I am here today to urge you to use the "Tentative" response in your calendar program when it is appropriate.

Firesign I see too many people blindly accepting every meeting request they receive - even those they know they will not attend. Many of you - and you know who you are - have multiple meetings booked for the exact same time. As the philosophers at Firesign Theater so eloquently put it: How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all?

There are 3 primary advantages of using the Tentative response:

  • Organize your time better
  • Courtesy to the meeting organizer
  • Assist others in finding free time on your calendar

Organize your time better

This should be enough reason for you to use "Accept" when you mean "Accept" and "Tentative" when you mean "Tentative".

Each morning (and often the night before), I check my calendar to see what my schedule holds for the day. My calendar is often full, but not every event on it requires my attendance. Knowing which ones I need to attend and which ones I might attend makes it far easier for me to plan my day.

Accepting an appointment marks it as "Busy" on my calendar, while tentatively accepting an appointment marks it as "Tentative" on my calendar. In the Outlook calendar, each status displays with a different pattern (solid for Busy; hashed for Tentative). These patterns make it easy to see at a glance where I'm required to spend my time and where my attendance is optional, which helps me to set priorities.


Courtesy to the meeting organizer

Meeting organizers often rely on your response to determine whether or not you will attend. Sometimes, they are counting on you to share your insights with the rest of the group or to answer one or more specific questions. If they expect you to attend and you do not, it may throw off their agenda. They may need to schedule another meeting as a result or get your information via a series of (inefficient) emails or phone calls. It's common courtesy to be honest about whether or not you intend to be at a meeting. If you are unsure, let them know via the "Tentative" response.

Assist others in finding free time on your calendar

I recently tried to find time on a manager's calendar but I was frustrated that her entire calendar was marked "Busy" for every working hour of every day of the next 5 days. Of course, this person wasn't committed to all those meetings and did not intend to attend them all; but she didn't distinguish between required and optional meetings, which made it more difficult for me to find free time on her calendar. Marking your calendar honestly makes it easier to collaborate with others in your organization.

Sometimes, I still double-book time on my calendar. But when I do, I never make both appointment "Busy" or "Accepted".

My company offers a lot of online "meetings" that are actually training sessions, where one of my colleagues will show the rest of us how to use a cool technology. I want to attend as many of these as I can, so I want them on my calendar. But I recognize that a higher-priority meeting may force me to skip a session and watch the recording later.

The "Tentative" status works for these scenarios. Use it. You'll be glad you did. And so will your colleagues.