The Games Users Play Using Auto-Schedulers for Their Calendars

Q: What is an auto-scheduler?

A: It’s a kind of advanced calendar which has the power to schedule itself.

Slowly but surely, these AI-powered calendar apps are making their way into the lives of early adopters. They are looking for a way to boost the number of tasks they can manage effectively.

Taking over the grunt work of managing a calendar full of tasks, these apps do more than blindly shuffle around tasks and appointments. Instead, they act as intelligent agents, responding to the actions users take each day. This interplay, they report, is quite game-like: it can be immersive, challenging and fun at the same time. In this article, I describe the ways people play with their auto-schedulers and the impact this will have on the future of personal productivity.


Although the idea has been around for decades, recent advances in cloud computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have made auto-scheduling a practical reality. I started using one about 18 months ago and cannot imagine ever going back: it’s become a part of my new, daily routine.

In the first two articles in this series (here and here) on the gamification of task management, I described a number of games which users of task management apps are trying to play. I outlined six levels of technique/app usage which users climb up, as shown in the diagram below.

They don’t make this journey for idle reasons. Those who climb quickly are the ones who are trying to manage increasing numbers of time demands. In other words, in an effort to eke out greater personal capacity, they travel from Levels 1 to 6.

Furthermore, as I pointed out at the start of this series, this is more than a grim endeavor. They are hoping to achieve a game-like, engaging experience as they make their journey. Unfortunately, they haven’t found much luck. Few designers at any level have paid serious attention to the user experience or made any efforts to seriously transform it. At most, they make cosmetic differences.

As a result, while every functioning adult on the planet manages their tasks at one of these six levels, only a few million use electronic task apps. Do the math: out of three billion people with access to the internet, the biggest task management app only accounts for 10–20 million regular users.

That represents a huge gap. Plus an opportunity.

At Level 6, where the technology is new, the idea of auto-scheduling isn’t widespread. The most recent feature at this level is one offered by Todoist Smart Scheduling. It’s their first foray into Level 6 features, but they aren’t the first.

SkedPal, the developers of which I have done work for, is the most mature product and the one I currently use. Timeful, which was acquired by Google, Sheldonize, TimeTo and Focuster round out the collection of known players in the niche.

A comparison of apps at this level versus those found at Levels 3 and 4 show a big difference. They function as static databases, repositories of tasks. If the user adds in due dates or start-dates for tasks, the program reports which ones are overdue at any point in time, but that’s all.

Level 6 applications promise an experience that’s quite different. They are responsive — like the difference between using a monitor that offers touchscreen capabilities versus one that doesn’t.

In these programs, when you make a change to your tasks or calendar, they reply with a fresh new schedule. Multiple changes can be introduced one at a time, or grouped altogether. Sometimes the results it produces are surprising.

SkedPal users I interact with are regularly delighted (or shocked) by the calendar the program creates, the task which it suggests you work on next. Without the tool, you simply would not have remembered.

This makes sense. These programs are meant to do much more than your mind can do, in just a split-second. Now, there’s no danger in creating as many tasks as you like. As you enter hundreds of new ones or change a whole bunch at a time, the program responds the same way: with a fresh,optimized schedule.

This interactive give-and-take makes the UX game-like. You change your inputs and receive a different reaction each time. With continued use, as I show below, you become more productive in response to its unique feedback.

It’s obviously not a tool everyone would appreciate or use. Many have no need for its power. But there are hard-working people who find these capabilities useful, according to my research and experience.

Who Level 6 Users Are

Most users who migrate to these apps generally do so after making an effort to master Levels 4 and 5.

At Level 4, they used a Complex To-do list program that helped them store and view their tasks in different ways. At Level 5, they have substituted these apps with a digital calendar, which they use to juggle their tasks manually.

