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Maintaining Calendar Harmony

Too long to read? We've also got a shorter, more action-oriented page about how to avoid calendaring complications.

Two of the most popular (or at least the most used) features of Exchange Calendar are the ability to set up recurring meetings, and the ability to delegate tasks to others. When used carefully, these are powerful and helpful tools. However, when used without understanding what Exchange is really doing, problems can crop up. 

The following wall of text will help you learn the guiding principles of Calendar Harmony and Contentment.

First, let’s clarify a concept:

When a meeting appears on your calendar and a coworker's calendar, you might assume that there is a single calendar entry. This is illusion; there is no unity, only the appearance of unity.

Each person’s calendar has a copy of the meeting invitation. As you accept invitations, updates, and cancellations, the item on your calendar is updated. Your coworker does the same. As long as you each receive every change to each meeting, each calendar entry gets the same updates, and the illusion holds.

If one of you misses an update, the copies no longer look identical. The meetings start looking different, and cracks appear in the mirror. You start showing up at different times for a meeting that was moved. Harmony breaks down. You say unkind things to your children and neglect your pets. Here are tips to maintain calendar harmony.

First Rule of Calendar Harmony: There are no useless messages.

Calendar updates are sent by email messages. Make sure that everyone sees the same view of a meeting by sending and processing every update.

As the meeting organizer, send notifications to all attendees on every change. Keep everyone obsessively synchronized by sending all updates to all attendees. For example, Outlook, Outlook Web App (OWA), and some other email/calendar clients give you the option to only notify the attendees that you've added or removed. Don't do it.

Include a note about what the change is with each update, so attendees are informed, and so that they don't skip updates that they think they have already seen.

As a meeting attendee, accept or decline every calendar message. If you simply delete them, you may miss important changes to the meeting. If you accidentally skip one, go back into your Deleted Items folder and accept it.

Always send a response to the meeting organizer when you accept or decline. Some email/calendar clients give you the option to not send a response; do not accept their temptations.

Some email/calendar clients allow the meeting organizer to choose whether to ask for acknowledgment. If the organizer doesn’t need to know who is attending, it’s okay for them to use this option. For example, if you use all-day events to notify your group about vacation days, you don’t really need your co-workers to “accept” your vacation. Similarly, if you’re inviting many people to an optional meeting (and you don’t need to know how many plan to come, you can safely use the “no response required” option

Corollary to the First Rule: That’s a lot of messages!

One reason people do not follow the First Rule is the number of messages that are sent. Fortunately, you can use your Exchange email client to filter all meeting request messages into a folder automatically, so they do not clutter your Inbox. We've prepared detailed instructions for the current Exchange clients:

Outlook 2013 (Windows)

Outlook 2010 (Windows)

Outlook 2011 for Mac

Outlook Web App (OWA)

If you use this method, be sure to keep an eye on that folder, so you don't miss invitations and updates.

Second Rule of Calendar Harmony: Play favorites (when choosing your email/calendar client).

Email/calendar clients are not all equal.

You’ll get the most consistent results with Outlook 2010 (Windows) and Outlook Web App (any current major browser, any current operating system). Outlook 2011 (Mac) trails its Windows cousin in stability. iCal (Mac) works for the simpler cases, but consider switching to Outlook Web App to set up or manage a complex meeting.

Mobile devices create the most problems: they are best used for reference only
. You can set up personal appointments on a mobile phone, but propose or accept meeting invitations on your computer. In general, the more complicated or more detailed the task, the more important it is for you to use Outlook (for Windows) or Outlook Web App (Windows or Mac).

Third Rule of Calendar Harmony: Practice teamwork.

If you have your assistant manage your calendar, do it consistently. If your assistant creates and accepts meetings for you, always do it the same way. This leads to more consistent, predictable scheduling. Try to have no more than one delegate who can update your calendar. And try to have everyone involved use the same email/calendar client when updating and viewing the calendar.

Don't disrupt the harmony by making or accepting meetings on your own. That frequently leads to calendar conflicts.

(Tell me more about delegating my calendar in Outlook 2013 (Windows), Outlook 2010 (Windows) or Outlook 2011 for Mac. It is not possible to delegate through Outlook Web App.)

Fourth Rule of Calendar Harmony: Keep it simple.

Do you have one of those meetings that has a different time and location and agenda each week? If you use the recurring meeting feature for this kind of meeting, you're likely to start seeing problems. Only use the recurring meeting feature if the time and place are the same each week.

If you need to change the time or location for one date in a recurring meeting, cancel that occurrence of the meeting and send out a new invitation for the alternate time as a single, non-repeating meeting. Send out the weekly agenda as a separate mail item, not as a meeting update.

Each exception to a meeting series is stored in the meeting notifications that are sent to all participants. As those lists of exceptions get longer and longer, errors creep in and schedules get out of sync. Keep your repeating meetings simple and predictable. 

Fifth Rule of Calendar Harmony: Make time for renewal.

Vendors do fix problems with their email/calendar clients. Some of the fixes have had major impact. Apply all updates to your email/calendar clients to keep them working smoothly. That includes your computer as well as your mobile phone or tablet. Mobile email/calendar apps have had a number of synchronization issues fixed in the past several years; make sure you have those updates applied.

Sixth Rule of Calendar Harmony: Does anybody really know what time it is?

Each email/calendar client has a time and a time zone. They add that time zone to meetings you set up, and the email/calendar clients of people you invite will try to match that to their own time zone. Mismatched time zones can end up with shifted meetings.

Make sure that your email/calendar client is showing the correct time, and has the correct time zone. Sometimes the email/calendar client has a time zone setting in addition to the operating system's time zone. Make sure those are both in agreement.

Mobile devices have time zones, and sometimes can change the time zone automatically as you travel. Finally, Outlook Web App has a time zone setting as well. Make sure that is set in agreement with other settings that you use. Make sure that your email/calendar client knows when Daylight Saving Time starts and stops. 

 

And some wisdom about scheduling rooms or resources:

First rule of scheduling harmony: Take no shortcuts.

You may have the privilege of directly proposing a meeting to a resource (meeting room) calendar. Do not take this path.

Instead, invite the resource to the meeting via the "Rooms" button. You should check the scheduling assistant to be sure the resource is available. If the room is booked, find another room that's available, then send the invitation. Make sure you get an acknowledgment from the resource that it has been accepted. Follow this path to reliably reserve rooms for your meeting.

Second rule of scheduling harmony: Allow conflicts.

You have scheduled a meeting for the next year, only to have the room decline because it is busy on one day six months from now. This is a situation when conflicts can promote harmony. Ask the owner of the room to set it to allow conflicts. You may allow a maximum number or maximum percentage of conflicts in a meeting.

With this setting, the room would have informed you that your reservation was made except for the days when it was already booked. (This will not result in double-booking those times.)

In accordance with the Fourth Rule above, schedule individual meetings at alternate times or rooms for those conflicting times; do not attempt to add those variations to the recurring meeting.