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How to Schedule Meetings So They Are Convenient, Effective, and Fun

Meeting Requests with Outlook—Basic Rules and Tips

On the next few pages, you will first learn some of the basics for planning meetings in Outlook. Then you will find out how to optimize your calendar to make it easier for your colleagues to propose meetings at convenient times and at the same time leave enough free space for your own planning.

Find Free Times and Evaluate Replies

There are many advantages to planning meetings with Outlook:

  • You can directly access the shared calendars of others and see when everyone has time, so the chance of picking the wrong time for an appointment decreases significantly.

  • Microsoft Outlook 2010 supports using multiple Exchange accounts with one Outlook client profile. If your company’s security guidelines permit, you can use mailboxes from different companies at the same time (for example, if you are a corporate consultant who spends a lot of time at the customer’s office, you can use the mailbox of your own company as well as your mailbox on your customer’s server). You can now easily display the calendars of colleagues and clients alongside your own or below each other and therefore avoid creating appointment chaos.

  • All participants automatically receive an invitation that already contains buttons for accepting or declining the appointment and for suggesting an alternative time.

  • From this email invitation, the participants can access their own calendars to see what they have going on before and after.

  • If the participants accept the invitation, the appointment is automatically added to their calendar.

  • As a meeting organizer, you can have Outlook evaluate the replies automatically and see who has replied already and how—directly from your calendar by just double-clicking the appointment.

  • Outlook now monitors the appointment for you (the organizer) and, if you want, sends an update to all participants if changes are made.

  • Everybody in the team must know the basic functions. Start with at least a short introduction by an experienced colleague or, even better, with a training course or seminar for planning as a team and how to use Outlook. Make sure that new colleagues also get a short introduction.

  • Everybody must start using the functions at the same time (but this can be limited to individual groups within the team who use group planning among themselves).

How to create a meeting request

  1. Press Ctrl+Shift+Q or create a normal appointment and click the Invite Attendees button on the associated Appointment form.

  2. In the To field (just like with an email message), type the names of the attendees you want or click the To button to select your recipients from the Address Book. Alternatively, you can switch from the open Appointment form to the Scheduling Assistant (in Outlook 2010/Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 by clicking Scheduling Assistant/Scheduling in the Show group on the Appointment tab; in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, by just clicking the Scheduling tab). When you are there, click Add Attendees/Add Others to open the Address Book.

  3. Add all of the participants from the Address Book by clicking the name and then Required, Optional, or Resources.

    In the Scheduling Assistant (see Figure 5-1), you will now see the times that are still available in the calendars of the other attendees (assuming you have the appropriate access rights). A dark grey bar in the All Attendees row means that nobody else has entered a conflicting appointment. The light grey background between the green and red vertical lines shows the time currently set for your new meeting. (You can find more information about the colored bars and how they are used later in this chapter, in Take Advantage of the Show As Field to Flag Your Appointments.)

  4. In the schedule, click any time to select a different time, move the selected area by dragging the green/red vertical line marking the current beginning/ending time, or click the AutoPick Next>> button so that Outlook can find the next free time slot for all participants (or use the small << button to the left of AutoPick Next>> to select the next free time slot before the currently selected time). You can also specify a date and time by directly entering values into the Start time and End time fields (labeled Meeting start time and Meeting end time in Outlook 2003).

    Figure 5-1

    Figure 5-1 When selecting a time that works for everybody, make sure to leave a bit of time before and after other appointments, if possible.

  5. If necessary, switch back to the Appointment view (in Outlook 2010/Outlook 2007, by clicking the Appointment button in the Show group on the Appointment tab (which is relabeled as Meeting after you have added attendees); in Outlook 2003, by just clicking the Appointment tab) to insert the subject line, a greeting in the note field, and any other information you want to send along with the meeting request. By clicking the Attach File button in the Include group on the Insert tab (Outlook 2010/Outlook 2007) or File on the Insert menu (Outlook 2003), you can attach documents that need to be edited or read before the meeting starts, an agenda, directions to a location, and so on, which Outlook will send as an attachment to the invitation.

  6. After you have entered everything, send the meeting request to the desired participants by clicking the Send button (located on the left side next to the subject line in Outlook 2010/Outlook 2007 and just below the File menu in Outlook 2003).

