Dear Lifehacker, For the most part, my phone and my laptop pick up automatically when I change time zones. But it seems like something always goes wrong, either in planning or on the spot, and I miss something important. What should I do to prevent future time zone mix-ups? Sincerely, Frequent Time TravellerDear Time Traveller, We feel your pain. Maybe a bit more quietly, since the editors of a productivity-minded blog don't like to reveal they missed a deadline or appointment due to time zone confusion. But it's happened to us, it's happened to people we've been waiting on, even though we seemingly live in an age where this should all be figured out.
So, yes — your phone should automatically adjust when it picks up its location in the new time zone. Your laptop, too, is easy to switch over by right-clicking on the time in your taskbar (Windows 7) or system bar (Mac OS X). But it's your scheduling apps and reminder tools that usually let you down. Here's how to prevent your travel plans from going awry in the most commonly used tools.
Google Calendar can detect when you're in a different time zone than you're normally working from, at least when you're viewing it in a web page. Accept the change it suggests and, boom, everything's kosher, right? Maybe — unless you, like this editor often does, made the mistake of trying to "help" Calendar out by setting your appointments at the correct time in your own time zone ahead of time. It doesn't end well.
When you're setting up an appointment, be sure to click the "Time zone" link to the right of the time entry boxes from the web. There's usually a time zone button or list on the mobile apps, too. Then follow the most important rule: Set the appointment for the time it actually is, where it is. Don't set up appointments "three hours ahead" or "two hours back" — set them correctly in the time zone they're happening in. You can also type in the time zone in "Quick Add" to set up an appointment: "Call with Lily 3pm Friday AEDT", for example.
This can seem like a royal pain, especially if you've got a lot of events to schedule, or you're constantly working with folks in another time zone. One minor tweak to make is to add another time zone to your main calendar and give it a label. Head into your Settings (by clicking the gear icon in the upper-right corner), then look for "Your current time zone" among the sections. Click the "Add a time zone" link to the right, and add in the time zone that you're most frequently switching your brain into.
This has two benefits. For one thing, when you're clicking that "Time zone" link, this secondary time zone will be the second on the list, rather than making you hunt for it. Second, when you're looking at your agenda in the "Day" or "Week" views, you'll see your two time zones side by side, so you can confirm that everything makes sense ("Lunch at 9am?") and prevent potential conflicts. Thanks to reader njefferson for the guidance.
Outlook has a handy feature for displaying additional time zones in its Calendar view, which helps you set up events from the perspective of other time zones. Head into Options from the Tools menu, then click Calendar Options from the Preferences tab. You'll see an option to display an additional time zone — check it, give it a sensible label, and set the zone. Now when you're looking at your schedule, you'll see two time zones in the left-hand rail, much like Google Calendar (although Outlook likely featured this option first).
When you're setting up appointments in Outlook, setting the time zone for each event is a fairly transparent process. What might not be so obvious is that Outlook's scheduling and display is tied to your Windows system's clock, which itself is tied to a universal UTC time offset — so Eastern Standard Time is "UTC -05:00". If you find yourself in a new time zone and have a number of Outlook conflicts and issues, try keeping your computer clock set to your old time zone, and use a utility to show the time in your current zone without changing your system. SlipStick Systems points to a number of multi-zone display tools.
This one's fairly easy, in that there's not a whole lot of options to mess with. But the thinking and methodology is the same: don't ever rely on your own brain to do the cross-time-zone maths. First things first, notice that your current time zone is displayed in the upper-right corner of iCal. Click it to change if it doesn't look right.
In iCal's preferences, click into the Advanced tab and check the box to "Enable time zone support".
Now when you create events, you'll have an option of picking a time zone. You can also be super-nerdy and set the correct time with the UTC standard. There's another option, "Floating", that sets the event to be at the same time, no matter what time zone. This only really works for personal reminders and obligations ("Hit the gym") — don't use it for timely events, as they'll move around if you switch time zones.
TimeAndDate.com has all that you could ask for in figuring out the niggling details of time zone changes and travel: date-to-date calculators, meeting time arrangers, daylight savings time details, dialling codes and other variables. For a quick glance at multiple time zones, sunrise/sunset hours, and transitions from one day into the next, hit up EveryTimeZone.com (pictured at top).
We hope that now, with an understanding of how calendars would prefer you set up your appointments, you can go about setting them up in a way that doesn't leave you running, over-sleeping, or eating dinner at 3am.
P.S. Any of our commenters have complaints about time zone scheduling, along with the fix? Do leave it in the comments.