MS Flow

Time is an amazing resource. It holds tremendous potential when a deadline is on the horizon, fear when that deadline looms, and is simultaneously infinite and scarce. Time is a required element of any process. Business plans exist around it. Companies require extensive volumes of it to blossom or to fail spectacularly. With all its portent, it is astonishing how thoroughly disrespected it is in the business world.

Double-bookings, triple-bookings, 11 hours of meetings in an 8-hour day, all of these things take a huge toll on individual productivity, which in turn necessarily means a toll on the business. I’ve demoed Delve, and how it can reveal challenging work habits and really give good insights into how to improve the workday. We had, for instance, an employee who was in 30+ hours of meetings every week, spending up to 12 hours a week playing catch-up after hours. She was miserable and falling behind. With Delve and MyAnalytics, we were able to analyze her work habits and realize that those 30 hours of meetings could happen during just 4 days of the week, leaving the 5th to actually take action on the contents of those meetings. We built 15 – 30-minute breaks in between all scheduled meetings for processing notes, and within 2 weeks had her schedule down to just 2 hours of after-hours work. Her quality-of-life visibly improved.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because now she has meetings just about all day. So what about lunch? Pretty basic and common idea: humans need to eat, and society has generally settled on the 3-meals-a-day approach, with one of those meals happening during the 9-5 slog. We’d solved one time constraint but created another, and one that really chaps my hide.

Lunch, to me, is a sanctified moment of Zen during an otherwise hectic day. It’s a brief distraction that I can use to walk, run an errand, catch up with an old friend, clear my head for a while, or of all crazy ideas: actually eat. And yet just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the business world abhor a calendar gap. Everybody wants a piece of my lunch. And yours. And that guy’s. And while 20 years ago a lunch meeting typically held the promise of free food, today that is not the case. Today it is just an unfilled gap on your business calendar. That doctor’s appointment you scheduled 3 months ago with a specialist?  Sorry: need you on a conference call.

And as with all things, technology has had a tremendous impact on this, though not for the better. I can quickly put together a meeting invite, and Outlook will conveniently tell me what times are available for the people I need to invite. But Outlook doesn’t care about lunch. Outlook is similarly unimpressed that you put that doctor’s appointment on your Google or iOS calendar. Looks like you’ll be rescheduling with your doctor. For the 3rd time.

But sooth, there is hope.

Office 365 includes Microsoft Flow, which is kinda similar to IFTTT, except with a lot more hooks into the Microsoft cloud space. I’ve been using it for about a year to keep my family apprised of upcoming business travel.

Our house is a Google shop. Hard to argue with free, and everybody and everything has at least one calendar. One calendar per child, school, the pets, home maintenance, sports, non-sports fitness activities (I might be slightly obsessed with categorization), even whole-family events have their own separate calendar to keep things looking relatively tidy. And while I (securely) publish my O365 calendar, my family does not have access to it. The do not need details for who’s attending which event, or what exactly I’ll be discussing at 10:30 on a Tuesday. They do need to know when I’ll be in a meeting out of town, especially if it’s pretty far afield.

For that, I have a Flow. It’s pretty simple: if I receive a meeting request, and that meeting request has a location that is not in Richmond or on Skype, it creates an all-day event in my Google Calendar called “Work - %location%”. No other data is copied over. My family has access to this calendar and is relatively well-versed in regional geography, and can see that scheduling an evening event on the same day I have to be in VA Beach might not be a great idea.

It has worked really well and significantly reduced the stress that comes with potential overnight business travel, but what does that have to do with lunch?

Flows can…flow…in either direction, so taking the same basic example, I created a Flow that copies any event from my Google Calendar with “Lunch” in the title to my work calendar. As with the previous example, no other data is copied. Just the date and time, and the event is called ‘BUSY’ and my availability is marked similarly.

Now I might not name my doctor’s appointment “Lunch”, but as long as I put it in the title (e.g., “Lunch appt. w/ IBS doc”), I’m covered.

These are by no means the limits of Microsoft Flow, but just these two simple examples have enabled me to show respect for my family’s time and my coworkers’ time, and enabled Outlook to be aware of my basic human requirements to eat food.

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