If you’ve used Outlook for long, you’ve probably gotten one of those emails with “Accept / Tentative / Decline / Propose New Time” across the top. And it’s true that Outlook Meeting Requests are a handy tool for getting stuff onto other people’s calendars.

But as excited as I am to see people (finally!) using Outlook for more than just email, I see some meeting scheduling practices that make me want to tear my hair out. So here’s my suggested list of Dos and Don’ts for using Outlook Meeting Requests.

Unless otherwise noted below, all instructions and screenshots are for Microsoft Office 2010 for Windows.

DO check others’ availability first

If you’re scheduling a meeting for multiple participants within your office (and therefore on the same Exchange server), use the Meeting Request form to check everyone’s availability before hitting “Send.” Add your intended Required and Optional meeting attendees as you normally would, then click Scheduling to view Free/Busy information for the day/time you’ve selected:

DON’T make deadlines (or anything else not tied to a specific time of day) into Appointments—use Events instead

If June 22nd is the deadline for responding to discovery, don’t schedule it for 8:00 a.m. that morning. That unnecessarily clutters your and everybody else’s calendar, prompting Outlook to (erroneously) report appointment conflicts.

Instead, check the box labeled “All day event,” then mark the time as “Free” in the “Show as” dropdown. Each Event item will be shown in the floating section above that day’s appointments on its own line. That makes each Event name readable no matter how many are stacked up that day.

You can still schedule a reminder one or more days in advance of the deadline so no one is (or should be) caught off guard.

DO book Resources via Outlook

Keep someone else from grabbing that conference room! Have your Outlook administrator set up your conference rooms, presentation equipment, etc. as Resources to be booked via Outlook. A user can be set up as the point person to approve (or deny) requests for individual Resources if necessary, or they can be booked on demand without human intervention.

DO attach or embed any relevant information

Is your Meeting Request for a hearing on a summary judgment motion? Attach a copy of the motion and any responses. Watch the size, though. Attaching scads of scanned material (as opposed to renderable .pdf text converted direct from a word processor) to your outgoing emails can (eventually) result in an oversized .pst file and a locked-up Inbox. If all your recipients are on the same LAN, try embedding links to files on your network drives to give everyone access to the material without sending a multi-megabyte email. Even if you don’t have any files to embed, you’ve got plenty of space to type explanatory notes to clarify who’s covering what.

DON’T treat a Meeting Request as a CYA maneuver

You may think you’re covering all your bases by copying your partner, two associates, three paralegals and everyone’s secretary, but you’re only creating confusion about who’s responsible for what. If certain people are required to attend, make them Required attendees (the “To:” box). If others are simply being copied to make them aware of it (or ensure they remind said Required people), make them Optional attendees (the “Cc:” box). As students of psychology know, the more people who are “responsible” for something, the more likely everyone in the group will assume someone else is taking care of it. Don’t let them assume anything—be clear.

What irritates you about Meeting Requests?

My list of Outlook Meeting Request pet peeves may not match yours. What have you noticed others doing that drives you up the wall?
(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denverjeffrey/542264434/)