Calendar management tips

June 23, 2017

This is for anyone who has too many meetings. Meetings are incredibly valuable for getting information, collaborating, and making decisions. But they also give you less time to get your work done. In this article, I'll talk about how you can start taking control of your calendar and beat it into submission before it does the same to you!

4 meeting personas

The host
The host
the keynote
The keynote
The panelist
The panelist
The bystander
The bystander

So here’s my advice for calendar management…

Check your calendar at the start of your day and your week

On Monday morning, review your calendar for the week and start to get familiar with what your week looks like. Each morning, review your calendar for that day. Make sure to go thru and understand which persona you play in each of your meetings. If you’re a keynote in any meeting you may want to block off 15 or 30 minutes prior to that meeting on your calendar for prep time. If you’re a panelist you may need to do the same thing, whereas bystanders won’t normally need any or much prep time. If you’re the host for any meetings today, double-check your room reservations and projector availability now. If an online meeting, make sure your conference call number and Webex (or equivalent screen share technology) is included in your calendar invite. Preparing this stuff 5 minutes before the meeting begins is a recipe for a late-starting, whiffle-whaffle meeting. The main goal of checking your calendar as the first thing you do in the morning is to make sure none of your meetings bumfuzzle you.

Decline meetings that aren’t worth your time

That sounds harsh and entitled, but for every meeting you’re invited to you must first weigh it against your available time and priorities to determine if it’ll be wise for you to spend your time there. This is especially true if you’re a bystander or low-end panelist. When reviewing your calendar each morning see which meetings you haven’t accepted yet. If a meeting shows your attendance as tentative make a choice of whether that meeting is worth your time, and then accept or decline it. Accepting a meeting is powerful for whoever is the host persona for that meeting. Declining that meeting is equally – if not arguably more useful – for the host persona for several reasons. If you’re a panelist or a keynote for that meeting and you can’t make it, decline and specify a reason. I.e. “Sorry, I had already accepted a meeting which I play a key role in prior to yours being scheduled”. If you’re a bystander, no need to provide a reason as your attendance isn’t going to make or break the meeting. If using Outlook, it usually has an option to decline without sending a response this way you don’t clutter your host’s inbox with a pointless email. If you can’t make a meeting and don’t decline – and – you happen to be a panelist or keynote, then you do all of the meeting attendees a disservice. They will arrive at the meeting and when you aren’t present the meeting gets cancelled or at a minimum is less productive.

Another reason declining a meeting is smart – Scheduling Assistant and other scheduling tools

Outlook’s scheduling assistant is great if all your meeting attendees – with panelist or keynote status – have accepted all their meetings they plan to attend and declined the meetings that they don’t plan to attend.

If I try to schedule a meeting with a few folks, if they’ve declined the meetings they don’t plan to attend, then I know their calendar is up-to-date. If they have tentative meetings all day I’m left thinking either they haven’t yet declined or haven’t yet accepted those meeting. I don’t know for sure one way or the other and the scheduling assistant tool in Outlook becomes far less useful.


“I don’t want to be rude and decline the host’s meeting…”

Meeting hosts love it when you accept their meetings, but I’d argue they appreciate it more when you decline their meeting because they can then evaluate whether you’re a panelist, bystander, or keynote. If you’re a bystander they probably won’t mind too much that you’ve skipped their meeting. If you’re a panelist, then they’re at least happy to know – ahead of time – giving them enough time to reschedule if they think it’s necessary. If you’re a keynote, well then they are going to reschedule, but, again, they will be happy to know far ahead of time.

“But I still feel bad declining meetings”

In that case, in Outlook there is the “Edit response before sending” option to politely explain your reason if you’re a panelist or keynote: “Sorry, I’ll be attending my team’s staff meeting during that time in which I play a key role. I can meet at 10:30 or 2 if that works for you.”

Don’t decline at the last minute.

The only time declining a meeting is a bad thing is when you do it at the last minute. That’s why reviewing your calendar is a must-do activity each morning. However, sometimes a few hours notice isn’t sufficient lead time on a meeting decline. That’s why it’s important to use Monday morning or even Sunday evening to review your week and decline / accept all meetings for the week.

Avoid cancelling meetings at the last minute.

Look, sometimes as a host you may have to cancel at the last minute. Things happen. But this should be a last resort as its the worst thing someone can do as it really shows a lack of respect for others’ time. This is especially true for 9am and 1pm meetings. For all of us in a busy day a 1pm meeting is tough because you have to go to lunch on-time (right at Noon or a little early) and be back at your desk or the meeting space by 12:55. Often times the 1pm meeting means a shortened lunch for all participants. They may decide to skip lunch with co-workers, or skip a walk with on a nice day to be at your meeting. Cancelling a 1pm meeting means someone rushed to gobble down there lunch in order to make your meeting. If that meeting then gets cancelled minutes before it’s start time, it isn’t fair for those who sacrificed a small part of their day to be there on time.

Coming late to a meeting

Not ideal, but if you have to come late to a meeting, here’s a few things to consider. If you’re aware of your calendar for the day – and your aware of the current time – you will know that you’re running late for a given meeting.

If you’re the host it may be better to send an email to everyone that the meeting will be X number of minutes delayed. The sooner you send this the better. If the meeting is 2-3pm, change it to 2:10-3pm. It’s nice to have your calendar app on your phone so you can do things like this if you’re running behind and not near your computer.

If you’re the keynote send the host an email as early as possible letting them know you’re running behind. The host can then determine how to handle their meeting accordingly.

If you’re a panelist, send the host an email as early as possible notifying them. The host can then determine if they need to wait for you to begin or start without you. If the host elects to start without you, when you join the meeting – do as much as you can to not disrupt the meeting. You can discreetly and quietly ask another attendee to catch you up to speed on what you missed without disrupting the meeting. Don’t ask the host to catch you up, as this is a waste of time for all the other meeting personas. If you came in late its your job to get caught up without disturbing the meeting.

The bystander can forego sending the host any type of email, as they aren’t playing an active role in the meeting. If the meeting is in a conference room, just enter silently and try not to disrupt anyone.

Wrapping up

Don’t let your calendar surprise you. Reviewing your calendar for the week and for the day helps you get familiar with it. Accept and decline every meeting on your calendar far in advance of each meeting. Understand which meeting persona you play for each meeting – host, keynote, panelist, or bystander – can provide a set of guidelines that will help you prepare for those meetings.

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