As I mentioned in the two prior articles, these two techniques have their limitations. While they are perfect for users who have fewer time demands, they both fail to meet the needs of users who manage a large number of tasks. Once they pass a particular threshold, Level 4 and 5 approaches get in the way.

A few get unstuck by using Level 6 auto-schedulers. To understand why they make the switch, let’s analyze their behavior using the same approach used in my prior two articles in the series: The Job to Be Done framework, and the mechanics of gamification.

The Job Level 6 Users Are Trying to Get Done

If you are a Level 6 user, you hire the technologies and techniques offered by auto-schedulers to accomplish three specific purposes.

Reason #1 — You are looking for a way to manipulate a large number of tasks, and want the app’s robotic features to save you time. With it, you should be able to create a schedule and refresh it in seconds rather than hours. You are no longer a victim of an unplanned interruption or the passage of several days.

Reason #2 — You hope to expand the feeling of being on top of things. Perhaps it has been lost for some time and now you want it to be restored. Or maybe it’s become fleeting and you want it to be continuous.

Reason #3 — You expect to experience an increased sense of mastery, a growth in your capacity. You want to be able to do more and therefore achieve new goals. You hire Level 6 apps in order to become a measurably more productive person who never allows tasks to fall through the cracks.

These are sound reasons. Each of them indicates the kind of expectation a Level 4 or 5 user would have if they were up-leveling, having decided to hire a Level 6 app.

However, my 18-month experience points to a far greater possibility. Beyond the three reasons, there are other reasons to hire an auto-scheduler.

New users of auto-schedulers quickly learn that the app needs to be run almost every workday, preferably early in the morning. The logic is simple: the schedule for yesterday is now stale. Anything that was left incomplete must be rescheduled by the app.

Also, things change from day to day, as you complete tasks and generate new ones as a result. Some become obsolete. The project you thought was important is deprecated, forcing you to change gears.

Auto-schedulers can do more than respond to these changes — one day they will capture unique data and build a database which reflects your behavior. When this happens, it will provide you with two further reasons to deepen your use of an auto-scheduler.

Further Reason #1 —Most people become “Total Task Schedulers” when they adopt Level 5 behaviors: they begin to manage the majority of their tasks in their calendar. Now, at Level 6 they can use the app’s data to improve this skill. While it’s possible to gather your own data at Level 5, a good auto-scheduler should provide you some unique insights into your performance in this area. For the first time, you can examine historical data, looking for strengths and weaknesses.

For example, if you are failing to visit the app every workday, the system’s data should reflect your inability to develop this habit, and perhaps suggest the creation of a mitigation plan.

Further Reason #2 — Not only can you focus on improving your skills, you can also use the data to improve the quality of your schedules. Each day when you reschedule your calendar, a good auto-scheduler should indicate the likely success of your schedule. For example, a calendar that is too tightly packed should throw up a red flag.

These two reasons don’t represent trivial attempts. Instead, they present an opportunity for app designers to educate and engage users, converting them from “users of an app” into “players of a game” whose expectations change over time.

In today’s world, that’s a given in well-designed video-games. Once a player moves past the entry level, they provide abundant opportunities to make measured improvements. Most of these new levels can’t be perceived at the start: they only become revealed with higher accomplishment.

The only difference here is that the game being played is “real.” In other words, it comes from a real-life situation, rather than the heavy fiction/fantasy used to construct a game like Angry Birds. Although the initial context is different, the fact is that all games are based on a common pool of mechanics as I mentioned in the prior articles. Fictional or non-fictional: they can both be made to be engaging.

While SkedPal does not have these levels built in, my experience has evolved, just as it would in a video-game. Here are some of the games I have found myself playing, even though the app doesn’t recognize them.

The Games Level 6 Users Try to Play

As I mentioned, all well-designed video-games consist of distinct levels which require higher levels of skill. Here are three “phases” I have discovered which can be used to craft these levels.

