This is the second in a series about Getting Things Done with Outlook.

My Calendar setup is standard, no tweaks. It is all in how I use it, and I do use it quite a bit. There are several types of items that I put on the calendar of which only one is a traditional appointment:

  • Need to be somewhere and/or with someone at a certain time. This is the most obvious item and requires little explanation. I do make sure that all appointments get put on the calendar. If I don’t, bad things happen.
  • Need to do something that will require some uninterrupted time (more than a half hour or so). Sometimes I’ll promote a task (next action in GTD speak) to an appointment on my calendar. This can be tricky business. It is really easy to blow off these appointments since no one is going to call you five minutes after the start time and ask you why you’re not doing what you are supposed to be doing. If the block of time that has been set aside for a task is actually used for that task, it is a very powerful thing though. Try to treat it like an appointment with another person, think twice before being interrupted and don’t use the time to catch up on your email or something.
  • Work time. This might not apply to everyone; it certainly applies to me. In my experience, if I do not set aside some blocks of time to work on next action items, every day will quickly fill with meetings. So, the only time left to process my inbox or perform next actions will be after six or seven at night. Therefore, I’ll block out a few hours here and there to do next action items. I don’t usually do this for each day and I certainly don’t block out entire days. I’ll generally block out these times during my weekly review.
  • Need to do something during a certain block of time. This sounds a lot like an appointment because it really is, just not with another person. I schedule these rarely and only if the specific time is really important. If the actual time isn’t all that is important, I generally set up a date based task to ensure that it gets done on a certain day. There will be is more about date based tasks in the next post.
  • Weekly Review. I’ve got these scheduled several weeks in advance so nothing gets scheduled over them. Reviews are important but they are also easy to skip. Not performing weekly reviews will generally cause one’s GTD world to spin apart not unlike what would happen to the planet if someone turned off gravity or something. I schedule these for the end of the week usually at the end of the day. I am experimenting with moving the time up to earlier in the afternoon though. There are lot of interruptions on Friday afternoon which make it hard to focus on reviewing.

These are all fairly straight forward. It might sound like overkill to some but time is valuable and scheduling it is very important, especially when others are involved. I’ve worked in some offices were most people didn’t use their calendars at all. These were the same offices where meetings consistently started fifteen minutes late and only after someone went out to herd the stragglers into the conference room.

I’ve also worked in two places were people sort of used their Outlook calendars, then Exchange Server1 was implemented. A few people promptly started scheduling meetings with other people when they saw that there was free time on their calendars. Then the people that had meetings scheduled during the free time on their calendar promptly declined the meetings because they didn’t like the whole idea that someone could see their calendar nor could they believe that this very same person had the audacity to schedule something without asking them politely first. After multiple declines, a phone call or two and several verbal requests for a meeting, some form of agreement would be reached. This little ballet was repeated for weeks until the folks that wanted to be masters of their own (calendar) domain figured out that those appointments that seemed to magically appear on their calendar were in fact requests and the ability to see when other people were free saved countless emails and phone calls to find that singular time slot when everyone was available.

I mention those experiences because I remember how frustrating it was to go through it myself as one of the the jerks that kept scheduling the meetings using Outlook. There might have been a contract out on me at some point, but I survived. Surprisingly, the very people that hated the shared calendar the most became the biggest supporters and users in the end. I also mention this because if you are in a place that does not share free/busy information, you should politely ask your friendly IT department if they can set it up in your environment. If they can’t, or if you are dealing with far flung meeting attendees on different platforms, try using Doodle.

Happy Calendaring…

1 Outlook and Exchange server are not the only games in town. However, Outlook is probably the most widely deployed client in the corporate world and it seems to play best with Exchange. There are other products available; unfortunately, calendar sharing does not work well amongst all of these different products. Hopefully calendar sharing will become standardized in the next few years so that people can choose the tools they feel most comfortable with.

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