Free ≠ Available

I think many will agree that the easiest solution is not always the best solution. Sometimes, a little resistance, a little friction, can be helpful. It can even be more human.

Take scheduling meetings. Occasionally, people will put meetings on my calendar. I’ll come into the office or back from lunch and there it is: a meeting invite tentatively waiting for me to accept its existence. Now, I know the sender had the best intentions. They would like to have some of my time and attention, so they looked at my Outlook calendar and selected a time they thought would be most convenient for the both of us. As I’ve noted before, the problem with this style of scheduling is that it assumes that just because someone is “free” that they are also “available.”

Unless explicitly instructed to, putting a meeting on someone’s calendar treats them as if they were a machine. Available or unavailable. Ones and zeros. What our calendars don’t take into account is all the unspoken baggage of the workday. How must preparation is needed for a meeting? How much debrief will this meeting require? What other things are happening that day that might be emotionally weighing on the you? How much mental bandwidth do you think you’ll have at the time of the meeting?

All of those things are lost in translation when simply “looking for an open spot” on someone’s calendar. Modern work culture has tricked us into thinking that shared calendars, with all their convenience, are a net good. They certainly have many benefits, but the ability to commandeer another person’s time is not one of them. By adding just a little friction to the meeting reservation process, in which the recipient has more agency (i.e. opt-in) in the selection process, we can treat our colleagues more like humans than machines.

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