Scheduling: Hard Edges and Soft Reminders

cliff_edge03.jpg I don’t remember where I first heard or read it – it may have been from Getting Things Done – but the idea of viewing your appointment book as a set of hard and soft items is one that has some value.

As one moves into the ranks of a Yellow Belt, or Green Belt, the importance of using a calendar to schedule time demands becomes more important, but the kinds of time demands that get scheduled are not all alike.

For example, here is a set of time demands that I have scheduled this week:

  • Deliver paperwork to motor vehicle department
  • Meet friends to go cycling
  • Order Christmas cards
  • Start working on photo album
  • Put rent in mailbox

Some of these have “hard edges” (fixed times that cannot be changed). For example, if I arrive late to go cycling, the group of 40 others would simply leave me. On that day from 5:30 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. I am fully occupied cycling and doing nothing else.

This is different from “ordering Christmas cards”, which only needs a very soft reminder. It will be done in the time allotted, or rescheduled to a different date.

Putting the rent in the mailbox has a definite cut-off point, but it can be done at any point up until the time of the normal pickup.

In a typical week, I may schedule time to do all these activities. Some cannot be moved. Others can, within limits, be changed while others will be done if the time is right, based on what activities I am doing around the scheduled time.

The problem with Outlook is that it treats all these time demands as if they are the same.

Obviously, a reminder that pops up to let me know that I have to meet with my boss is not the same as one that tells me that I should start working on my Christmas cards. One has consequences while the other does not.

Also, as often happens in the day, I end up with a handful of items backed up either because I have not dismissed the reminder, or I have not started to work on the scheduled item. Outlook provides no way, once again, to distinguish between those items that are “hard edged” and those that are not.

It’s a bit of a nuisance, as I have to spend an extra few minutes each day making sure that the items in the list have been accounted for correctly. It would be an easy item to programme. But, as I mentioned before, the problem with Outlook is that it is driven by features, rather than by a proper time management philosophy that enables the user to enact the 11 fundamental components of time management.