There is no good time for a meeting, only the time you pick

Photo of numbers as on train station or airport departure/arrival boards.

In Program Management for Open Source Projects, I wrote “scheduling a meeting is the most difficult task placed before a program manager.” I stand by that statement. Scheduling is hard for a few reasons.

Why you can’t find a good time

First, your community spans the world. It turns out that people like to sleep, and generally when it is dark where they are. Since it’s always dark on roughly a third of the planet, there’s a good chance that any meeting time you pick will be when someone would rather sleep.

Second, not everyone participates in the same part of their day. Contributors who participate on behalf of their employer might want to meet during work hours. (Sometimes they will refuse to meet outside of work hours.) Contributors who participate outside of work may be unavailable during work hours. Some folks can only participate on weekends, while others can never participate on weekends.

Third, the very concept of “work hours” is tenuous. Knowledge workers in particular have an increasingly flexible work schedule. One person may start work at 7:30 in the morning because they’re already up to put the kids on the school bus. Another person might not start until 10 AM because they like to go to the gym before work.

The more people you invite to a meeting, the lower the chances that you can find a unanimously-suitable time. In my experience, the threshold is somewhere around six to eight people. This is a generalization, of course. Sometimes you get lucky and can schedule a larger group. Sometimes you can’t even find a time that works for you.

Picking a time

So if you can’t find a good time, how do you pick a time? Start by eliminating the times that you can’t make it. That doesn’t mean just have a list of the times that are most convenient for you. You might have to pick a time that’s not-ideal-but-doable. But you can eliminate the times where there’s no chance you can make it. It’s your meeting after all.

Next, consider the invitation list. Are there people who are critical to the meeting’s goals? Prioritize their availability. One reason I like using WhenIsGood to schedule meetings is that it lets you toggle individual responses.

Knowing that you can’t find a time for everyone, try to get the most representative attendance. That might be making sure at least one person from every team is present. Or it could be based on geography. Or maybe opinion — if you’re going to discuss a contentious issue, it helps to have people both for and against it in the meeting.

Whatever time you end up picking, that’s the time you pick.

This post’s featured photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

Ben is a principal program manager at Red Hat, focused on the Fedora Project. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.

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