Need to take control of your calendar? This hack is simple to implement.

The average person spends 4-5 hours per week scheduling meetings. For some, that is 10% of your workweek. This is related to just scheduling meetings not actually holding the meetings! The problem – the back and forth planning. We have all been on that meeting email thread that seems to go on and on trying to lock in the one date and the one time and then the one place where the universe conspires and the planets align.

The pain is exasperated when we question the value of the meeting.

All of that feels like a lot of wasted time to me so a few years ago, I dug in and created a calendar-scheduling hack that eliminates most of this time.

There are 5 components to the hack:

  1. Deciding how much time you wish to allocate to meetings during the week. I hold open office hours as part of my #givefirst to the startup community. I decided that 5 hours per week is appropriate. I further broke that down to 2, 1-hour lunches per week, 2, 1-hour end-of-day beer meetings, and 3, 20 minute open office hours over a 1-hour period. These are actually 3 different targeted meetings for different actors in the community.
  2. Deciding how you wish to meet. Since I have 3 different types of meetings, I hold them in different ways. The lunch and beer meetings are in person and the open office hours held virtually via a Google Hangout (video chat).
  3. Creating fixed meeting slots. I then go into my calendar app (Google Calendar or and set a fixed time every week and repeat that meeting time for a year (or indefinitely). Each of these 3 meeting types is given a separate sub-calendar (this is really important). I call them Lunch Meetings, Beer Meetings and Open Office Hours. In Google Calendar I set the Open Office Hours not as an Event (default) but as an Appointment slot. The appointment slot enables me to set up the 20-minute slots across the 1 allocated hour. So when you as my targeted meeting partner see my calendar, you can choose 1 of the 3 slots or move to the next week. Here is the trick – each one of these sub-calendars has a unique URL (webpage) so that I can send an email response or place this on my website differently.
  4. Canned email response. In Gmail there is an add-on in the Labs section called a canned response. This plugin enables me to create a canned response, which is invoked when I create or respond to certain emails. I write a canned response for each of the calendar items called Lunch Meetings, Beer Meetings and Open Office Hours. In the email response, I give some directions and a link to my calendar (copy the unique URL mentioned in step 3.) Now when someone reaches out for a meeting, I can either push them to any one or more than one of the sub-calendars for them to schedule our next meeting.
  5. Eliminating individual slots when necessary. I run these sub calendars indefinitely and then go in and individually delete certain days when I am traveling or on vacation or have an issue that I cannot work around (a conference or off site meeting for example). Make sure you only delete that item and not the entire calendar.

This is not a difficult process hack to put in place. I have been using this for over 2 years and find that it has saved me tons of time.

The biggest benefit? Now I don’t have to feel guilty about pushing someone out – the calendar is available and each person can pick their best spot.