorize your calendars.

5. Keep Things Up To Date

No explanation necessary.

Keep. It. Up. To. Date! Duh, your calendar is of little to no use if it’s not accurate.

 

Any tips I missed? What best practices do you use when scheduling meetings in Outlook?

 

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