Live from SXSW, It's a Scheduling Bungle

I have a confession to make. I am over-reliant on apps, and scheduling is a particular pain point for me. When my apps work well, my life hums along. When they fail, my world collapses around me in a mess of timezone mix-ups and missed meetings. This week, at SXSW, I experienced a catastrophic collapse of my scheduling systems.

First, let me say that the experience I’m about to describe will not stop me from using the apps I mention. However, I found some weak spots that put me in a jam, and thought I’d share to help you avoid the same situation.

Where TimeDriver Falls Short

I’ve been singing the praises of TimeDriver, the personal appointment scheduler, because I love the way it lets me break my calendar into smaller chunks — or “Books” — and share them with groups of people who I want to see specific open time blocks on my schedule. I have a Book for my phone demos for WebWorkerDaily, one for my women in business podcast, another for my Second Life podcast, and then I set up one specifically for in-person interviews at SXSW.

What I learned the day I arrived here is that TimeDriver doesn’t translate to a third time zone, meaning that I saw the calendar as Alaska Time (where I live and work), every interviewee saw the scheduler in their time zone, and then we both arrived in Austin, which is in Central Time, we both got the meeting times wrong. The way I found out about this snafu? Missing a long overdue meeting with C.C. Chapman, a colleague and friend. Because of the time zone issue, our meeting actually coincided with my flight into Austin. There was very little I could do to rectify the situation from the air.

When I finally did get TimeDriver tech support on the phone (note: they are excellent and patient), the only solution they could offer was a workaround. Basically I should have switched my computer to Central Time before setting up the schedule Book, then reverted back to my time zone. Then the Book would be in the wrong time slots for Alaska and for the interviewee, but the correct ones for Texas. But then I would have to inform the interviewees (of which there are over a dozen) that they have to note the timezone discrepancy and make adjustments accordingly. Yikes.

Until TimeDriver adds the capability of an alternate “common” time zone for when meeting parties are traveling to meet in a time zone other than their own, you’re going to get very messed up using its scheduling Books.

The Quick Workaround With

In a panic, I spent my night going through TimeBridge‘s new scheduling solution (which I recently reviewed) to see if it could be an alternative solution to my appointment dilemma. Unlike TimeDriver’s Books, TimeBridge doesn’t let you designate different time chunks from your calendar for different audiences. However, I figured out that I could sign up again to claim a second page using a different email address, and then narrow my time availability to just certain blocks of time during my stay at SXSW.

I was able to then send out invites, get responses back and manage the first wave of responses to nail down times. But later, I realized that after the first wave of responses, more had arrived and since I was using a secondary email address, I didn’t see them and missed a number of interview opportunities. Luckily, some persistent PR folks tracked down my primary email and were able to make contact with me through other channels.

In the course of stressing over my scheduling apps dilemma, I ran into Mark Gingras, the CEO of Tungle, another scheduling app. I told him what I was going through and then scolded him. Why? Because when I tried signing up for to see if it might be a good interim solution, I could not access my newly-opened account. We discussed the third time zone issue, and Gingras admitted that did not have a specific solution for it, but he said it was a much-requested feature and hinted at integrating in the future.

It just goes to show that SXSW can test applications to near-breaking, but also provide unprecedented access to heads of application firms who can troubleshoot for you in-person and on the fly!

How do you manage scheduling in multiple time zones with two or more people and with calendar integration?

For the GigaOM network’s complete SXSW coverage, check out this round-up.