Category Archives: calendar

Still looking for an awesome calendar management system

One of the things I do very badly is manage appointments. I can manage tasks.  I can manage time. But every so often, I write down the wrong times for a meeting, get frustrated by scheduling, or double-book myself. This is all the more embarrassing because people are involved. This should be something I can fix.

That’s why I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to manage my calendar and how to do it better. Web-based systems like Tungle, TimeBridge, and AgreeADate make it easy to find available times for meetings, although I still haven’t found the perfect tool.

  • I love AgreeADate‘s interface for handling appointments with multiple attendees and multiple timeslots, but it lacks integration with my Google calendar, and it cannot detect conflicts.
  • I love TimeBridge‘s integration with my calendar and tracking of tentative slots, but it displays too many pop-ups and pushes the social networking feature too strongly.
  • I love Tungle‘s interface for selecting slots and its integration with my Google contacts, but there’s no way to add slots to a meeting after an attendee says that none of the slots are convenient.

Every service is just a little bit off. My ideal calendar management system would make it easy for me to propose meeting times, and reschedule them to a something else comes up. I’d also love to be able to give people a link to my schedule, so that they can sign themselves up. Maybe someday. I can outsource the fiddly things to a virtual assistant, but it makes sense that this stuff should be mostly automated. For the peace of mind of knowing my calendar’s correct, I’d pay maybe $5-10 a month…

UPDATE: TimeBridge handles most of my cases, so I guess I’ll go with that.

Tungle for the win: kaizen and calendar management

Life just keeps getting better and better. =) So after I posted that quick note about Timebridge, Aidan Nulman nudged me about Tungle. I asked Ana to look into it, updating the calendar management process along the way. Based on a little exploration, I think Tungle wins in terms of calendar management. =) It can synchronize with my multiple Google Calendars, show all of my Google Contants on the left side, and automatically avoid double-booking. I’m in love. (TimeBridge, AgreeADate, I hope you’re listening – keep up with the competition!)

So in the spirit of sharing, here’s our newly refined calendar management process. Ana even went to the trouble of adding screenshots – how cool is that?

Setting up appointments:

  1. Login to http://www.tungle.com, see Accounts and Passwords section for the login information.
  2. The screenshot below shows an example of a personal Tungle Page. To set up an appointment, click on Schedule a meeting at the upper left side of the screen.
  3. Fill in the fields.
    1. Subject of the Event
    2. Choose from the dropdown list for the duration of the meeting/appointment.
    3. Meeting Location (Note unless specifically specified on Sacha’s meeting details, here are Sacha’s Venue Preferences:
      • 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
    4. Click Add for every person added in the list of Invitees.
    5. The calendar on the lower part of the page is linked to Sacha’s Google Calendar so you will know which hours and days she is available. Highlight available times or as instructed by Sacha.
      Additional Information in selecting time:

      • Offer 3-5 choices, conflicts and double bookings will not be a problem with Tungle since it is synchronized with the Google Calendar.
        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
      • Sacha’s Google Calendar will be automatically updated as soon as invitees send back their confirmations.
    6. Click the RIGHT arrow beside Step 1 of 3.
  4. Step 2 shows a summary of the tentative dates you are proposing to the invitees. Click on X if you have entered an incorrect entry and go back to Step 1. If the details are all correct, click on the RIGHT arrow button to proceed to Step 3.
  5. For personal message refer to instructions below. Then click PREVIEW.
    • For phone appointments, include the following segment in the Personal Message box:

      Times are in your current time zone by default. If the timezone is incorrect, use the “Change” link above the calendar.

      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 Personal Message:

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

  6. Check meeting details. Send invitation.
  7. A confirmation box will be shown to you after sending invites. See screencap below. Close.

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.

    2008: Annus Mirabilis

    What an incredible year!

    Di's wedding We took two trips to Manila: the first to introduce W- and J- to my family, and the second to attend the wedding of one of my best friends from high school. It was well worth all those nights of rice and beans–which were delicious, so that was no sacrifice. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is that W- can joke about local details like Cash and Carry or my barkada‘s hijinks. Manang Norma taught him how to make laing and pinakbet, and my dad taught both of us about high-speed photography. My godparents interrogated W- over tea, which (in the classic Filipino tradition) lasted until late evening. Now that he knows more about the home where I grew up, I feel more at home here in Canada.