  1. Games at the Learning / Onboarding Phase

As I mentioned, new users spend the bulk of their time, in the beginning, trying to understand how an auto-scheduler works. For example, SkedPal makes a clear distinction between fixed and flexible tasks, keeping the former unchanged, while optimizing the placement of the latter. This distinction is new to most users.

Also, the user is asked to provide a set of weekly time maps. These user-defined graphs map out preferred zones such as “early weekday mornings between 6am and 9am” or “book reading times between 6pm and 8pm on weekends.”

For most users, these two distinctions are brand new. They must learn how SkedPal uses these and other components to produce an optimized schedule. An expert designer like the creator of the Octalysis framework for game design instructs: “During the onboarding phase, you train the users to become familiar with the rules of the game, the options, the mechanics, and the win-states.”

One of the first games to master in this phase is one I alluded to before: a “Daily Practice Game.” It’s simply the habit of entering the app on a daily basis in order to optimize one’s calendar. Mastering this practice is a small but essential win-state, similar to the one achieved by players of Farmville. They learn early in the game that there is a penalty for ignoring for several days: it results in the death of their crops.

Another game users could play is related to one of the first things they want to know when they log in — “Which tasks have become stale?” As I mentioned before, they need to take action to bring everything current. This daily action could be part of a “Task Recovery Game” which takes a certain amount of time and activity which could, in the future, be measured.

Occasionally, these changes are not sufficient and the player must also adjust a part of their task infrastructure, such as a time map. This could be part of a Framework Adjustment Game” in which the customizable components of the app are used to refine one’s schedule.

These three games are all built on the recurrent actions needed to keep an auto-scheduler running smoothly. As of today, I don’t know of any app which overtly promotes these games, but as I mentioned before, the potential exists to weave them into the onboarding experience.

My limited research shows that in the absence of explicit support, each of these games is played quite poorly at first. Over time, things improve as users teach themselves the required underlying behaviors. However, if they were offered as part of games at an introductory level, there might be more who make it to the next phase.

Some do make the transition and after a while, the behaviors become habits. When that happens they up-level to the next phase.

2. Games at the Features Phase

In the next phase, the user learns to exploit the program’s more sophisticated features. For example, version 2.0 of SkedPal indicates when there is a problem with your newly updated schedule.

It offers a Hot List which reflects the number of tasks which cannot be scheduled due to logical problems. For example, if you scheduled a task with a hard due-date for yesterday but didn’t complete it, the task would not be rescheduled. Instead, it would show up on the Hot List as an issue to be addressed.

A player could adopt a “Hot List Game” in which the user tries to minimize the total number of errors produced. SkedPal also indicates when a task is scheduled too tightly by adding a highlight to it in the form of a small icon. Avoiding these highlights could be part of a “Too-Tight Game.”

Another game is related to a feature I mentioned before: the way SkedPal distinguishes between your fixed and flexible tasks. The program synchronizes your fixed calendar in Outlook/Google with your internal calendar of flexible tasks. Unknown to some, it also allows the creation of additional fixed calendars.

I happen to use two fixed calendars. One acts as an appointment calendar with other people. The other is set up for personal appointments (with myself) and also to insert buffer times. Appointments with myself are solo tasks which occur at fixed times, such as workouts at the gym. Buffer time-slots are used to make sure I don’t over-schedule myself: each day, I have 1–2 hours of unscheduled time.

They are both used to ensure I maintain a balanced calendar which isn’t unrealistic. It’s a “Calendar Balance Game.”

Games at this phase and the one below it represent an important start, but I think they only scratch the surface. As I play them, I have generated lots of questions related to my usage.

3. Questions at the Self-Knowledge Phase

While games at this phase don’t actually exist, I continually ask myself questions which indicate that they are likely to be played in the future. Here are some of the questions I have about the schedule I produce each day:

– Is my current schedule too tight and therefore unrealistic? What is a lead metric of its quality?

– Are there items which are being postponed several times? Which ones are they?

