Dezhi Wu on the Calendar Tools We Really Need #4

A major focus of Wu’s research as outlined in Temporal Structures in Individual Time Management: practices to enhance calendar tool design, is on the paucity of tools that exist to manage our schedules.

She decries the fact that electronic calendars do little more than mimic paper calendars, and offer little functionality in important areas.  She states: “the porting of the paper-based calendar to its electronic cousin, in our view, suffers from a lack of vision.  The electronic version is a replica of the paper version with… fast search capabilities.”

“Builders of electronic calendars could have examined how users think about and construct their schedules.  … they would have run into thinking about how to build tools that allow users to capture the more esoteric and complex temporal structures affecting their time coordination.”

She writes that the current tools offer no support for automatically changing scheduled activities.  For example, in planning software like Microsoft Project, a change in the final due date can automatically cause all the dependent tasks to shift their due dates in concert.  In Microsoft Outlook, no such capability exists.

Also, there is no way to download a project’s individual commitments into one’s calendar.  Instead of manually entering the tasks required to complete one’s taxes, an entire sequence of events could be downloaded that reliably produce the end-result, if followed.  It would allow us to see more clearly what happens when we commit to play a role on a new project, for example, and more realistically deal with the time it will consume.

She gives the example of airlines that allow passengers to download entire flights directly into their calendars.  A smart calendar would incorporate the time it take to get to the airport from the office, and block that time out also!

She also talks about the need for working groups to make their norms that require calendar space more explicit, such as the fact that that the group has a mandatory lunch discussion each Friday and a meeting with the Vice President every last Wednesday of the month.  New members could immediately download these structured commitment upon joining, and observe the impact on their overall schedules.

One of the major complaints from the most effective time managers is the fact that they have to do so much manual work to set up effective schedules that cover the temporal structures mentioned above.  An intelligent auto-scheduler would know to never set time aside for a trip to the grocery store at a time when it’s closed, for example, on a holiday.

Lastly, it should be easier to coordinate schedules.  A project manager should be able to “see” a view of a person’s calendar to determine whether key action items need to be changed in keeping with events happening in other calendars.

Wu mentions a particular intensity around these complaints, and I take that to mean that the opportunity for a significant product innovation exists.  Companies that make electronic scheduling tools could be producing much, much better products, a point that I make here at 2Time Labs.

She obviously has some insight into what an effective user-design might look like, and if game-changing software were to emerge, it would probably sweep into the lives of working professionals at an awesome pace.