Things 6 and 5 of 23: lowest common denominator scheduling

This week’s things are both scheduling tools: Doodle (Thing 5) and Google Calendar (Thing 6). I started off with Thing 6 on the grounds that it only involved organising myself, rather than attempting to organise others, and was soon able to add Google Calendar to my iGoogle page. Here is a screenshot to prove it (with added Renoir on the iGoogle).

thing 6 big
My immediate response was enthusiastic, but not surprisingly, for my work. My department is small enough that people organise meetings by wandering around and finding people, and we have few enough visitors to get by with one shared paper diary. And while I’ve been intermittently employed as a lecturer and examiner by various universities, I’ve never been far enough up the academic food chain to schedule meetings or lectures. From the Mater side, however, my life is one long round of scheduling myself around my daughter’s complex social and educational life. Inset days, trips out with the Beavers, haircuts, etc all mean major planning. If I had Google Calendar I could have everything planned centrally and need fewer complex discussions with my husband, and save an hour or two a week for sitting around and reading a book with absolutely no footnotes…

Then reality kicked in. To share my calendar with my husband would mean him having to use Google Calendar, which would mean him getting a Google ID and setting up iGoogle and then setting up the Calendar. I’m sure it could be done, but it would not be a quick process. And he uses Outlook Express at work for scheduling meetings, so unless I could not only work out how to synchronise the two, but also explain it very, very clearly to him, or I got his entire workplace to change to Google Calendar, he?d have to use two different systems, which is pushing it.

Meanwhile at my end, until I can persuade L’s primary school to produce a feed or an online calendar of events (they’re up to PDFs on a website so far) I’d have to enter all the data manually myself. And how easy would it be to access when I’m out and need it? I use my mobile phone almost entirely for phone calls and I’m not yet even into texting, let alone surfing the web. On the other hand, I always have a pocket diary handy, and synchronising that with the calendar in the kitchen is well within the technical competence of both myself and my husband. If I were a different kind of person (or the same person, but with a lot more time and money to experiment with phone technology) I can see Google Calendar being very useful. For now, however, I’m still with first millennium AD techniques.

Thing 6 showed me that scheduling has to end up with the lowest common technical denominator, which made Doodle, as Thing 5, a pleasant surprise. Doodle does one simple thing and does it well – it allows you to set up choices of times and options from which other people can choose. All they (and I needed) is a web browser and e-mail access – no registration or log-ins or anything else.

So I rapidly set up my suggestion for meeting times with some other librarians, and soon we were well away:

Thing 5 screenshot
(Note: screenshot has had some identifying details removed using Paint)

We did still end up using e-mail to discuss further details, like where to meet and how to get into where we going to meet, but as a quick tool for working out options, Doodle seems very handy. And given that otherwise it requires at least n*(n-1) e-mails to find when n people can meet, it would get even more useful the bigger the meeting to be arranged. The only problem is that the URL it gives you for your poll is completely unmemorable, so you have to keep the e-mail which tells you about it.

Will I use it again? Maybe if I start meeting people more often (I learned lots of new things about libraries in Cambridge from the meeting today and also saw some of the most entertaining bookcases ever). For the moment, however, I may just have to stick to running polls for my readers via Doodle.


3 thoughts on “Things 6 and 5 of 23: lowest common denominator scheduling

  1. We use Google Calendar for room scheduling in our building. It’s extremely useful that way – we don’t need to go “through someone” to schedule and there’s no need to call around to see if anyone has already booked something. Plus we color code the rooms so you can figure out what’s going on pretty quick – we only have 6 rooms to choose from. If we had 20 it might be a bit tougher.

    I use Doodle a lot – the “random URL” doesn’t bother me that much since I always need to send out a reminder which I do by forwarding the previously sent message. The hard part is getting people to update – I’ve had meetings where in the week to 10 days between my sending out the initial e-mail and deciding on the time, several people schedule other meetings but don’t bother to update the poll. I haven’t come up with a good solution to that one yet. Even though I send the reminder out a day or two ahead of when I plan to set the meeting, people don’t go back in and change their responses.


  2. Curt – Google Calendar does sound good for use within an organisation, if you can get everyone committed to using it. But that’s the lowest common denominator again, I suppose.

    Jonathan – I’ve been trying to find a picture of the Earth Sciences Library bookcases and have finally managed it. You probably need to zoom in quite a lot to get the full effect, but they have carved wooden dinosaurs climbing the ends of the bay. Apparently the shelving dates back to when they built the Sedgwick Museum in the early twentieth century.


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