Outlook’s Shortcomings 5 – Scheduling

calendar1.jpgScheduling is one of the more difficult practices in time management for a user to master.  At the same time it offers one of the most important opportunities to professionals who are trying to ensure peace of mind as they tackle an increasing number of time demands.

As I have mentioned in other parts of my blog, the skill of Scheduling ranges from White Belts who barely keep a schedule, to Green Belts who work with schedules that describe most activities in the day, and who are careful even about the language they use within their schedule.  As I mention elsewhere, I don’t advocate one level over another, and it’s important that a user find the level that allows for the greatest peace of mind as they define it.

However, in doing so, they should be aware that Outlook-driven scheduling is actually designed for the White Belt, and not the Green Belt.

The traditional appointment calendar probably grew out of the tool used in doctor’s offices.  White Belts think of their Outlook calendar as something used to plot meetings with other people.   For this purpose, a paper calendar works well enough.

However, professionals who deal with a great number of competing time demands each day can easily get confused when they try to  maintain a complex daily schedule in their minds.  Many fail to  adequately juggle the 10-15 time-based activities they want to  accomplish each day by just trying to remember what they think  they decided to do early in the morning.

It doesn’t take much for a mental schedule to fall by the wayside in the middle of the crisis that breaks at 10:15 pm.  At 6:00 pm when it’s finally all over, it’s hard to go back to figure out what exactly was planned between 10:15 and then.  The inevitable happens — lots of time demands fall through the cracks.

Millions of users would be helped if Outlook were to to re-designed  as an activity calendar rather than an appointment calendar.

What would that take?

Solo Scheduling In the first place, Outlook could be made to recognize the difference  between an activity that involves other people, and one that  involves only the user.  When a schedule is made, a user could  tell the program the difference between one kind of  activity and another, and when it comes to creating the schedule for the day, it could prevent users from mistakenly scheduling  themselves from being in two places at the same time.

Also, it would understand that when a user changes time-zones, that meeting times would need to change accordingly, but other solo activities “work out at the gym” would not change.  The fact that all items change times (even all day events) is further evidence that the designers of Outlook are in the mindset of giving the user a neat “appointment tool”to go along with their “email tool.”

Contextual Scheduling Also, the program would give the user the flexibility to do  more than schedule tasks, but also to schedule what David Allen  calls “contexts.”  These are no more than logical, or physical  locations that allow a user to do certain kinds of tasks e.g.  “at home” is a context that is quite different from “at the pool.”

While the program would be instructed to prevent anything from  being scheduled during the “at the pool” context, it would be  allowed to schedule activities within the “at home” context.

Strong and Weak Alarms The program would also know how to distinguish between the times  the times when a weak alarm is due (with a sound) and the times  when a strong alarm is given (by a phone call or flashing screen.)

Also, instead of just being the option to dismiss the scheduled  item in Outlook, user could have the option of deferring the item, because the reminder the appointment can safely be re-scheduled  for later.

These are just some initial ideas that come from a very different  place from the one in which Outlook’s calendar function was  conceived.