Using scheduling software for better boundaries in office hours

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I always have my schedule posted on my office door. This year, I also added a QR code and Calendly URL.

Like many classroom faculty, I love teaching and helping students. It’s one of the most satisfying components of my job. Because of that, I really struggle to set boundaries with my students when it comes to scheduling appointments. If a student emails me to ask for a special appointment, I can usually stick to my schedule when offering times, but if a student actually comes to my office and looks at me and asks if they can chat with me about something, I have a very hard time telling them to make an appointment to come back later. Because of this, I started using scheduling software to avoid a lot of the back-and-forth of scheduling. There’s lots of options for scheduling software out there, but I ended up settling on Calendly—the minimalist interface appeals to my aesthetic, and it does everything I need to do.

2021 edit: My university supports Microsoft Bookings instead of Calendly, and so I’ve migrated to that platform instead, and have a new blog post for it.

What to use Calendly for

I usually set aside a two-hour time block in the week for office hours where students may drop in without any appointment of any kind. This year, I’ve said that students may also optionally schedule a particular appointment time within office hours by using my Calendly link. Additionally, I made another “event type” in Calendly for special appointments. I always have a little extra time set aside for possible student appointments outside of office hours, for students who cannot make the regular office hour time. (You do need a paid plan to have two event types active; it’s free to have just one event type.)

If students use Calendly to set up an appointment with me, the student only sees the available times as options. For example, if Student A scheduled an appointment with me for 10:30–11 in my 10–12 office hours, then when Student B goes to schedule their appointment, they’ll only see 10–10:30 and 11–12 as options for when to come.


Calendly features that I use

1. Calendar integration

Calendly automatically syncs back and forth with my calendar software (I use iCal). So, student appointments are automatically added to my calendar once they’re scheduled. (If the student cancels the appointment, the calendar updates to re-title the event to say “canceled”.) Of course, these updates are also emailed to you, but I appreciate not having to take an extra step and put it in my calendar.

2. Good automated scheduling

When you create an “event type” in Calendly, several prompts are given to you to answer the question “When can people book this event?”. You can choose the event duration, of course. But, you can also add a window of time—for example, my window is 14 rolling days. This means that students can always schedule with me up to  two weeks out from the present day, and Calendly updates this window on its own. Then, you can indicate which hours within those days are available for appointments. Calendly lets you schedule things both based on day of the week, and on individual dates.

But wait, there’s more! Calendly also will check against your integrated calendar for conflicts. For example, I usually have my special appointments with students on Mondays. But last Monday was Labor Day, so I wasn’t in. Because Calendly has access to my calendar, which has Labor Day as an all-day event, Calendly knew that I was not available that Monday, even though I have set myself to have the same hours on all Mondays! Likewise, today is Monday, and I have an appointment at 4:30 to meet with someone outside of my office; Calendly has removed today at 4:30 as a scheduling option.

You can also close off signups within a certain window of time, to prevent last-minute signups. For my regularly-scheduled office hours, students can sign up until one hour beforehand. But for special appointments, I require a 12-hour notice.

3. Automated reminders

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 1.56.54 PMI have also set up Calendly to email event reminders to students one day before their scheduled appointment. The email reminds them where my office is and when they signed up for. I imagine this saves a lot of last-minute “where is your office again??” emails, or worse, the “I’m so sorry, I forgot we were meeting!” email! Likewise, this will email students if I have to cancel the appointment, and I can add a custom message onto the stock cancellation message.

Better boundaries and organization

I’ve found that so far, Calendly has made a lot of my boundary problems into non-issues. If I direct students to my Calendly link, they usually can just find a time that works for them, rather than turning that into a negotiation. I think the half-hour timeslot defaults also help students have reasonable expectations for what they can ask during office hours.

This isn’t a Calendly ad. Besides Calendly, there are tons of apps out there that will manage this for you, at various price points—I also briefly looked at SignUpGenius (thought this was a bit ugly), 10to8 (too business-/transaction-oriented), and Calendr (actually I didn’t look that closely at this). Shopping around, I found that for what I need to do, most software will charge me around $10/mo. Calendly is free for most of its functions, but to have two “event types,” like I have both special appointments and office hours appointments, you have to pay that $10/mo fee. But Calendly offloads a lot of responsibility from my brain to my computer, and as my brain becomes more and more overloaded with different kinds of administrative work, I really feel that is money well spent.