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/)

8 responses to “Outlook Meeting Request Dos and Don’ts”

  1. Tom Mighell says:

    Great post! I agree with just about everything in it. Not sure, though about attaching files to your meeting invites. From a productivity standpoint, this is a good practice – it keeps everything in one place so you can get to it when your meeting/hearing/whatever takes place.

    However, from a records management and e-discovery perspective, this is a terrible practice. Deborah is correct to warn against include files that are big – PST files can become corrupt or unmanageable the bigger they get. But that’s only one problem. If you are following a proper Record Retention Schedule, the documents you attach to meeting invites may also be records that should be properly disposed of once their retention period has passed – instead, they remain in that meeting invite in perpetuity, unless you are good with your Outlook hygiene and regularly clean out old meetings. I’d be surprised if many people actually have the time to do that with any consistency.

    Where this can really lead to problems is in e-discovery, if you are sued and a request for electronically stored information shows up. Now that document attached to your meeting invite may be a relevant record that should be placed under Legal Hold – now you have to preserve your Outlook files, for as long as the Legal Hold is in place.

    Instead of attaching documents, better to link to the doc on a network drive or some other location, as Deborah recommends. This way you can manage the record in its proper place, and not have extra copies floating around your Outlook-sphere.

  2. assuming often leads to things falling in between the cracks!

  3. Miss M says:

    I am so tired of people not having any clue what to write in the Subject line of an Outlook invite (and my company has no policy on it and acts like I am nuts). I am an EA to a SUPER busy CEO and work with people who will send invites that say “Wanda meet with Jim” or simply “Jones, Smith, Johnson” How about telling us what it is for good Pete? For example… Mtg. w/ JLS re: Renewal of Jones, Smith & Johnson marketing contract

    Then in the notes section list the attendees and as much more info as you can. Let’s not assume he recalls every single topic and assignment he gave you. I love this reply when I mention that and they say “he knows.”


  4. Sue says:

    Is there anyway to prevent multiple emails from going to an attendee when you schedule a recurring meeting?

  5. Dan says:

    The most annoying thing about Outlook (and I guess this is true of ANY e-mail client) is the number of people that “REPLY ALL” to everything. It’s another CYA move, and it just clutters up everyone’s inbox with stuff that they have to parse through to realize that it doesn’t involve them. If someone asks a question (like a survey) to a group of people, just reply to the sender.

  6. Bo says:

    How about being invited to a meeting as optional when your calendar’s already booked! At least give me the option don’t take it away from me since I can’t attend. To me that’s a CYA move, and by the way I don’t really want you there.

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