    Mali NekoDuring our trip, W- and J- met Mali, the elephant my dad takes care of at the zoo, and we all enjoyed feeding her bananas. I also introduced them to my cat, Neko. She gave W- the seal of approval by deigning to sit on his lap, which she doesn’t do for just anybody.

    planeThe trips were full of experiences. We went to Pagsanjan Falls, Tagaytay, and a few other interesting places in the Philippines. My dad flew us around the ricefields and rivers of Angeles in an ultralight plane. We were serenaded by the UP Singing Ambassadors over dinner, too!

    J- We’ve been practicing photography, and have started buying glass (lenses) and light (flashes). We’ve been getting plenty of practices at events like W-‘s grandfather’s 98th birthday, at which we all had a turn at being photographers – and being voice-activated light stands. We had our very first fashion shoot, too, taking pictures of J- in her back-to-school clothes.

    This was the year of baked awesomes. I told W- a story about egg tarts and how some boys used to bring them for my family while courting, and he promptly figured out how to make egg tarts that beat anything you’d find at Lord Stow’s Bakery. He sometimes surprises me with freshly-baked cinnamon rolls or corn-bread muffins. Not to be outdone, I occasionally make cakes or piles of cookies. We’ve perfected our own <insert favourite topping> oatmeal cookie recipe, and have put it to good use during play-dates, tea parties, and dinner parties.

    Fortunately, we’ve been reasonably active. During the earlier part of the year, W- and I took krav maga and yoga lessons. J- has just received her yellow belt in aikido, and is taking swimming lessons, too. Now that the weather’s cooler and the mosquitoes have disappeared, we’ve started hiking the Bruce Trail. The GPS unit W- picked up prevents us from getting too lost, and that’s nice to know when it’s cold and snowy.

    I’m slowly getting the hang of winter. The hats I picked up at a Tilley sale are good at keeping my ears warm and my spirits up. The hiking staff helps me navigate slush and ice. And there are little things to look forward to – winter walks with W-, tobogganing down the hill… Well, I’m here, so I might as well find something to get me through!

    Luke and Leia On a wintry day, there’s only one thing more wonderful than having a warm, purring cat: having two! The story begins with Magic, a stray cat who followed us home one fall evening, and became our guest for two weeks while we searched for her original owners. Shortly after we returned Magic to her grateful family, we adopted Leia from Toronto Animal Services. After Leia recovered from her sniffles and was spayed, she became such a wonderful cat that we just had to adopt another one. Thus Luke entered our lives. There’s never a dull moment with those two around, especially when they hear the fridge, microwave, crinkling plastic, or any sound associated with feeding time.

    It’s been a terrific year at IBM, too. I’ve gotten really deeply into Drupal hacking, and I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve also facilitated a number of workshops and delivered talks on Web 2.0, social networking, and Generation Y. My team keynoted a couple of conferences – that was fun, too. I developed my own presentation style (ooh, stick figures) that made my self-introduction one of the winners of Slideshare.net’s Worldwide Best Presentation Contest. I’m totally rocking my work. ;) You know, I might be getting the hang of application development and consulting… this is cool!

    I’ve been learning a lot outside work. After four chapters of my Emacs book, I got distracted with all the cool Drupal stuff I did at IBM, so Emacs hacking got put on hold. I’ve recently resumed tweaking my configuration and sharing my notes, and I’m looking forward to more Emacs customization. I’m working on my visual communication skills, challenging myself to express abstract ideas through photographs (stock images or my own) and doodles. I’m getting better at connecting the dots between people and other people, ideas, or resources for making things happen, and that’s tons of fun too.

    What’s next for me in 2009? More Drupal and Emacs hacking – there’s so much I can do now, and I can’t wait to learn more. I’d like to think about and share more things we’ve learned from social computing at IBM, too. I also want to learn how to organize events, and I’m volunteering to help with some of my favorite events in Toronto. I want to learn more about regularly connecting with people, and I hope to have monthly dinner parties and other get-togethers. I’m looking forward to learning more about illustrating and writing, and you’ll see stuff like that in my blog. I still have a lot of paperwork to do for my permanent residency application, but I hope to get that sorted out next year. I’m looking forward to 2009 – it’ll be awesome, too!

    Happy holidays! Tell me about your year in a blog post or a comment – I’d love to know your 2008 highlights and 2009 plans!

    2008 summary