Every attorney knows the scenario. You have to schedule a
deposition with five parties and attorneys coming in from out of
town. Or, you have to schedule a corporate meeting with key
employees, officers and the board of directors. All of the
attendees have to be contacted and they all have to attend.
For years, this required the attorney, or paid staff, to make an
endless series of telephone calls with proposed dates and times,
listening to messages, leaving new messages, trying to keep track
of who has responded and who has not, receiving notice from the
lone holdout that none of the dates are good, and then having to
start a new series of telephone calls. All of a sudden, you have a
meeting scheduled two months out with deadlines looming.
Some of us started using e-mail and Microsoft Outlook's
scheduling tool. Here we found that Microsoft Outlook's scheduling
tool was too limited in its ability to propose a wide enough range
of dates and times, and we also found that our in-boxes were
inundated with "reply all" responses when all we really wanted to
know was if the meeting was going forward. This method has become
the most common scheduling tool, but still is not ideal.
A growing list of free tools is available on the Internet that
allows your meetings to be scheduled without further wasting
everyone's time. My favorite tool for scheduling meetings is
TimeBridge, www.timebridge.com. This tool allows me to
propose five specific dates and times for a meeting, which I can
then share with a specified group of people. TimeBridge sends an
e-mail to the selected recipients notifying them of the proposed
dates and times. The e-mail includes a link to TimeBridge. The
recipients, who need not register, are taken to the proposed dates
and times, and they can confirm which date works, which is the best
date, and which dates simply do not work. If none of the dates
work, you can then make some new suggested dates and times.
To make scheduling easier, TimeBridge will synchronize with
Microsoft Outlook contacts and calendar so you will not have to
jump back and forth between Outlook and TimeBridge to get your
e-mail list and see the dates and times that you are available.
TimeBridge will suggest that you allow it to make your entire
calendar available to others. Don't do that. In fact, I would
simply turn off that function to prevent inadvertent disclosure of
information to others.
If you are working with a group of people that you will need to
meet with numerous times, then you can also set up a group to allow
you to quickly contact them. TimeBridge is not only a great way for
scheduling meetings, but it also allows you to schedule a virtual
meeting through its Web conferences (30-day free trial) and it
provides a free telephone conference number for the participants (a
large number of companies provide free telephone conferencing
services). This will allow greater participation without tying up
multiple telephone lines on your system and without paying
excessive AT&T conference call fees.
Another excellent free tool for scheduling meetings is Doodle,
at www.doodle.com, which also provides a paid
premium branded version. Doodle will synchronize with a number of
different calendars, including Microsoft Outlook, iCal and Google.
It also allows scheduling on the go by providing an iGoogle widget,
a Facebook application and a beta Mobile Doodle application.
Once you have chosen a title for your e-mail, you select the
dates you wish to propose and as many time slots on that date as
you wish. Once you are done selecting times and dates, then you
send an e-mail to participants to poll their availability. I use
Doodle when I want to poll a larger number of people on their
availability and may only need a majority of participants to
attend. Although Doodle allows a larger number of proposed dates,
its interface is not as intuitive or simple to use as TimeBridge.
There are a number of other free Web-based alternatives available
which I have not tested.
These include www.whenisgood.net, www.tungle.com (an Outlook plug-in), www.setameeting.com, www.meetingwizard.com and www.meetomatic.com. The interface of each
product differs and you may find some products more intuitive to
use than others. However, given the price, you should feel free to
try these products until you find the right product for you. As
with all Web-based applications that you use, you will want to
especially if you allow it to access your contact list and