– Are my time estimates unbiased?

– How often does a suggested next task actually get done? Why? Why not?

– What is the likelihood of a scheduled meeting actually taking place as scheduled?

There are also questions I have related to my skills as a “Total Task Scheduler.” I’d like to know:

– What is my track record for following my schedule and doing what I planned to do?

– What practices should I change to improve my skills?

– Are my high priority tasks being completed before those of lower priority?

– How often do I abandon my schedule to do something entirely different?

– Are there trends in my scheduling I need to be aware of?

– How many tasks in my system are actually dead and should be deleted?

I see each of these questions as the seeds of future games. They require their own metrics which could be collected by auto-schedulers. Put together here in their raw form they represent a start. I’m interested to hear from you in the Comments, especially if you have other questions that we should be asking at this phase.

What Designers Can Do

In the world of video-game design, there is an important role defined as a “Level Designer.” This person’s job is to create the missions, locales and stages of each level in a particular game. They possess a distinct skillset which is critical: they keep players engaged long after the Onboarding Stage, turning a player’s curiosity into a near-obsession.

Their skills could be applied to the phases I have shared above, to carve out levels of self-knowledge which I believe players of task management crave. As you may imagine, this job requires equal doses of psychology and computer science.

Unfortunately, I only know one or two developers who are thinking along these lines. Most are so close to their product and its functionality that it’s hard to step away to ask and answer these broader questions. They take time, plus no small measure of introspection.

But this is to be expected, according to Clay Christensen and other innovation experts. There’s an in-depth interplay between users and apps that must be studied over time. Answers and insights, they warn, don’t come from surveys or focus groups.

Instead, designers and developers must stand far out in the future, ahead of their users. Way out. It’s the only way to divine their needs, the jobs they are trying to get done and the games they want to be engaged by.

It’s a worthwhile effort.

Why should the most engaging software available to use be limited to trivial pursuits such as shooting angry birds or taking pictures of virtual characters?

Why can’t we put more effort into developing apps which help us learn skills which are important? Why can’t users become immersed in activities that help them get better, even as they complete important tasks? Wouldn’t we all be better human beings if we helped each other bring the fun of game-play to the stuff we really care about?

If there’s an epic quest someplace for task management app designers, and even game developers, perhaps it lies in answers to these questions.


This is the final article in this three-part series, published on Medium and on my website — https://2time-sys.com. If you are a developer/designer and would like to be notified when future articles and series become available, visit this page to sign up for updates — https://www.2time-sys.com/application-designers/.

If you aren’t a developer, you can also receive an immediate update by registering to download my article — “8 Edgy Ideas from Time Management 2.0” — at https://www.2time-sys.com/special-report-8/.

I hope you have found this series to be useful. Please leave me a comment on Twitter — http://twitter.com/fwade or on Medium’s Comments. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Thanks to my editors for their invaluable input: Marcia Oxley, Suzy Wilkoff, Jo-Ann Richards, and Tammy Emam.

Why Habits Are So Hard for App Designers to Nail Down

temp paper coverI’m excited… more than a little… to share an academic paper I just read (and re-read.) It includes some required lessons for all app designers, but especially those who happen to be in the productivity space.

Published by the University College of London’s Interaction Centre, it’s entitled “Beyond Self-Tracking and Reminders – Designing Smartphone Apps That Support Habit Formation.” Included in the study is a survey of 115 habit formation apps that promise to help users make permanent behavior changes. Unfortunately, the results reveal a rude surprise… only a tiny handful (3%) have features which are supported by research-based findings.

As a developer of an app, program or device you may not be focused on helping people change habits directly. However, the long-term success of your project may rest entirely on your ability to make your product sticky: irresistible to users who include its use as one of their regular habits. In this context, a habit is defined as an activity undertaken with little motivation or conscious thought that takes place in response to a cue or trigger event. Furthermore, it’s one that responds to positive reinforcement… but only moderately, according to this study.

