Being Purposeful about Appointments
Updated: Jun 21, 2021
If you have a job that requires you to meet with people, then you know how much it can suck up your time. It isn't just the time you spend with people; it's the emailing and scheduling, the getting ready for the meeting, the dead time between appointments you may waste. It may be hard to get into the flow if your work is interrupted every 20 minutes by another appointment. After particularly long times meeting with people, I get in this mindset of, "well, today is shot so I may as well spend the rest of the day answering emails."
Since I started writing that paragraph, I have received: an email from an MBA student at Columbia wanting to interview me for his capstone, a request for a media interview, and another to do a podcast. It can feel endless.
Productivity books often say just decline as many meetings and appointments as possible. Sure, that works – take a look at my post about deciding what talks to give.
But sometimes, that isn't the best option depending on your job or where you sit in the hierarchy. Or maybe you decline most, but you still want to minimize the admin around them. Either way, this post is for you!
First, decide on set meeting times. I used to do all my meetings, including office hours for students, on Tuesday afternoons. Now I do them 0630-0800am Tuesdays and Thursdays because I’m in Sydney hiding from COVID, but my work is back in the states. I slot into these times audio-only calls because I walk on the beach with my baby, which is much less miserable than sitting at a computer.
I stack the meetings, panels, talks, etc., where video is needed as much as possible. That way, I only have to do my hair/makeup once a week. Huge time saver! Each week there is an event for which I don’t get to chose the time, but then I set up my other video calls around that. If good audio is needed (and thus beach sounds are unwelcome), I do those right before video to do my makeup and otherwise get ready while on the phone.
OK, so once you figure out the most efficient meeting schedule for you, here's how to reduce the surrounding admin.
Pay the setup costs. Create an email template to respond to all meeting requests. If you don’t use a mail service that allows this, you may have to pay the initial cost of researching which one you want to use (I use Mailbutler because I also like its tasks and reminders features). Here’s mine for audio calls in case you needed some inspiration:
I am happy to chat. I'm currently working remotely from Sydney. I do calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays mornings from 6:30 am to 8 am Sydney time. Please let me know what date this timing may work for you.
Then the best thing to do is first connect with me on WhatsApp. My number is xxxxxx.
The morning we are slated to talk, please shoot me a note on WhatsApp around 6:20 am Sydney time. I can then let you know a more specific time window. It'll be an audio call only.
The benefit of a time range is that I call the next person the moment I'm off one call. There is no wasted deadtime between calls, and it also encourages the call to go only as long as needed (vs. just shooting the shit until my next appointment). If I am requesting a meeting with someone, I can't be so cavalier about their time, so I usually set that up for the beginning of the window at a set time.
I don’t have to add these calls to my calendar - it's set up for them to remind me the morning off. But if I have set up another meeting that needs to go on the calendar, I forward it to my RA to add it. This means you need to pay the setup costs of creating a separate work calendar and giving your RA access to it. Or you can add things manually yourself.
If you have office hours or other in-person meetings, take the time to set up office hour appointment software like calendly or youcanbookme. You set the times you are available and the amount of time a person can book. The beauty is that there is then no need for emailing back and forth to schedule and reschedule appointments (I do set up a template directing people to that site in case they aren't in one of my classes that quarter.
Put it all together. Write out the relevant templates. Decide on how many calendars you want (I set up work, family, and personal ones) and what format you want to put your appointments (do zoom links go in location? Notes?) and send instructions to an assistant if that is relevant.
There are two additional benefits of having your calendar accurately depict how you spend your time. First, my university requires a lot of information to process my reimbursements – who, what, where, when, why. By sharing my calendar, the person processing those receipts and look that information up themselves, and I don't have to take the time to write it out with every receipt.
Also, my think tank job wants an accounting of how many podcasts, talks, meetings with officials, etc. I do. And so my assistant can just reference my calendar at the end of every month to put that together.
Also, preparing for meetings and interviews is another great way to use RAs. Keep an eye out for more posts on that!
Produce reminders. I don't set up calendar reminders because I write out my schedule for the day the night before, so that is enough. But suppose there is some task I need to do to prepare for the meeting. In that case, I do produce a reminder attached to the email description of what is necessary so that a few days before it is brought to my attention that I have to prepare some talking points, or what have you.
Performance notes. If the meeting is online, make sure you can connect easily to that platform and know how to use it. Ask if video is needed, and be clear with people if you are going to be audio-only. A few times, people have asked for an informal chat, and it turns out there are doing a legit audio recording interview, and then I feel bad because there is background noise. So make sure you know what is being requested. If students want to review something before our meeting, I have them send it to me the day before not to clog up my inbox – if I read it too far in advance, my comments won't be fresh anyways.
Stay hydrated and walk during meetings if you can.
I hope that helps, especially in these virtual times.