A few months ago, I needed to schedule a meeting for 10 people from different divisions. All I had to do was magically find a time when everyone could come. I remember thinking, “Yoy, this is gonna be like herding cats.”
So, I added everyone’s name into Microsoft Outlook’s Scheduling Assistant and scrolled—and scrolled, and scrolled—until I found a time that seemed to work. This may come as a shock to you, but it turns out that not everyone keeps their calendar up to date! Some people had blocked out times that were only tentative. Others had meetings that could actually be rescheduled. Still others mysteriously rejected the meeting request, even though the time was wide open in Outlook.
So began the Great Email Chain of 2019. Everyone was throwing out meeting times. Then came the mad flurry of replies and counteroffers. Apparently, I was supposed to be tracking all of that like some sort of human supercomputer. It was a total … (deep breath) … it was less than ideal.
I started looking for a tech solution. I tried out Doodle, one of the most popular scheduling apps. It’s pretty convenient, actually. Free. Easy to use. You put out a few meeting options, everyone votes online, and hopefully there’s a time that everyone agrees on. If not … wash, rinse, repeat.
My one question was: how am I supposed to pick meeting options? It’s pretty easy if the meeting includes a big honcho. When the dean or a big donor wants to meet, you work around their schedule. But for a working committee, that’s not the case. Was I supposed to just pick dates randomly and hope I get lucky? Outlook Calendar may not be perfect, but at least it gives me a place to start.
Hold the phone. Found a better option: FindTime.
Turns out that working for Pitt IT is pretty convenient when you’re looking for a tech solution. Someone recommended FindTime, a Microsoft Outlook extension that combines the polling functionality of Doodle with the Scheduling Assistant feature of Outlook. You just open an email message, include the “Reply with Meeting Poll” option, and add people. Since it’s a regular Outlook email, you can even use name lookup to add them. You can also designate people as “Required” or “Optional” so you can pick a time based on the people who really need to be there.
Then, FindTime suggests meeting times based on people’s Outlook calendar (if they have one). In other words, you’re not picking options out of a hat. Of course, you can also pick dates manually.
Everyone gets an email with a link to vote (yes, no, preferred). You can track responses, send reminders, and add/delete people and date options. My favorite part? When all Required individuals vote, FindTime will automatically add the best meeting time to everyone’s Outlook calendar. Boom, done.
Try Out FindTime and Let Me Know What You Think
FindTime is free for Pitt faculty, staff, and students. Just go to findtime.microsoft.com and click on the Install for Free button (you’ll have to log into Microsoft Office 365—which you also get for free—with your Pitt credentials). The next time you open Outlook, you’ll see the FindTime option on the Home tab. Play around with it; see if it makes scheduling a meeting easier for you.
Doodle and Outlook Scheduling Assistant users: What do you think? Better, same, not as easy? Share your thoughts/experience in the comments.
By Karen Beaudway, Pitt IT Blogger