The authors go a bit further in the section at the end titled “Design Guidelines for Habit Formation Apps.” They add that triggers and cues are not equivalent to electronic reminders based on the clock. The former are based on events that take place in the real world, such as a meal-time. They don’t require the presence of technology.

Therefore, as a designer, if you want your users to use your app at the start of the day, you are better off in the long-term by tying it into an activity they already do (e.g. breakfast) rather than a timed reminder (e.g. an email at 8:00 AM.)

That’s not to say that the email reminder won’t work at all. It does… in the short-term. However, developers who rely on timed reminders are likely to see them interfere with the development of long-term habits. That’s bad news.

It’s far better to teach users to set “implementation intentions”: actions based on selected trigger events, such as “I will use app X right after breakfast.” It doesn’t hurt to add in a reminder email around the same time, but it should not prompt the user to “Use app X.” Instead, it should remind them of their implementation intention: “Remember to use app X right after breakfast.” In this context, the email reminder is only an aid, not a substitute.

Furthermore, habit building based on electronic reminders requires the presence of a device which is producing visual, audible or haptic notifications. If it happens to be located in the other room,the notification can be missed altogether.

Also, most people receive a tsunami of notifications which causes them to ignore them all. It’s a problem we are tackling at 2Time Labs here and here.

The researchers also note that many app developers are fond of encouraging users to track “streaks” designed along the lines of the “Seinfeld Strategy.” This tactic involves keeping track of how many days a single activity is continued without an interruption. The study shows that 77% of the habit formation apps included task tracking to encourage streaks, but point out that this technique isn’t effective for creating long-term habits.

These are subtle points, but if you are designer or developer, you can use them to direct your attention toward strategies that are proven to work. Bottom line – they can make the difference between an app that goes viral versus another one of the many which languish in the Apple or Android app stores.

If you find value from this kind of insight, take a moment to join my mailing list for Productivity Developers by visiting https://www.2time-sys.com/application-designers/. There’s more content available and under development that may be helpful to you as a time-based productivity app designer.

An email app that could thwart “Time Grabbers”

Time grabbers 1One of the frequent complaints I hear about corporate life is the time wasted in two activities you cannot quite ignore without incurring a social cost: email and meetings. In this article, I suggest that there should be an email app that gives immediate feedback to a sender, and argue that companies are not doing enough today to limit the prevailing waste and stress.

Read this unusual post – it’s the first part in a two part series – that starts by looking at programs and apps that could make a difference if they existed. They tell us much about how we can make things better today.

I am testing the Medium platform for the second or third time, so I posted this article here.

The Science of Designing Hot, New Products for Better Time Management

art pallette, brushes with easelMany software and hardware designers are hoping to hit it rich by replacing the top time management apps: Outlook, Google and Lotus. These global products account for billions of users which means that replacing them isn’t easy.

Much of the challenge boils down to replacing habits users employ every day in their struggle to be productive. It’s a fact many designers discover late in their development cycle, to their detriment. How can they hit their goal of becoming the next great thing, when existing products are already shaping users’ practices?

The facts are clear. Designers of time management applications have a tremendous effect on their users’ habits. Since the advent of email over 20 years ago, they have altered the behavior of millions. The result is that they have had an outsize (and perhaps unintended) effect on worker productivity.

Yet, even the most popular program for managing tasks and calendars – Microsoft Outlook – is used grudgingly. It’s an engineer’s dream with tons of bells and whistles, but there is hardly a rabid fan-base of users who love the design of the product. Its dominance comes from its proximity to Outlook’s email program within Microsoft Office, rather than from its functionality, ease-of-use or elegance.

Perhaps the same could be said of time management products developed by Google and Lotus. In all these cases ( according to research outlined in my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity) email apps were meant to be the centerpiece. Time management apps such as calendars and task managers, were included as after-thoughts. Ugly step-children.

