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Time in a Bottleneck: Online Scheduling Tools Make Meetings Happen

Getting a large number of people together for a meeting is like herding cats into a bathtub. When you’re talking busy cats . . . I mean, people . . . it’s even worse. Grease those cats. Now, give those greased cats business suits and a knowledge of how to exploit loopholes. Lawyers are some of the busiest cats around. Grease ‘em, but don’t teach ‘em how to drive. But, whether you’re trying to organize colleagues, clients and/or related professionals, it’s pretty clear, and pretty quickly, that everyone is busy. Everyone has things to do that are essentially important to them. How do you get diverse people with diverse interests to come together on a single topic at a single, established time?

Every attorney has had to organize for a meeting, whether on his or her own, or with the assistance of staffpersons. How do you gather the appropriate parties and attorneys for a deposition, especially when people are in different states? How do you get the parties, real estate agents and client on the horn at the same time, in order to resolve an issue prior to a real estate closing? Hell, How do you even organize an internal staff meeting, with everyone so busy, as you know, with all of your colleagues’ calendars packed?

The traditional method (skipping over cave wall scratching, smoke signals and carrier pigeon delivery, for the sake of expediency) for organization was phone contact, accompanied by sticky notes for purposes of recording responses. Of course, this method was cumbersome. It was time-consuming. It would inevitably involve playing phone tag. And, it only took one person to say no to an otherwise agreed upon time and date to throw the whole thing back in a tizzy, returned to the start. Then you’re between a rock and a hard place, because you can either accommodate that last late responder (and the one for whom the time is inconvenient is always the last to respond, right?) and upset everyone else, or you can leave the last responder off, and upset him or her.

There’s just gots to be a better way, right? Well, leave it to Mr. Gates. In removing themselves from the Dark Ages, folks began to schedule things, for themselves and with others, using Microsoft’s Outlook. Outlook and its associated email and calendar system was certainly an improvement over picking up something called the phone. (Wait, it didn’t have Internet on it?) However, Microsoft’s Outlook was not a cure-all. There were limitations for date and time ranges. Plus, the method for getting responses was to send a single email to a number of people. So, even if you agreed to join the meeting and were the first person to respond, you could bet your behind that you’d be subject to everyone else’s replies when people responded using the reply all feature. (But, that’s only fair, because you started.) And, since Outlook doesn’t tie email threads together like GMail does (GMail uses the first email in a string as a header and aggregates all new messages under the first message; Outlook introduces a new email with each reply, with the entire string existing underneath each new message), you’re getting a ton of emails that don’t apply much to you, while you wait for that final confirmation email . . . that may never come.

So, you’re telling me Outlook ain’t all that. Now what? Well, as modern society continues its slow creep past the graying eyes of Mr. Gates (it ain’t the 70s no more), I’m pretty sure you can find some free and easy solutions online, that work well, and that integrate with Outlook anyway. And, Lo . . . You can. Does that change your outlook?

TimeBridge is one top flight choice, and LOMAP’s own preferred option for scheduling meetings. With TimeBridge, you can set up to five dates and times and broadcast those preferences, via email, to the parties with whom you’d like to meet. Potential meeters link to TimeBridge’s website from their email. (No registration is required, incidentally.) They choose their available dates. If everyone agrees on a date, you’re done. If not, just propose five new dates. No fuss, no muss, no reply all emails. Nifty features of TimeBridge include that you can synchronize it with your Outlook contacts, you can create groups for inviting frequent meeters and you can schedule a web conference out of TimeBridge. Note, however, that TimeBridge will try to default you to an option that allows responders to see your whole calendar. Bad idea. Turn this function off. Then they’ll never know you were blowing them off on some dates to go see the newest Twilight movie. Beyond the free version, TimeBridge also offers a pay-for-use version, with the regular features plus some add-ons.

Doodle is another good, free and easy-to-use meeting scheduler tool. In Doodle, you provide a subject for your invite email, and then choose as many potential meeting dates and times as you wish. Doodle, in essence, works the same way as TimeBridge (really, these products all, essentially, work the same way; but, so do the Pacer and the Maserati), it’s just that TimeBridge is easier to use, and more intuitive to use. Doodle does have some cool other features, though. It synchronizes with a lot of different online calendars, including Outlook, iCal and Google Calendar. It will also allow more interface options; and, by that I mean that you can schedule from more places, including from Facebook, on iGoogle and on your mobile phone.

There are several more meeting scheduler options that we (being two of us only) have not yet had the opportunity to test. Maybe you can . . . and then tell us all about them. Get started now!: When Is Good, Set A Meeting (SAM), Meeting Wizard,
Meet-O-Matic and Tungle, are all available, for your, um, tungling . . . I guess.

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Liner Notes

Frequent in-office consult visits offer me the time to drive around a lot. It’s just me and my thoughts. But, then, when my head starts to hurt, I turn on the radio. I usually listen to Radio 92.9 WBOS, if I am not listening to my iPod. Listening to BOS makes me seem far cooler than I really am. It makes me seem like I know a lot about new rock, when I’m really just afraid of it, and only a poser.

I can say things like, “Man, I really like The Bravery. They have this sort of Duran Peter Gabriel Duran vibe going. I like that song ‘Believe‘. Good tune.” And “So, the Foo Fighters are releasing a Greatest Hits album, and there’s this new track off of it called ‘Wheels‘ that’s pretty sweet. I once fought some foo . . . it did not end well.” I guess people are hating on this song, because they think it is a bad departure from the Foo Fighters’ sound. I don’t think it’s that dissimilar, and I think it has a cool, classic country rock edge to it. Excuse me, “edge”.

But if you don’t like those wheels, perhaps you’ll like these “Wheels”, of Gram ParsonsFlying Burrito Brothers. Or, maybe you’ll like these “Wheels” even better: the Burrito Brothers’ Chris Hillman’s live version of the tune. (You may remember Chris Hillman from playing with Manassas and CSNY, as well.)

Speaking of country rock, and alt-country, which are two (or one, depending upon how you see it) of my favorite music stylings, you should take a listen to Jimmy Buffett’s early recordings (you know, before he sold out), and listen to some of the righteous stuff he used to produce, like “Rockefeller Square” and “High Cumberland Jubilee“.

And, remember the coach from the opposing team in Bobby Boucher’sThe Waterboy”? Well, that was Jerry Reed, who was a musical artist well before he was an actor, and who sang tongue-in-cheek country tunes, like Blue Yodel No. 8: “Mule Skinner Blues” (featuring Chet Atkins), “Amos Moses” and the “U.S. Male” (featuring great wordplay on the United States Postal Service and its slogans), with a distinctive guffaw.