Oh the joy of convening meetings. Fifteen participants from different organisations. Some using Outlook, some Lotus Notes, some not quite sure what they are using. Some can never meet on Wednesdays; others work only on Wednesdays. City participants want to meet at the start or the end of the day. Country participants want to meet around lunchtime so they can leave and return home at a reasonable hour.
Sounds familiar? Online scheduling tools will not resolve issues of preference or availability, but they can minimise the time you spend finding out about them by sending emails or leaving phone messages all over the place. I have been using Doodle, a free browser-based scheduling tool, ever since my eldest daughter recommended it to me.
You can start using Doodle without even registering. To convene a meeting, just visit the Doodle homepage and ‘create a poll’. That means entering all possible meeting dates and times into Doodle. You can have up to three time slots per day and these can overlap.
Once your poll is in place, Doodle sends you a link that you can forward to all invitees, as well as an administrator link that lets you access and manage the poll.
Make sure that your covering email explains the process clearly, as your invitees may not have used online scheduling before and may be reluctant to click on a link embedded in an email.
In the real life screenshot below I had given participants nine choices spread over five days. Even so, I was left with just one time slot that suited the whole group. Doodle lets you ask invitees to vote yes, no or if need be. You can restrict the choice to just yes or no but I find that this merely turns the if need be vote into no. You can also hide the results from view.
Doodle sends you an email each time someone votes. About two hours after I sent out the link to my Doodle poll I had my meeting time. In the past, it might have taken me two or three days of chasing people up; and collating the results would have been more labour intensive and prone to errror.
So what’s the catch? The free version of Doodle has ads which can slow down older browsers. Just put on your Cloak of Patience +3 and feel smug that, ads notwithstanding, you are still saving time.
There is also a premium version of Doodle, which I have not used. It is ad-free and gives you the option of Doodle sending meeting invitations on your behalf for $39 per year. There are separate pricing structures for individuals, teams and enterprises and mobile versions for the iPhone and iPad ($2.99). Make sure that you search the iTunes Store for Doodle: easy scheduling or you’ll be trawling through acres of finger painting and drawing apps…
And please leave a comment below if you have experience with the premium version of Doodle, if you have come across similar scheduling sotware or if you are not quite sure how to obtain a Cloak of Patience +3.