Many designers chafe at these programs outdated interfaces and dream of supplanting them. As a result, there are over hundreds of task and calendar apps on the web, and in iPhone and Android stores, all hoping to improve existing designs.

There’s no doubt they are built by designers who are highly motivated.

But they all appear to be missing the mark. Outlook was released in the mid 1990’s and has never lost its place as the most popular time management program for the desktop. Google’s products became popular because Gmail was a well-designed, web-based email client. It didn’t happen because its time management apps were any good.

It’s easy, therefore, for a designer of time management apps to get jazzed by a cool idea and imagine what it would be like to grab even a small piece of a very large pie. By the end of 2015, the Radicati Group estimates that there will be over 4 billion email users. According to recent research of small business owners, some 82% will also use a task or calendar app. This majority translates into big revenue potential.

Some designers believe that people don’t migrate to new apps because they lack cool features. Recently, some have integrated GPS capabilities into their programs, so a smartphone can remind the user when, for example, they are near to a grocery store so they can pick up the milk.

Is their hypothesis correct? Would users flock to their apps because they include a cool new feature?

To understand why they are wrong, we need to take a deeper dive than the average designer takes, because it’s easy to become confused when designing apps for this particular market. Why? Well, for example, for starters, there’s no such thing as “time management.”

Why time management is impossible

It turns out that the phrase “time management” is a misnomer. According to Earl Nightingale, “You don’t manage time, you manage activities.” He’s backed up by Dr. Brigitte Claessens, perhaps, the foremost researcher in the field in this new millennium. She wrote, “Time cannot be managed in any sense.” At 2Time Labs, where I work, we have a team currently studying this question. It might be the first time it’s being tackled in a systematic way, accounting for recent findings in psychology, quantum physics, philosophy and anthropology. Our early results back up their statements.

Yet, even though time cannot be managed, it can certainly be wasted. Any app that can help users waste less time would be an instant hit.

The remedy, however, is not time management. To discover a useful answer, designers of productivity apps must do a some things that all innovators of new products, services and apps must do. They must dig deep into academic research, focus on shaping current habits and pull information from a variety of fields.

1. Dig Deeper into the Research

Like their counterparts in other fields, designers need to go past popular, but trivial answers. For example, some bloggers argue that the replacement for time management should be “self-management.” This all too-obvious answer, which happens to be true, isn’t useful. Every kind of management known to mankind includes an element of self-management. You can’t study “self-management” with the intent of designing a specific product.

A far better substitute involves a new definition discovered at 2Time Labs: a “time demand.” It is defined as “an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future”. It happens to be an example of what researchers call a “psychological object,” named as a “conscious intention” by Drs. Wood and Oullette.

According to the research outlined in my book, human beings teach themselves to manipulate time demands starting in adolescence. We share a similar learning path. After discovering the existence of time at the approximate age of eight or nine, we realize that keeping time demands alive is critical to reaching our goals, big and small.

As adults, things have changed. Modern technology allows us to create many more time demands than ever before, triggered by an explosion in information. Potential time demands sit in an increasing number of places in the life of today’s professionals. They can be found in email, on written to-do lists, in electronic task lists, on calendars, in voicemail, in DM’s on Twitter to name a few sources, and there are more new locations being added each day.

One reason all time management apps look the same is because they don’t start with the basic idea of a time demand. Instead, perhaps confused by ill-defined “time management”, they only look for inspiration to other, existing products. The result is that they perform (more or less) the same functions, with little variation and no real innovation. In this field, there have been no breakthroughs since Outlook was released to the public.

A skillful designer should start by asking “What are the habits people currently use to manage time demands? What are the obstacles? How is life making time demand management more difficult? How can I help users turn off the spigot at will, if time demands are something they create without knowing it?”

These question can help a designer get closer to creating a breakthrough product. It’s impossible to arrive at this point following the conventional wisdom, or just by adding a single feature.

