Okay, even more impressed by Timebridge

I was happy with AgreeADate’s interface for calendar management, and now I’m even happier with TimeBridge. I like how TimeBridge automates the addition of tentative slots to my calendar (so that I can see what it might impact) and the cancellation of slots that conflict with confirmed appointments. That makes my calendar management process much simpler. =) Let’s see if it can handle the other use case of letting lots of people sign up for slots…

Hooray for experimentation!

VA Days: Calendar Management

Hey, this actually does work. =) I experimented with outsourcing calendar management, and the results so far are promising.

I invested some time in writing detailed calendar management instructions, and then I forwarded details for five events I’d like to arrange over the next couple of weeks. The VA I assigned the task to entered in all the details. The only part she forgot was to create appointments on my tentative calendar for each of the events, but that’s okay. The oDesk work diary shows me that she created them, but they were on her own calendar.

She took an hour to set up her account and type in the events, and she’ll probably do things even faster next time. And the process works! =)

Here’s my process so far:


Calendar Management

I use AgreeADate (http://www.agreeadate.com) to set up appointments, and Google Calendar (http://calendar.sachachua.com) for my calendar.

To find timezones agreeable to people, use this Meeting Planner: http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html. I am okay with meetings after 7:00 AM EST and before 11:00 PM EST (Canada – Ontario – Toronto).
To convert between timezones, use http://timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html.

See XXX for password information.

Setting up potential appointments

  1. Open my main Google calendar in a separate window so that you can see when I’m available. You can access it at XXXXX with your username and password.
  2. Log on to http://www.agreeadate.com with the given username and password in Accounts and Passwords.
  3. Click on “Add a New Event”.
  4. Set up basic event details.
  1. Type in the event title (and venue, for in-person events), and the duration I specified
    Preferred venues:
    • Lunch during weekdays
    • Ichiriki – Japanese – 120 Bloor Street E, Toronto  Hours: 11:45 – 2:30?
    • Camros Eatery (http://www.camroseatery.com/) – Vegan Hours: M-F 11:30am to 7:30pm  (no travel time necessary)
    • Weekends: Linux Caffe (http://www.linuxcaffe.ca) – 326 Harbord Street, Toronto. Hours: M-F: 7am to 11pm, Sat 10am to 11pm, Sun 10am to 5pm
  2. Set AgreeADate to send a reminder 1 day before the event. 
  3. Add additional text:
    • If people have not indicated their phone numbers, add

Please use the “Send message to host” feature to send me the phone numbers / Skype ID I can reach you at just in case something comes up.

  • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Times are given in Eastern Standard Time. If you need to change the timezone, use the link on the AgreeADate reply page labeled

    “Not your time zone? To convert time zone click here.”

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Skype ID: XXX
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • For in-person appointments, include the following segment in the Additional text box:

    Sacha Chua’s contact information
    Mobile number: XXX
    Work number: XXX
    E-mail: XXX

  • Click on the Next step.
  • Set up dates
    1. Offer 3-5 choices, making sure that they don’t conflict with events on my main or tentative calendars.
    1. For in-person meetings, I prefer lunch (12:00 PM – 1:00 PM) or coffee/tea/hot chocolate (any time between 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM), preferably on a Thursday or Friday
    2. For phone meetings, I prefer calls on Saturday or Sunday (9:00 AM – 9:00 PM), preferring Saturday afternoon
  • Create Google Calendar events for each slot on the Tentative calendar. That way, I can glance at my main calendar + tentative calendar to see where I might potentially have appointments.
  • Click on the next step.
  • Invite people.
    1. Type in the e-mail addresses of everyone I want to invite. You can generally skip the names, although I’ll ask you if I need the names typed in.
    2. Click on “Save changes.” DO NOT SEND INVITATIONS YET.
    3. E-mail me at XXX with a link to the event to tell me that it’s ready for review.

    When I ask you to copy the calendar information:

    1. Open the event on http://www.agreeadate.com.
    2. Click on Review and Select.
    3. Open my Google Calendar in another window.
    4. For each confirmed slot, update the corresponding calendar event. Set the event title to the event subject and invitee name(s). Copy any contact details (see the bottom for the messages sent to the host, and your e-mail for other contact information) into the body of the calendar event. Move the event to the main calendar.
    5. If all the appointments in this event have been confirmed, delete the other tentative calendar events from my tentative Google Calendar.
    6. Report completion through e-mail in your status update.

    I use the Google Labs “Canned Responses” feature to set up the following mail template:

    Hello, XXX!

    Could you please set up the following event:

    Event type:
    Title:
    Venue:
    Duration:
    Your timezone: Leave this at Eastern Time
    Dates and times:

    Invitees:

    Additional text:

    —–
    For your reference:

    Link to calendar management instructions: XXX
    Link to accounts/passwords: XXX
    AgreeADate site: http://www.agreeadate.com
    Google Calendar: XXX

    Thanks!

