Free online tool makes scheduling an easy task

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(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Most of us don't have our own administrative assistant and have to schedule our own meetings. Trying to find a time that works for three or more people can be like herding cats -- especially if everyone involved is using a different calendaring system. Thank goodness for online tools that the drudgery and guesswork out of scheduling.

Doodle is an online scheduling tool that lets you "poll" attendees to see which day and time works best for everyone. The service is free and you don't even need to register to use it. To get started, just visit Doodle and click the Schedule an event button. The first step is to identify the event -- you can give it a title and description, and you'll want to enter your email address so you can manage the appointment afterwards.

Next, you can choose the possible days from a calendar. You'll want to give the attendees some options, so choose any days that will work for you. You can also specify possible times on each of the days. From personal experience, though, I suggest not going overboard with options, or you'll have a hard time narrowing the field to a single day and time.

That's it -- next, you'll get an email with the link to your meeting poll, which you can send to attendees. Each person can easily specify the days and times which work for them, and you get a view of everyone's responses in handy grid form, so you can see which times are best for all the attendees.

What I like about Doodle is both its simplicity and the under-the-hood power. For example, each poll can be significantly customized if necessary -- you can enable a "yes, no, if need be" option for busy participants, for example, or limit people to only making a single choice if you prefer. The core service is free, but there's also a premium version of Doodle (prices start at $159/year for 5 users) with additional features.