2. Shaping Current Habits, Not Replacing Them

Most books and classes in time management present long lists of new practices for users to undertake in order to be productive. This style of teaching often fails because authors and trainers ignore the fact that functioning adults already have their own, self-taught methods for manipulating time demands.

Plus, they didn’t learn them yesterday: as I mentioned before, they learned these methods in adolescence, putting together a system of habits, practices and rituals. Over years, or decades, they have used this system to achieve every success in life.

Along the way, they picked up helpful software, gadgets and services, yet there are millions who still use the paper and pencil techniques they learned when they were 12.

Designers shouldn’t make the same mistake – they need to understand what’s called andragogy: the kind of teaching which works for adults. One important difference is that adults approach a learning opportunity with knowledge and systems already in place – they aren’t blank canvases.

Therefore, assuming that it’s easy for an adult to unlearn an old habit, while learning a new one, is a major mistake. For example, a user who decides to change calendar apps must first unlearn old habits, learn new ones and simultaneously ensure that their reminder to pick up the milk tonight doesn’t fall through the cracks. It’s a tough, real-time change management problem.

A designer who understands andragogy can develop powerful products that don’t require steep learning curves. Obviously, a product that asks a user to change too many things at once is likely to be discarded.

For example, when I taught time management programs over a decade ago I noticed users struggling to implement a large number of newly learned behaviors. Now, using the principles of andragogy, I show users how to implement a planned, custom sequence of small changes lasting months and even years.

An example: Users hate to switch applications in order to use a task or calendar app. Most of their potential time demands arrive via email, and it’s often easier to manipulate these time demands using software that is bundled into their email clients. (As a side note, with the advent of social networks, this habit appears to be slowly changing and with it should come a fresh opportunity.)

3. Become Comfortable Mixing and Matching Ways of Thinking

One of the risks of relying too much on a single book, researcher or field of study is that it’s easy to get trapped into a simplistic line of thinking that’s far from reality. It’s critical that designers be flexible, able to move between schools of thought with ease, keeping uppermost the goal of finding solutions for users. That’s very different than trying to implement a single theory, no matter how good it seems.

For example, in time-based productivity, most of the research has been done by psychologists. Traditionally, they have focused on concepts like “perceived control of time” – a feeling of being on top of things. While this emotion is valid, and we all cherish it, studies show that there is little or no connection between this particular feeling and performance.

It turns out that the key to improved performance in manaing time demands lies in another field entirely – Business Process Management (BPM). It was popularized in the 1990’s by industrial experts like W. E. Deming and Michael Hammer, who focused on the movement of physical objects or information through factories, distribution systems and offices.

Now, imagine their principles being applied to the way we manipulate time demands, in which we use seven distinct actions. Specialists in BPM have probably never conceived of applying their expertise to psychological objects.

This combination of psychology and management doesn’t come from conventional wisdom, but it provides a better model of the everday actions people take. There’s even a term for this approach, as I recently discovered: “The Adjacent Possible.” It’s the notion that great design sometimes comes from combining insights lying in disjoint, but nearby fields of study. The amalgamation of ideas provides far better understanding of people’s current behaviors, which in turn points the way to better designs.

A designer who understands both worlds could, for example design breakthrough calendar software.

My research shows that the most effective type A individuals schedule the majority of their time in their calendars, including much of the time they spend alone. However, I have never seen software built for their purposes. All that exists are calendars built for appointments with other people. This group, which makes up some 50% of the population, includes many executives and entrepreneurs, or in other words, some of the most influential movers and shakers.

***

These three points show that, in time management, an opportunity exists for a radical new kind of product. Rather than ignore users’ current habit patterns, it would build on them. Discovering and understanding these habits is the avenue to creating superior value.

Also, revealing the underlying assumptions a designer is using is critical to creating a breakthrough product. This is especially true if better assumptions are available that can be used to better serve users.