    Dealing with weaknesses: calendars

    Okay, I’m starting to get really annoyed at the weakness of my calendar system. The Google Calendar integration into Notes would have worked… if I hadn’t confused myself badly. Fortunately, I can redeem myself, but I need to either get better at handling appointments or find ways of minimizing them entirely.

    I had a tentative entry for a chat with Sambhavi Chandrashekar. We chatted over the phone and pushed that out a bit, because she’ll be busy for a few weeks. Having briefly scanned my calendar, I assumed that the somewhat-vaguely-named “Lunch with Sacha Chua” entry was related to that chat. No, it wasn’t. It was with someone else.

    I got the Google reminder on my phone and (eventually) in my Lotus Notes calendar, so it’s not about setting up a better reminder system.

    And to think I suggested the date and place, too! Embarrassing.

    So, how can I avoid making mistakes like this in the future?

    The key problem was that the meeting notice I added to my calendar had insufficient details. I had received an event invitation through e-mail and I couldn’t figure out how to add it to my Lotus Notes calendar, so I tried accepting it through Gmail. However, I must’ve accepted it incorrectly, because it didn’t contain any reference to the original sender. Next time, I should double-check that calendar entries have all the relevant details, and that these details are included in the subject line whenever possible.

    If that’s in place, then the second thing I need to do is slow down and be more mindful during my morning reviews. It’s very hard to catch yourself assuming something, particularly when you’re distracted. Maybe I should make this a morning ritual: savor a cup of tea and go over all the important details of the day. It’ll be worth avoiding these spikes of stress.

    I can also minimize the risk of this happening by moving more social appointments to flexible times whenever possible. Instead of meeting people over lunch, I can invite them to tea at my place. This has the added benefit of being able to bring interesting people together. I can’t do this for all appointments, though, so I really do need to improve my process here.

    … and no, even handy services like I Want Sandy won’t help, because the problem was that I glossed over the reminder because I assumed it was related to a different event that had been cancelled.

    The key thing, then, is to slow down when my calendar is involved, because that’s one of my weak points. The times that my calendar system tends to fail are when my Lotus Notes application is closed because I’m having software problems and when my calendar is too crowded or I know parts of it are out of date. I’m dealing with the first case by copying all my appointments into my Emacs Org planner during my morning review, which _should_ have caught today’s error if I had put enough information in the subject line. So I should slow down and click on all the details to make sure I know the full details of each appointment, especially if it was one I’d made several weeks ago.

    Okay, how can I practice this? I’ve forwarded the details of another interesting event to the person I failed to meet today, and we might meet then. I can practice by inviting other friends out to lunch or dinner. I can give myself a minimum amount of time for my morning planning (that’s a strange idea, but it just might work). I can practice making scheduled commitments. I can practice by working on tasks that require several days’ or hours’ lead time, too.

    I can hack this. Grr.

    Upcoming events

    image My proposal was accepted at an IBM conference on best practices! I’m thrilled to have all these opportunities to share what I’m learning and to learn even more from other people. It’s a little mindboggling dealing with all of this as an early-career employee with less than half a year on the job, but I know from personal experience just how wonderful public speaking is when it comes to networking and connecting with people.

    I’ll need to work extra hard to balance all these conferences with paying work, and to show the business value of all of that. It’s a bit of a challenge in the consulting world where we’re supposed to maximize our utilization, but maybe it will work out well.

    To help keep track of all the conferences, articles, and other significant events on my horizon, I’ve added an upcoming events widget below the calendar on my blog. I used MagpieRSS and PHP to read the XML file from Google Calendar, and I did a little regular expression magic to get just the dates and locations. Maybe you’ll find it useful too!

    Business responsibilities come first. If my clients aren’t happy, I may just have to pull out of some of the conferences. I think everything will work out, though, and the conferences will help me bring even more value to my client work!

    Wanted: real-time calendaring for get-togethers

    My social calendar tends to stay relatively full. I have to
    consciously schedule breaks into it because otherwise I just pack it
    with stuff. Google Calendar’s monthly view is great for keeping things
    sorta organized. I’m really, really tempted to write a social app that
    makes it easier to manage these get-togethers – what Filipinos call
    “gimmicks”.

    Such an app would have a floating list of non-time-specific
    activities, with people indicating interest or even availability.
    People should be able to take events from that list and schedule it
    onto a group calendar.

    There should be *some* way I can easily manage having multiple
    overlapping circles of friends. See, there’s a reason why I’d rather
    blend groups!

    And all of this, of course, should be available from a mobile
    interface so that I can go from one event to another.

    But that’s too much interface complexity, so it has to stay inside my
    head. ARGH!

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