I have the find a time slot that all faculties can attend. As everyone is very busy, I want to do it in a most efficient way, i.e. minimizing back and forth emails as much as possible.

One trick I can think of is to ask each of them "What time you CANNOT attend?" instead of the usual "What time you can attend?" That way, I'm more likely to get all the free slots and able to schedule after only 1 round of emails.

Is there any further tips?

A big remaining obstacle is that the faculties still have to look at their calendar and write back to me all the time slots that are not free. I wonder if there's any technology (e.g. sharing a Google calendar?) that makes this process less time consuming for the faculties.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not really about academia at all. The Workplace might take it. – EnergyNumbers Sep 10 '15 at 7:25
  • What @EnergyNumbers writes. This is a boat programming question, where boat = "academia" and programming = "scheduling a meeting". – Stephan Kolassa Sep 10 '15 at 8:06
  • Why was this question closed?? It is about academia. Specifically how best to set up thesis/dissertation committee meetings. It's not like just setting up any old meeting. Anyone who has done a thesis or dissertation knows this. – Beth R. Feb 21 '18 at 0:41

From my prior experience scheduling numerous committee meetings (and other multi-person meetings), I've found that the "When Aren't You Available?" approach doesn't always work very well. Providing a proposed list of times can sometimes be more efficient. -- Particularly because it requires the least amount of effort on the part of the people you're asking to attend your meeting:

  1. Pick a few times that you might propose for scheduling the meeting. Start with days/times that you would prefer, based on your own availability and general preferences (e.g. what time of the day you tend to be the most alert. :)

  2. Send each person an e-mail saying something to the effect of:
    "Please indicate which of the following times you might be available to meet. If none of those times work for you, please let me know if there are any other time(s) on those days that would fit your schedule."

  3. Include a list of about 4 or 5 different times (or time ranges). This requires a lot less effort on their part to just pick from a list of times. People usually reply more quickly if you make it a simple task. For example, you could list some items in this form:
    "Tuesday, September 22, from 11am to 12pm." or
    "Thursday, October 8, any time between 1pm and 4pm (please indicate any preferred time within that range)."

NOTE: ALWAYS, specify the Date AND the Day of the week! This can help to avoid any mix-ups resulting from people misreading their calendar. ( It happens to the best of us! :)

  1. Wait to see what they say. Hopefully, there will be at least one day & time on that list when everyone is available. If one or two people are not available for any of the proposed times/days, you could contact them specifically and ask if/when they are available within your target range of dates. Then, you can send everyone a new email, with a new list of proposed times.

  2. If "Round 2" of the emails doesn't work, then it might be necessary to resort to that approach of asking, "When Aren't you available?"...

AFTER you figure out the best time for the meeting, don't forget to do the following:

  1. Follow up As Soon As Possible with a final confirmation e-mail, stating the finalized date, day, and time. Politely ask them to reply to your e-mail with a confirmation that the specified time is still good for them. Also, you might want to include the Day/Date/Time in the Subject line as well.
    For example: "Confirming John Smith's committee meeting: Sept 22, 11am"

  2. A few days before the day of the meeting, send them a "reminder" e-mail, politely requesting that they reply to confirm they got your message. (Let's face it, there's a good chance that someone in the group forgot to mark it on their calendar and/or doesn't even know what day it is Today. :)

  3. Don't forget to Reserve the Room for your meeting well in advance! Also, double-check to confirm the room reservation a few days before your meeting. The last thing you want is to think everything is set, only to find out you don't have a freakin' room to hold your meeting!! (Faculty committees don't look favorably on that sort of thing) :)

Best of Luck!!

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    Do you usually find that listing 4 or 5 slots work? The chance that 4 faculties with busy schedule are all available for 1 of those slots is quite small I worry. – Heisenberg Sep 9 '15 at 23:35
  • I guess it depends on the faculty. If most of them are the type of person who is always running around from one meeting or another, then maybe the "when aren't you available" approach would be okay. Although I'd suggest rephrasing it as something more professional like, "Are there any scheduling conflicts that might prevent you from meeting during the week of [or range of dates]... " (you could even do a Google search for suggested phrases for professional communications like that... ). Then you could follow up with the 4 to 5 choices approach after that... – Beth R. Sep 10 '15 at 0:52
  • I guess my main concern with the "when aren't you available" approach is that it's a pretty open-ended question, if you phrase it exactly like that. People tend to prefer more precise questions (and they're more likely to respond more quickly to something that has an easier answer). On the one hand, people in academics are highly intellectual. On the other hand, many of them are easily annoyed and feel their time is worth more than anyone else's.... in case you haven't figured that out yet... ;-) – Beth R. Sep 10 '15 at 0:57

Use a polling tool, like Doodle. You create it, they fill in which times they are (not) available, and based on the results you choose a meeting time.

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    I was actually trying to avoid doodle. The reason is that a doodle form for such busy people needs to list many, many slots. Not only does it make filling it tedious, but people would also tend to not fill it accurately. This often means that no slot is found, and more emails involved. – Heisenberg Sep 9 '15 at 22:32
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    Add in a threat in the email. Explain that if no time is found during regular business hours, the meeting will be scheduled for 7.30 am. That should encourage them to mark as many hours as possible as free... – Johanna Sep 9 '15 at 22:35
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    @Johanna Then your meeting isn't important enough to your participants. This is likely a problem that cannot be easily fixed using a scheduling "trick". Also note that with "list all times you're unavailable" you are essentially moving the tedious task (iterating a long list of unavailabilities) to each participant rather than you creating a large Doodle poll. – xLeitix Sep 10 '15 at 7:40
  • @xLeitix, re: "you are essentially moving the tedious task (iterating a long list of unavailabilities) to each participant"... How does it benefit you to turn anything into a "tedious" task for the people you are asking to attend your meeting? ... I agree with Heisenberg about avoiding something like Doodle. If for no other reason than that it requires your invitees to figure out something they might have never used before, which carries the possibility of them getting pretty annoyed with you. – Beth R. Sep 12 '15 at 0:11
  • @Johanna, re: "Add in a threat in the email. Explain that if no time is found during regular business hours, the meeting will be scheduled for 7.30 am..." -- I'm confused as to how you're coming to the conclusion that any sort of threat would be received well or make a good impression. (Or perhaps you were just joking about that?... I hope so). I'm assuming that Heisenberg is asking these people to attend the meeting (i.e. that they're not required to just show up at whatever time they're told to be there.). Anything that will annoy them and/or require more of their time should be avoided. – Beth R. Sep 12 '15 at 0:19

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