  7. Close the Meeting Request form by clicking the close button (the small x in the upper-right corner) or by choosing Close from the File menu. You can also use Alt+F4 to close the Meeting Request form.

If you want to open the Meeting Request form again later on, you can find the meeting as an appointment in your calendar (double-click to open it). In Outlook 2010, you’ll also find the People Pane in the lower part of the meeting request after it is opened in its own window (see Figure 5-2 and Figure 5-3). The People Pane contains miniature photos of the participants (if the photos exist in your Outlook contacts, otherwise it’ll show empty silhouettes). Click the small arrow in the lower-right corner to see larger pictures with the names below them and find out who has already accepted, declined, or tentatively accepted the invitation and who hasn’t replied yet (click the corresponding option on the left; see Figure 5-2). If you click one of the photos, Outlook 2010 will show you further information about this person, his or her social media status on LinkedIn or Facebook, your next meetings with him or her, and email messages from this person (see Figure 5-3; click one of the displayed meetings/email messages to open it in its own window).

Figure 5-2

Figure 5-2 Open a saved meeting and use the People Pane of Outlook 2010 to find out who has already accepted or not replied yet.

Figure 5-3

Figure 5-3 You can also click the picture or the name of a participant in the People Pane to display more information about this person, such as additional meetings.

Create Meeting Requests from a More Flexible View

If you only want to invite two, three, or four participants, the screen provides enough space to display calendars side by side (available as of Outlook 2003). This is helpful for comparing the shared calendars of others directly to your own work week or day view. This way you can tell much faster that, for example, on Monday (which you had in mind originally) there is just one hour available, but on Thursday morning everybody is available, and Thursday works better because it avoids packing every day with appointments. Unlike the method that uses the Scheduling Assistant in the Appointment form, as shown earlier, this kind of planning takes advantage of more available space. Depending on your screen resolution and the number of attendees, you can read more of the subject of other appointments without pointing to every single one. Above all, you can clearly display all Wednesdays in August side by side or the next two Wednesdays and Fridays without the days in between.

How to create meeting requests from a more flexible view
  1. Switch to your calendar and, if necessary, hide the To-Do bar or the TaskPad to gain more space (Outlook 2010/Outlook 2007: press Alt+F2, Outlook 2003: in the View menu, choose TaskPad to hide/unhide your TaskPad).

  2. To the left of the navigation area in the Other Calendars section, select the check boxes of the calendars you want to show (see Figure 5-4).

    If you can’t find a colleague’s calendar, add it in Outlook 2010 by clicking Open Calendar in the Manage Calendars group on the Home tab. In Outlook 2007/Outlook 2003, click Open A Shared Calendar in the navigation area on the left. In the dialog box that appears, type the name of the colleague or select it after clicking the Name button in the address book, and then close all dialog boxes by clicking OK to open his or her calendar.

  3. Switch to Day view: In Outlook 2010, click the Day button in the Arrange group on the Home tab. In Outlook 2007, click the Day tab, and in Outlook 2003 click the Day button.

  4. In the date navigator (the small calendar in the upper-left corner of Figure 5-4), click the first day you want to see, such as next Tuesday.

  5. In the date navigator, click any additional days you want to show while keeping the Ctrl key pressed to add more days (or deselect them by clicking again). The selected days will be displayed with a dark background in the date navigator and are shown next to each other in the Day view for all selected calendars. (If you select every Friday in February, it looks like “a Week view with four Fridays.” This view is very convenient if someone asks for a meeting on any Friday because he’ll only be in your town or only be available on a particular day of the week.)

  6. Right-click the date and time you want in one of the calendars (such as Wednesday, 11:30 A.M.).

  7. In the shortcut menu, click New Meeting Request to invite all people whose calendars you have selected, or New Meeting Request for <Name> to select one specific person.

  8. Now you can plan the meeting as explained previously in How to create a meeting request.

  9. Afterward, hide those calendars you no longer need to see on the screen by clearing the corresponding check boxes in the Other Calendars section.

    Figure 5-4

    Figure 5-4 In the date navigator, select the days you want from the displayed calendars; for example, to quickly find an appointment in the next four days or on all Thursdays in March.