In the past fifteen years, the way we manage our time has not changed significantly.
Google opened Google Calendar to the general public in 2009. Since then, innovative companies like Sunrise (acquired by Microsoft), Fantastical and more have tried reworking the basics through better designs, faster experiences with keyboard shortcuts, and more.
Even though these improvements have been a great move forward, the overall feeling is that none of those have succeeded at radically changing our relationship with calendaring products. These products continue to provide a very basic representation of time with layers of calendars stacked on top of one another.
The life of busy people
At Routine, we are obsessed with analyzing and understanding what does not function complementary to the way we work and why it is so difficult for people to change.
Several things became obvious after interviewing hundreds of extremely busy people (entrepreneurs, investors, CEOs, etc.) in the past year.
All task management systems are based on the notion of days. The user decides when a task should be completed, and the task pops up that day in the Today screen for it to be completed.
The problem with this approach is that it fits someone who wants to remember when to declare her taxes, buy an anniversary present, etc.
But it is just not enough for a CEO, entrepreneur, investor, or manager with hundreds of things coming her way.
The schedule of such people is so chaotic that, most often than not, her plans get shattered a few hours if not minutes after coming to the office because something more important arises that needs to be taken care of immediately.
Numerous busy professionals told us that the approach of setting a date for a task rarely worked for them.
Given their chaotic schedule, most of them prefer to work with a list of things to consider during the week and pick from that list according to their importance and their energy level at the time.
This does not mean it is impossible to set dates for tasks, but rather that this approach will not work for all tasks, and a different complementary solution is required.
Existing task management systems suffer from two limitations that seriously aggravate the situation.
Todo list products automatically roll over incomplete tasks to the next day, and this is hardly a good idea for the following reasons:
- You have not determined that you will have more time tomorrow to complete those extra tasks. It may be worse because your next day schedule is packed with back-to-back meetings and other fresh commitments.
- The issue is that now the tasks you had decided to complete Today are mixed with tasks from the past days that you need to reconsider.
This good-intentioned approach is a recipe for disaster, and I am sure, as all of us, you experienced it as some point in your life, if not every day.
The list of tasks for Today keeps growing with uncompleted tasks from previous days up to the point where this list no longer represents the tasks to complete during the day but "stuff to do at some point"!
The other problem is that todo list products do not integrate with your calendar, preventing you from doing one of the most effective things to ensure that your most important tasks get the attention they deserve: blocking time!
As Managing Director at Techstars, I have seen this behavior countless times: an entrepreneur carefully defines objectives for the week in some system, digital or paper.
Then the chaos starts!
You meet someone who introduces you to someone else, and you schedule a meeting as soon as possible. And the process repeats until the end of the week, at which point you realize meetings have taken over your time and that you have made no progress toward your own objectives.
Time & tasks through a single lens
With all that feedback, we decided to introduce a new planning functionality in Routine to combine the best of calendaring and task management systems.
The Planner provide a week-based view of your time and displays all the events of all the calendars you want to track. Under the date, the tasks you have decided must be completed that day are listed.
Displayed on the left-hand side is a very special list of tasks referred to as the current batch. This list contains the tasks you want to consider completing this week but do not know precisely when.
Through this screen, you can drag & drop a task from a batch to the list of tasks of a specific day to schedule the task for that day. You can also drop a task anywhere on the calendar screen to block time for the task.
All the operations you would typically find in a calendar product are supported, ranging from moving an event, resizing it, canceling a meeting, opening an event, etc.
In addition, Routine allows you to take media-rich notes, access past meetings with the same participants, etc.
Stop snoozing. Start postponing!
Email clients (Gmail, Superhuman, etc.) and task management systems (Todoist, Any.do, etc.) alike provide a Snooze functionality, the purpose of which is to tell the system to remind you of this item later.
Even though innocent, this functionality is causing a lot more damage to your productivity than you might think!
For email clients, people often snooze to allow the other side some time to answer your email, typically seven days or so. Unfortunately, the snooze functionality email clients offer a default snoozing date which is not relative (7 days from now), but absolute: "Next week," meaning the upcoming Monday.