These principles don’t only apply to time management, however. Anyone who attempts to design a product intended to shape user behavior must contend with current habits and seek to grow the limits of their own understanding. The promise of radical new products can inspire them to defy conventional wisdom and seek their own path to success.

P.S. If you are a developer of hot, warm or cold time management apps, hardware or software, spend a moment to join my mailing list or discussion group on Google+.

A Public Fight Between the Gurus

boxing-gloves.jpgA bit-based fight has opened up between the productivity gurus, Tim Ferris of 4 Hour Work Week (4HWW) fame and Mark Hurst, author of the book “Bit Literacy.”

It all started with  an article in Entrepreneur Magazine written by Lena West entitled Escaping Email Overload.  In the article, Hurst had a few critical words to say about the 4HWW approach, which Tim took exception to his blog post entitled Time Management Guru-itis:  Mark Hurst vs. David Allen and Tim Ferriss.

Hurst replied to Ferris’s post with one of his own, entitled “My Take on the 4 Hour Work-Week“.

While I don’t encourage anyone to get caught up in the gossipy side of the argument, I think that there is an underlying tension that is useful to distinguish.

When a guru (of any kind) describes a system for others to follow, it often becomes something that they start to identify with, and therefore grow to defend against criticism.  If you have ever seen someone react to a dent on their car as if it were a broken leg, then you might know what I am talking about.  The human tendency is for our concept of ourselves to gradually include our successes, our possessions and also our ideas.  We will sometimes resort to killing other people when the threat grows to be too great.

The problem is that each approach has merits, and none of them is complete.  None of them were created with the intention to be the end all and be all, final answer to every question.  They each describe a particular approach that works for the guru in question.

It is a fact that there is no-one on the planet other than the creator of each approach who is using it the way it is designed, down to the last habit.  Instead, users are taking a bit from here and a bit from there to fashion time management systems of their own.

This makes the squabble unfortunate, because what people want is help to design unique systems that work for them, and they could be helped greatly by getting some assistance in understanding the underlying principles behind the recommendations that the gurus make.

For example, Tim Ferris recommends a particular approach to responding to email that involved checking it twice per day (to choose a random example.)

Users want to know…. “Why?” What’s the logic behind the recommendation?  How can I use that logic to craft my own approach that works for me?

Part of the criticism that he actually received in the mix of posts and comments came from people who just don’t understand why  he makes that recommendation.  Some think the motive is to cut the raw number of email that is sent.  Others think that it has to do with cutting the total time spent processing email.

Both are useful goals, and I have my own ideas about why I would make such a recommendation (which I do) but it’s clear that users are struggling to apply the idea in their own lives ina way that works for them.

As the argument continues, the burden still remains on the user to dig behind the words on the page, or in the blog, to find the underlying principle, or fundamental, that underlies the specific recommendation or approach that the guru advocates.  Once these fundamentals are understood, it’s not so hard to assemble a unique system that works.

FAQ’s About 2Time

faq.jpgQ. What is 2Time?

Q. Why does anyone need a new approach to time management?

Q. Does 2Time apply to every professional?

Q. Do I have to abandon the system I am currently using?

Q. Do I have to buy anything?

Q. How is this different from all the other systems and approaches out there?

Q. Is it hard to design your own time management system?

Q. Must I set the goal for myself of getting a Black Belt as soon as I can?

Q. Is it better to be at a higher belt than a lower belt?

Q. Where does the name 2Time come from?


Q. What is 2Time? 2Time is a do-it-yourself approach to time management in which a working professional can define their own time management system to fits their unique circumstances, lifestyle and way of working. Once the system is defined, they can take the next step and improve it over time, starting at whatever point they find themselves now. 2Time provides users a structured belt system for improvement, ranging from White to Black belts, that describe different levels of time management and productivity.Q. Why does anyone need a new approach to time management? Continue reading “FAQ’s About 2Time”