How Schedules and Scheduling Work

I recently received an email response from an employee of one of my clients. I have been trying to schedule a 30-minute interview with them, so I can write their bio for the company’s website. The call will actually only take 15-20 minutes, but I say 30 just in case they happen to be truly fascinating.

The fact that this individual has been unwilling to schedule this call for three weeks already, a call that will not only please her bosses but ultimately benefit her professionally, should tell you everything you need to know about her. But my latest plea to schedule the call was received with the following response, explaining why she can’t schedule a time for next week: “I don’t know what my week looks like other than busy.”

So, how does she know that she is too busy to spare 30 minutes on the phone if she doesn’t know what her schedule looks like? One could argue that she may have several massive tasks to undertake and therefore expects that she’s going to be locked in an endless effort to complete them without even 30 minutes to spare, but the nature of her business precludes that explanation. Like me, her profession requires her to schedule meetings and phone calls with clients and then deliver on whatever promises were made during those interactions. It’s not like she’s leading a rapid-response assault team in a war zone, where she has been designated to remain on indefinite standby, ready to board helicopters at a moment’s notice to assist other troops in the field.

The point I’m trying to make is that she, like so many “professionals” these days, simply does not understand how to make and keep a schedule. If she did, she could look at her schedule, find a 30-minute window to do this call – either this week, next week, or even the following week – and then she would have one less item keeping her “busy.”

Of course, if she were here to defend herself (which she’s not, because she simply couldn’t find the time) I’m sure she would argue that she can’t schedule anything because she doesn’t know what her schedule is. And I’m fairly confident she’d say it just like that, without realizing how utterly stupid it makes her sound.

What she’s really telling me, though, is that she’s a flaky dingbat who doesn’t know how to make and keep a schedule. Sure, she may have plenty of things to do next week, enough to keep anyone genuinely busy, but until she starts scheduling her week, assigning tasks specific days and times, then she’ll be no better off next Friday than she is today. Just as she is no better off today than she was last Friday, when she couldn’t find the time to schedule our 30-minute call for this week.

Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated case. I once had a friend who said they couldn’t schedule a dinner with us later that summer because they had no idea what they might be doing that far in advance. And, no, we’re not talking about transient workers who might have to run off to some farm to pick pears in August. They’re actually in the same business as the woman with whom I’ve been trying to schedule this call for the past three weeks.

But unlike this woman, who works for a client of mine, this individual was a friend, and therefore someone I could – and should – call out on their bullshit. Saying you can’t schedule something for a specific time frame because you don’t know what your schedule is going to be for that time frame makes absolutely no sense. And if it does to you, well, then you are an idiot.

You see, this is the way scheduling works. You make an appointment and, voilà, you now know what your schedule looks like. Unless you have something scheduled, then you are free for that given time period – free to schedule things like a 30-minute phone call, or a dinner with friends. And that’s just as true for three days from now as it is for three months from now.

That’s how schedules and scheduling work. You make an appointment, put it in your calendar, and then you know not to schedule anything else during that time period. And should something else come up for that day, you can schedule it during the time that remains available around your existing appointment (or, if it’s a more urgent matter, see if you can reschedule the original commitment to avoid a conflict). Not that difficult, right?

In my friend’s case, the fact that they wouldn’t schedule a social gathering so far in advance told me everything I needed to know – which was that they were not very good friends. Clearly this wasn’t a question of not knowing how to schedule something, as I know that they are perfectly capable of maintaining a professional calendar. It seemed more likely that they didn’t want to commit to doing something with us because, over the course of the next couple of months, they might get a more interesting offer from someone else. Instead, they’d rather schedule something at the last minute, when none of their other options have panned out, and spending time with us suddenly seems better than sitting around and doing nothing at all.

As for the woman who hasn’t been able to spare 30 minutes over the course of the past three weeks (which is 30 out of a possible 7,200 minutes, based on the average 40-hour work week), I think it’s more due to a lack of basic time management and scheduling skills than holding out for a better option. Which is sad, because her line of work relies heavily on solid time management and scheduling skills. And given her apparent challenges in this area, I fear her clients may decide to hold out for a better option as well.