Tired of constant e-mail and phone tag when you’re trying to get meetings set up? If you’re willing to give up a bit of control over your calendar, you can turn to the internet for an answer. By putting your availability out there for all to see and making it possible for people to grab the times they want, you can implement a self-service approach to setting up meetings. Here are three ways to go about that.
Acuity Scheduling: This hosted offering is aimed at professionals selling fixed-length blocks of time. For example, an accountant might set up appointment types for “initial consultation,” “routine visit,” and “full audit.” You can specify the length of time and billing rate for each appointment type, and create custom forms for users to fill out when they schedule an appointment. Acuity Scheduling also lets you enter your own schedule (including blocked-out days and times, and whether you can handle multiple simultaneous appointments) and then takes care of making sure that you’re not overbooked. You use the web site to see what’s been scheduled for the upcoming week or month. Their free plan lets you schedule 1,000 appointments; for $10/month, you get unlimited use as well as secure credit card processing for payments from your clients.
Doodle: Doodle aims to solve the “when is a good time for everyone?” problem that plagues organizing any meeting with more than three or four people. Anyone can go to the Doodle home page and start a new poll with a title and description (like “Monthly meeting of the sheep-counting club”), and then pick a selection of potential dates and times. Doodle will generate a unique URL that presents a web form containing checkboxes for each possible appointment slot. Give the URL to each participant, and they can visit and check the boxes for the times that are good for them. Doodle will track which dates are optimal, though a simple look a the poll page and its red/green tracking makes it obvious who can attend when.
Wiki: For the ultimate open scheduling experience, you can follow in the footsteps of Amazon Web Evangelist Jeff Barr, who has been using a series of public wiki pages to schedule meetings during business trips. If you want to get on Jeff’s schedule, you just edit yourself in (and wait for an e-mail confirmation; he’s not that crazy). It sounds impossibly idealistic, but apparently it’s been working quite well for Jeff; the self-healing properties of wikis are well-known, and if you’re in a job that includes large amounts of customer touch time with tech-savvy customers this could be an interesting alternative to explore.