Posted on Mon 04 November 2013

How to take the pain out of time zones (a little bit)

Time zones are hard.

From what Josh tells me of working on Exist, it sounds like programming around time zones is a nightmare.

For us regular folk, though, it seems that just meeting up for a Skype call can be quite a feat.

Since joining Buffer and pushing forward with Exist, I've been having lots more phone and video calls with people in different time zones to me—particularly in the U.S., unsurprisingly.

I've picked up a few things that seem to make it easier to work out time zones for your meetings and to get them right. Here's a list, in case any of these can help you as well.

1. Bring it up early

I know not everyone is the same, but I hate to waste time on emails back-and-forth if I can avoid it. So when someone emails me to request a meeting or call, I like to respond with a couple of suggested times. This means they can pick one and respond, taking just three emails between us to sort it out.

Because I have this process in mind, I try to always mention my location and time zone in the first email I send requesting a meeting.

2. Provide all the information

Another time-saver is to provide all the information needed up-front.

This includes your city, your time zone code (e.g. PST) and the UTC hour offset (e.g. -8 hours).

The reason I suggest including everything is that if you use tools to help you work out the time zone (or make sure your calculations are correct) like I've mentioned below, they might require different information. For instance, many tools made to help you plan meetings ask for the city names, so if someone's given you their timezone as simply PST, you have to go find an example city to use.

It's much less work for you to include all this information up-front than it is for someone else to track it down in order to make sure they have the time difference right.

3. Use helpful tools

I use Clocks in my Mac's menubar for quick access to time zones I need often (those of my Buffer colleagues, for instance). On my iPhone, the built-in world clock does the same job.

I also love World Time Buddy for setting up meetings. You can see exactly what times in your time zone correspond to the location of your meeting partner.

4. Suggest times

As I mentioned earlier, I try to suggest a couple of times when I'm setting up a call.

Suggesting more than one can help with more efficient emailing, so I try to pick a minimum of two.

Importantly, though, keep in mind the time it will be for the other people involved. Suggesting 2am for someone else because it's 10am for you won't get you any closer to a scheduled meeting.

Save yourself the effort by checking this to start with, so that you're suggesting feasible times for everyone.

5. Keep in mind daylight saving time

Don't even get me started on daylight saving time. As if time zones weren't confusing enough already!

But since we have to work around it whether we like it or not, we might as well keep in mind that daylight saving time can mess with time zones—if you're used to setting up meetings with people in a particular time zone, for instance, don't let it catch you off guard and send you off for your meeting an hour late.

6. Check your invites

Calendar invites are generally pretty clever, and translate your meetings into local time for you.

I'd suggest always double-checking these though, just to make sure you're on the same page. It doesn't hurt to send one last confirmation email, either, including the times in everyone's time zones so you don't run into confusion at meeting time.

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