Incorporating Travel Time into Your Calendar

Because I work on Outlook Calendar at Microsoft, I see requests all the time to “automatically add travel time to my calendar”.  Why don’t we see this in Calendar solutions out there today?  It’s a bit tricky.  Before I tackle the question of “Why Not?”, let me give some advice on how to deal with this using the calendar solutions that are available today.

Tip #1 Think about travel time the moment you add a new item to your calendar.

You know where you will be going to and where you’re going to be coming from.  When you create a calendar item, also create additional appointments before and after.  Calendar reminders are getting smarter and smarter.  These smart reminders help you leave for an appointment on time. For example, Google Now will look at the address in an appointment on your calendar and look at your current location and then pop a reminder at the right time so you’ll leave on time.  But what if someone at the office schedules a meeting right on top of the time when you would have been traveling to the appointment?  This is why it’s useful to add that “travel time” appointment.  It helps you communicate to others (at work) both the time you’ll be away at the appointment as well as the time you’ll be away traveling to the appointment.  The same advice holds for traveling BACK from the appointment.

Tip #2 Think about travel time the moment you ACCEPT a new item on your calendar.

Whether you have a job that requires you to travel from client site to client site or you work in an office that is part of a larger campus, you need to think about the amount of time you’ll need to get to an appointment the moment you commit to that appointment by accepting it.  Proposing an alternate time to accommodate travel time right when you set up an appointment will make it easier for the person you’re meeting with to modify the time to allow you to arrive on time.  They will appreciate how proactive you are.  Even more, being this proactive will be perceived as showing respect for THEIR time.

If you work in a corporate campus environment, it’s actually a bit tougher.  You’re not driving across town, but you may need about 10 minutes to get from your building to the building of the person you’re meeting with.  I see people take the approach of leaving a meeting 10 minutes early.  But often, the actual decision making happens in the last 10 minutes of a meeting so by taking this approach, you’re missing critical moments in your work day.  Instead, my advice would be proposing a time with a start time that is 10 minutes later.  Instead of accepting a meeting from 2 to 3pm, propose a 2:10 to 3:00 meeting, assuming this is a smaller meeting where the meeting organizer has some flexibility.  When you propose the time, add a comment like this, “Can we start 10 minutes after the hour so I have time to get from my previous meeting in building X?”  Again, you’ll be helping this meeting start on time by not being in a position where you have not choice but to be late.

The Result: when you take this extra step of accounting for travel time, you’ll reduce stress in your day to day.  Instead of checking your calendar in the morning and being faced with what feels like a horrible obstacle course that will result in you arriving late to everything all day, you’ve created a manageable schedule that you can glide through in order to accomplish everything you need to accomplish that day.

So back to the question of “why don’t calendars today automatically add travel time to your schedule?”  All I have is a theory but here it is:  Your time is as precious or MORE precious than money.  Using money as an analogy, imagine if your bank automatically committed your money to other things every time you spent money.  For example, you spend money on school supplies for your children so your bank decides that you should be saving for college as well so it transfers a chunk of money into your child’s college fund just because you spent money on school supplies!  People SHOULD be saving for college.  But that doesn’t mean that they want someone else making that decision for them.  The analogy applies to time as well.  Just because you’ve committed to something on your calendar doesn’t mean that you want your calendar automatically committing to other things.  Maybe you’ve accepted a meeting that you may or may not end up attending?  If your calendar automatically adds travel time to block your schedule, you may not be very happy about that.  I’d love to hear other theories on why we don’t see features like this in calendar today or if there are calendars out there that do this that I haven’t seen.

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