Task management systems suffer the same issue. Even though the user often means "I want to reconsider this task later" when snoozing, in effect, the task is rescheduled to another day, most often the following Monday.
The problem is that when Monday comes, your day is filled with two very different types of tasks:
- Tasks that you decided had to be completed this Monday
- Tasks that you snoozed to be reconsidered later
Because those are mixed, you start your week having to triage your day to see it through. This generates stress and demotivation.
The combination of snoozing to following Monday combined with the automatic rollover of uncompleted tasks is the perfect recipe for you to fail!
In addition to the concept of the batch, we therefore decided to equip Routine with a new operation called Postpone.
Postponing indicates that a task must be reconsidered later: next week, in 3 weeks, in 5 months, in 2 years, etc., effectively putting the task in the batch of the week in question for reconsideration.
Through Routine's natural-language-based console, you can very quickly postpone a task to a future batch:
Note that the task does not end up in a specific day but in a batch, giving you more flexibility and peace of mind as to what to do with this task: reschedule, postpone to later, delegate or even ignore it.
The task will appear in the list on the left-hand side of the Planner, which holds all the tasks of the batch:
Introducing richer operations
In addition to the concept of batch and the postponing action, Routine now comes with richer object operations, in particular related to tasks and events.
Complete, ignore & delete tasks
Until now, tasks could only be archived in Routine. In the past year, we have received a lot of feedback from people who wanted to express more than what is usually provided by task management systems.
More often than not, you stumble upon a task that has become irrelevant, either because someone else did it, because it was a bad idea, or just because it cannot be done anymore. The way to go about those in existing task management systems is to archive the task, mark it as completed, or delete it, removing its existence altogether.
Unfortunately, this approach is a bit weak in terms of semantics since "archive" does not express why/how this task has been performed.
Likewise, deleting a task removes the information from the system, information that could later be valuable in understanding how you work or organize yourself.
We therefore decided to introduce richer operations to capture meaning for you to later extract more value out of Routine, allowing you to improve your productivity, time, or organization.
Instead of archiving, tasks can now be completed or ignored. In both cases, the task will appear in the Journal as part of your history.
In addition, you can now delete tasks from the journal. Be careful, as the information related to the task (e.g., its notes) will be permanently deleted!
Active versus passive events
As we did for tasks, we decided to take a step back and think about what an event actually is.
We looked at existing calendaring products and discovered that none can tell you exactly what happened in your life i.e., which events you actually attended. In other words, calendaring products treat all calendars the same and display all events indistinctively.
We decided to take another approach by distinguishing what you attend from what you want to keep an eye on. In Routine, there are two types of calendars:
- Primary calendars are calendars holding events that you are supposed to and therefore will likely attend. Your personal calendar and the main calendar of your professional account are all primary calendars.
- Secondary calendars hold events you want to track but do not attend. Those include the calendars of colleagues you often work with, calendars representing the holidays your colleagues take, or even a calendar with all your favorite football club's games.
Primary calendars hold what we call active events, while secondary calendars contain passive events.
Even though it may sound complicated, this is completely transparent to the user. The value resurfaces with the new operations.
Events come with a set of rich operations:
- Complete: it sometimes happens that an event (e.g. a meeting) takes place before its scheduled date and time; marking an event as completed frees up that time in your schedule
- Ignore/Unignore: ignoring an event makes it passive, while unignoring turns it active
- Archive: removes the event, so you do not see it anymore in the Planner, Today, or Dashboard
The completed, ignored, and archived events are accessible in your Journal and can subsequently be permanently deleted from Routine.
Focus on what matters right now
All of the new concepts and operations presented above have been introduced with a single goal: allow you to be more focused on what matters right now.
Because Routine understands which events you will actually attend, the Today screen and the dashboard now only display active events.
Have an event that you will skip but want to keep on your calendar? Just Ignore it.
Want to record the fact that you will attend an event (e.g., football game) from a secondary calendar? Just Unignore it, and it will appear on your agenda.
In addition, the introduction of batches and the removal of the automatic rollover will help you better plan your week and always start the day with a clean slate, opening up the possibility of really focusing on what matters Today.