We are all receiving meeting invitations on weekly basis, but we do not always know how to handle them properly. Here are a few techniques for properly handling a meeting invitation while avoiding any re-scheduling loops.
We have received a meeting invitation, now what? One thing we can’t do is ignoring it – it won’t go away. Therefore we need to accept it, reject it or tentatively accept it. There is also the proposed-new-time option. Let’s do some drill down.
Accept a meeting if you really can attend it. Do not accept a meeting and then don’t show up. It is not appropriate. This advise seems trivial, but unfortunately I see many people hitting the Accept button for every meeting they receive without even looking whether they can attend or not.
Using Outlook 2007 and above, when receiving a meeting invitation, a view of the meeting time slot in the calendar is being displayed on the reading pane. This means we can easily know on the spot whether we have a meeting schedule conflict or not. Use it that information.
Note: if you access your emails through a smartphone, do not handle your meeting invitations through it, since you don’t have an easy way to determine whether you have a conflict or not.
Once we reach the conclusion we either don’t want to be part of the meeting or can’t be part of the meeting, we should decline it.
Decline is kind of insulting (it might sound funny, but it is). Therefore, we should always use the “Edit the Response before sending” option, while explaining the reason for the decline. The organizer invited us for a reason. If we decline it, we should state at least why.
In case you are not sure you would be able to attend the meeting, state it. Again, I recommend using the Edit option for this case, explaining why we chose tentative.
Propose a New Time
When we choose Decline or Tentative because we are not available on the proposed time slot, we should propose a new time for the originator to select. By making an offer (as wait for the originator make a new offer) we have better control over our time. When making an offer, we should explore what other time-slot possibilities are there that would match our preference while taking under consideration the other participants availability as appears in the calendar.
When my calendar schedule is tight, I take it one step further (after the new proposed time) – I create a “fake” calendar meeting (only with myself) on the proposed time, named “placeholder for…” (e.g. “placeholder for Roy design meeting”). This would make sure no one would schedule a meeting for me on that time slot. The reason I do that is the gap in time between the moment we have proposed a new time and the moment the organizer has changed the meeting schedule – during that time frame, another person might invite us for a meeting on that new-proposed time slot, which would cause a conflict.