How to Handle Scheduling Conflicts?

Agenda / schedule

Scheduling conflicts are more common than people think. Even though the effectiveness of perfectly scheduling all commitments in a team, company, or individual agenda is what everyone reaches for, conflicts are inevitable from time to time. 

There are ways to turn around scheduling issues in your favor and quickly assess different reasons for these. Learn about common scheduling conflicts, how to prevent them from happening in the future, and how to handle them when they do exist.

What are scheduling conflicts?

Scheduling conflicts happen when there are two or more tasks and/or events you’re trying to manage simultaneously. Probably they both demand time and attention. We can also consider, under this definition, two double shifts, tasks, or agendas attributed to the same person.

Unfortunately, being at two places or working on two different tasks at the same time is not really possible, so scheduling conflicts call for some management. We need to stress that multitasking is not good for productivity. This management can consist of changing the schedule or requesting some kind of help, be it human or material.

Common types of scheduling conflicts

  • Double-booking: this can happen when two tasks/events/meetings are booked in the same time slot; 
  • Overlapping events: the end of one event overlaps with the beginning of another one;
  • Unavailable team members: this can happen when, for example, a team member is invited to something, and they’re away on a work trip, personal time, or maybe working from home. Basically, when communication fails;
  • Unavailable agenda: this happens when a time-sensitive job, task, or event is scheduled on a time slot already dedicated to other tasks. This may result in someone having to decide which task is more important or leaving one incomplete;
  • Last-minute issues: your calendar has to be reshuffled because of an unexpected event (sick day, traffic jam issue, family emergencies, etc.).

How to handle scheduling conflicts in 6 steps

Preparation and anticipation are the keywords to remember when handling scheduling issues. The best way to face work schedule problems is to have a system or a process in place to handle them as soon as they appear. 

Take note of some steps/tips you can implement in this system:

  1. Don’t panic: this is exactly why you’ve designed this response process. Take a few calming breaths to get into a better headspace, and if you’re leading a team, remember you have a team looking up and waiting for guidance. In a calmer state of mind, you’ll think and communicate more clearly and assess all available options;
  2. Make sure you have all the information: your own agenda and calendar or a centralized employee schedule that you can check and edit. You might want to consider scheduling software, agendas, or calendars, depending on your or your teams’ needs. Making use of these tools and having a visual representation of schedules will help you justify the conflict of schedules and avoid them in the future;
  3. Suggest different time slots: sometimes flexibility is all that’s needed to solve scheduling issues. Try to reschedule the conflicted event, call, or meeting. Try and give different timeslots to allow them to choose the most convenient one. And don’t forget to apologize for the confusion, keeping in mind that this cannot happen often;
  4. Reschedule non-urgent tasks: reorganizing some less urgent commitments in your agenda or schedule to solve a conflict of tasks might be a good solution. If the schedule conflict involves clients or people outside the organization, they may be willing to work with the rescheduled dates. Be sure to give them a heads-up;
  5. Have back-ups in mind: back-ups are crucial to combating the damaging effects of scheduling conflicts. If you’re leading a team, keep a list of people who could do each task or deliver each service to the required standard. This way, if there is a scheduling conflict, there will be several options you can quickly turn to to fill that gap;
  6. Learn from your mistakes to avoid future frustration: with every conflict that arises, a new lesson is learned. If these kinds of problems happen often, it’s time to review your time management skills. By keeping rescheduling plans, especially with clients or partners, your team/company suffers. It’s a sign of unprofessionalism. Ensure the best solutions are incorporated and backup plans and processes are available for everyone to check.

Tips to avoid scheduling conflicts

Prevention is the best way of keeping these schedule or calendar conflicts from happening.

Let’s explore some processes and steps that can be set up to avoid common scheduling conflicts.

1. Use scheduling software

This can mean using a planner or agenda, be it digital or analogic. When you’re only managing your own schedule, finding the tool that best fits your needs is usually enough. But if you manage a team, dedicated software is essential. 

These types of software automate bookings and availabilities, letting everyone know who is available and who isn’t. It’s also great to manage shift work and handle meeting requests. If the entire team has access to this program, they can rearrange time slots amongst themselves if needed. Encourage people to make use of these tools.

2. Put in place time management tools and techniques

Being punctual and methodical with your tasks will help you avoid scheduling conflicts.

When organizing your time be sure to block your calendar for meetings and appointments in the same way you do it for tasks and focus time. By doing this, you already know when your total availability is required.

By using a time tracker, you’ll be more organized with your work day, complete everything on time, and never miss an appointment. 

3. Promote effective communication

Keep encouraging proactive communication, the giving and receiving of feedback, and work transparency in your team to limit last-minute issues or other schedule conflicts.

Clear communication helps avoid common mistakes such as double-booking and others. Providing communication channels to discuss schedules amongst themselves is also a significant plus.

Read our post about how to improve team communication.

4. Be thorough in your planning

Scheduling conflicts are an inevitability in companies with hourly employees. Obviously, best scheduling practices and quickly managing conflicts will result in fewer issues, but it’s also fundamental to be organized and thorough in schedule planning from the start.

Establish an organized schedule planning process and a system for team members to confirm assigned work and communicate any change in plans.

Conclusion

Humans make mistakes, and scheduling conflicts are part of those. The important thing here is trying not to make excuses for it or blame anyone for the error. This won’t rectify or solve the situation and could damage your future business relationships.

When in a situation like this, communicate with all the stakeholders involved and always be polite and respectful while you explain the circumstances that resulted in the schedule conflict outcome. Apologize for the inconvenience but don’t overexplain. That can backfire and shows unprofessionalism. Show empathy, and everything will work out.

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