19 December 2009

Meetings Plus: Taking them offline

I organize a lot of meetings in a day, week, month; heck, even into next year.  My boss is very busy and in demand to go here, there and everywhere.  So how do I keep them all straight?  My first plan of action is to take them offline as much as possible.  I have so much e-mail traffic that the more I take offline, the better I am able to keep track and oh what a relief it is to delete it out of my Inbox once I have responded to the e-mail.

When I receive an initial request for a meeting, I use a meeting form and write down the information I need: who is requesting the meeting, what is the purpose of the meeting, where it will be held and a phone number or an e-mail address and dates that are available.  As I hear from the different parties I can put a check mark or an X whether they are available or not.  Once a date is finalized I put it in my boss's calendar and confirm the meeting with the other participants.  If the meeting is internal, I send a meeting request, but for external meetings I tend to just confirm with them the meeting details by phone or e-mail. 

Sounds easy so far, and sometimes it is as simple as that, but normally it goes back and forth and back and forth again and again, but I never worry about it because once I take it offline, I am not trying to track down e-mails on who said they were available since I already have the information written down.

I also have what I call a Scheduling Bin and I put all my meeting forms in there.  It is located by my phone and near my computer, so whether I get a phone call or e-mail, it is within easy reach.  The good thing about keeping them all in a central spot is I always know where the paperwork is and can easily grab it when I need it.  Much easier than searching in Outlook and less stressful.

When a meeting is finalized, I put the scheduling sheet in a completed file.  My boss's meetings tend to get resurrected often and what I think is a final date will come back because someone had to go out of town on urgent business, or one of the key participants is ill and can't make it or they just decided to change the date, so it is handy to have this file where I can go and revive the meeting.  After the meeting happens, then I can safely throw it in the recycling bin or shredder as appropriate.  Another benefit to writing it down is if your boss asks you to cancel it or to quickly tell you when the meeting is, you can look at the sheet rather than trying to search for it in your calendar. 

I tend to keep my scheduling sheets in chronological order and each morning I go through them to see if there is any action I need to take, i.e. follow up to ask for an agenda or see if I can start scheduling.  There are some meetings that are currently on my radar for next summer and beyond, but I still have a sheet for it and move it up the pile as the date for planning gets closer.

Once the date and location is finalized, if it requires flight and hotel, then I put a travel sheet on top of the meeting sheet and start to go through that checklist to see what I need to do, from getting the passport ready, contacting the travel agent and arranging for a purchase order, etc.  I don't want to miss a step so always go through the checklist on the travel sheet.

Taking it offline is a neat trick a friend of a friend of a friend showed me.  Never underestimate what you can learn from other assistants.  There are a lot of good organizing tricks out there and whenever I find one that works, I pounce on it and it becomes something I can't work without.  Keep a lookout what your colleagues are doing.  Most people are happy to share when they have found something that works.  Learning from each other is a necessity.  By the same token if you have discovered something that works, let others know so they can benefit too.  After all, the goal is to have an efficient office and it works better if we are all working together to make that happen.

See on the blog sidebar under Meetings for some electronic meeting scheduling sites such as doodle.com and other tips.


Emelle said...

What do you mean by "taking it offline"?

Archving the email? Deleting it? Setting outlook to work offline? This part is not at all clear.

Patricia Robb said...

By taking it offline, I mean I start tracking the emails/phone calls back and forth regarding the meeting by writing it down on a piece of paper instead of electronically. I have a meeting form that is in a table format with the proposed dates across the top and a list of participants going down. I put the purpose of the meeting, time needed, location and a section for status and any notes. This way, once I have dealt with an email, I note it on the meeting sheet and then delete the email. I normally print my initial email requesting the meeting/or the email received asking for a meeting, but it is not necessary if you note it on the scheduling sheet. Once I have heard back from all the parties then I can get back to everyone with a date that works for all.
I like this method because then if the meeting has to be re-scheduled for some reason then I just take my meeting sheet and have all the information I need without hunting down everyone's responses in my Deleted Items.
This method is also good if for some reason you aren't able to get to the office then someone else can easily take your meeting sheet and will know at a glance where you are and continue on with the scheduling. We have a buddy system at my office and I have had the same at other offices where we take over from each other on vacation and sick days.
I have what I call a scheduling bin on my desk and all these meeting sheets go in there so I always know where I am at with a meeting. I also have a file where I keep the sheets until I know for sure the meeting is going to happen (they do tend to get rescheduled a lot). This way, if the meeting has to change, I just go in that folder and bring the meeting sheet back and go back with more dates. I like this method because then I see everyone's responses and don't propose a date and time someone has already said they can't make.
If you don't want to use paper then you can save the meeting sheet on your desktop and type in the information as you hear back from everyone.
If you want to keep the emails, you can open a folder in your Inbox called PENDING MEETINGS and keep the emails there until you have finalized a date. This way you have everyone's email responses easily available.
This is my low-tech version of Doodle.com (or other similar type programs). Some people swear by them, but I don't like to use it because then people have to go out of their Outlook program into the meeting program and they also send the meeting requests to the recipients rather than to their assistants so then my boss is left having to deal with his meeting rather than me so it defeats the purpose in that respect.
Anyway, hope this helps. If you want a template of the meeting form, please email me at patriciaannrobb@gmail.com and I can send it to you. I also have one for travel that works as a checklist to make sure I do everything I have to to get my boss out the door.