Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Scheduling Hell

Imagine someone hands you this form, and asks you to fill out your schedule so that s/he can figure out a committee meeting time (Scroll down, please, because I can't make the html not leave a big space):


And so forth.

How do you fill it out?

An odd question, perhaps, but you have two choices, of course. You can fill in the times when you have classes or other obligations, or you can fill in the times you're free.

Maybe your obligations look like this:

9-10ClassOff HrsClassOff HrsClass

And so forth. Maybe you put X's in.

Or maybe you put in when you're free:


Okay, so technically you have neither class nor office hours at 8am, but really, no one wants to get to campus at 8am, so you either don't put it down or you X it out.

I have a theory that there are two sorts of people in the world; the ones who will put in the hours they have obligations on the form, and the ones who will fill in the hours they are free. And the ones who fill in the obligations will have perhaps 15-18 hours filled in for classes, meetings, whatever. There's a subset of these who will fill in exactly what the obligation is, so the scheduler knows if it's somewhat flexible (office hours, for example). That leaves, say 22 hours open for scheduling meetings. And the ones who put in only free hours will have 10-12 hours open for meetings.

I don't think one group is really any busier than the other, but we seem to have really different perceptions.

I was in a meeting today where we spent almost an hour trying to figure out when we could meet as a committee. Three people filled out the form with classes/office hours/other meetings, and two filled it out with the free time.

It's not that anyone is lazy, but between the five of us, there were three hours in the week that could be used for a meeting, and each of those times was on one or another person's non-teaching day (a day we can grade or prep at home, pretty much). We pretty much all teach 11 hours a week, in class. That's inflexible time; some of us have additional meetings that are inflexible. (I'm on a college committee, for example, that just schedules itself every week from 3:30 on one day and has for years; you know when you run for it that you have to have that slot open.)

There was a fair bit of rigidity in there, too. Someone who teaches til 9:45pm doesn't want to come in at 8am that morning or the morning after. Someone with a kid or kids wants to be home by 3pm on certain days. Someone with a longer commute doesn't want to come in just for an hour meeting, and doesn't want to wait four hours between a morning class and an afternoon meeting. All these are understandable and reasonable, but they sure do make scheduling a pain.

I'm only grateful that my non-teaching day is the worst teaching day for two other people, and so there were no times at all open for meeting.

ps. My html skills sort of suck.


  1. I just had this exact problem. Due to my odd schedule this semester (I'm teaching a workshop Thursday nights) I have Tuesdays and Thursdays during the day free -- well, that means I can use those days for writing, and am extremely reluctant to schedule committee meetings during those times, obviously. But OTOH, I know full well that the 2 hours I have otherwise free (MWF afternoons) are not likely to be anyone else's free times....

    So I sucked it up and listed TR as my "free" times. Very grumpily.

    Have I mentioned how much I hate the committee part of our academic work?

  2. I was asked to fill in my schedule for a committee meeting in November (via doodle.com, check it out). Days offered:

    Monday or Tuesday before T-giving, Monday after T-giving.

    I am normally a fill in obligations type of person, but you know? Who knows what their travel plans are around Tgiving, in August? So I just said anytime on the Monday before. And made a note to avoid setting up schedules that will require meetings around Tgiving.

    I really am thinking the inflexible scheduling is the best--eg, 4pm on the first Friday of each month for a reading/writing group, people can make it or they can't, but they can plan around it if they want to. And I once got a request to serve on a committee that included "this will be the meeting. If you can't make it, don't agree" which I thought was excellent.

  3. Why not have virtual meetings, so one could attend from home if that were more convenient?

  4. It is so hard to schedule committee meetings! I like the approach of offering some (initia) times and then asking people to cross off times that they're not available.

  5. The formwriter should have specified whether ze wanted you to write down available times or busy times. I like Midwife with a Knife's and Lenape Girl's solutions.

  6. Because of the difficulty scheduling meetings for us, we always have speakerphones set up for people who are not on campus. It saves energy. It's not ideal, but it's ok, and it helps manage the "I don't want to drive 45 minutes for a one hour meeting.

    I'm on a bunch of committees that set their schedule for the whole year in the fall. Now I have to organize my spring teaching schedule around the meetings :)

  7. Anonymous4:13 PM

    We use Outlook, an e-mail and online calendar system. We are instructed to fill out our calendars each term with our class and office schedules, and other weekly appointments. Then anyone on campus who wishes to schedule you for a meeting can see whether or not a time is FREE.

    Since no one can actually see what I'm doing when I'm NOT free, my calendar now includes 2 hours at the gym in the morning, and "grading and prep periods" at other times I simply do not like to be at meetings;-)

  8. Check out this website: http://whenisgood.net/

    It totally rocks the scheduling stuff!

  9. i also think it is best to propose times and see what happens. conference calls are OK, but if there are a bunch of people in on them over the phone instead of meeting face to face, it can get miserable sometimes.

  10. Delegar, I think you may have mentioned it :)

    Dance, Some committees at NWU work that way; you know Senate is going to meet on this day at this time, and so forth, so you arrange your schedule for it a year ahead. But this committee isn't like that, alas.

    Lenape Girl, A good idea, if we were more tech savvy and the committee weren't doing the specific work it does.

    MWAK, That's a good idea, but with our schedules, we pretty much X out all the best times fast.

    Undine, Absolutely right.

    Susan, That's a good idea. We've already "set" our schedule for next spring (for classes) and do so about a year ahead, so it's hard to switch around much.

    Annieem, that would drive me nuts! I don't want people suddenly putting a meeting with me on my schedule without consulting. I'm so self-centered, aren't I?

    Roaringgrrl, Wow, that IS cool!

    kathy A. Trying to teleconference or whatever would be painful with this committee. Painful!

  11. Reading this, I had a flashback to horror days before computerized calendars when we used to do these sorts of forms. They take hours for someone to figure out once everybody responds. I'm stunned that your univ doesn't have some sort of calendaring system. Although you might think it'd drive you nuts (your comment to Annieem), it is so convenient to use a calendar to send meeting invites. They really do help to quickly find the two or three open spots (that many if you're lucky) when all can meet. I block out all sorts of time on my calendar. My time to work in solitude is just as important as meetings and it is vital to me being successful in my job. I feel no guilt in blocking out times, including btwn 8 - 10 daily, a time I hate to talk to people, and lunch. It all looks like busy time to the organizer and there is no need to figure out what conflicts are 'soft'. If it's blocked out, it's out of the question. And the best part of a calendar system -- you can hit the DECLINE button and ask the organizer to pick another time. I absolutely hate email, but I love electronic calendars.

  12. Interesting, Cam, thanks. What if someone needs to be flexible about their protected time? If we hadn't had that, we'd have never come up with a time that worked.

    I think it feels hard for me to hit the "decline button." We actually DO have this sort of system, but only administrative types use it, that I know of.

  13. Try TimeBridge -- it is a solution for what you are looking for. Helps scheduling with dynamic calendars & priorities. It even syncs with Google and Outlook. You can define multiple groups and share availability... you can propose multiple times and it will collect votes for you. It is easy and free. www.timebridge.com