The following article details the work in progress solution that Personizer is developing.
A novel Smart calendar system with an integrated Todo list, and Contacts for communications
- The dynamic nature of organizing and completing personal activities
- What is an Activity (event, appointment, task)?
- The inherent similarities between tasks, events and appointments
- Defining activities that require organization
- Various other systems and reducibility
- Systematizing unhandled activities
- The dynamic nature of tasks
- How activities necessitate communications
- Categorizing activities by Person
- The problems using existing Calendars and Todo lists for personal organization
- Problems with using To-do lists for unhandled activities
- Fragmentation of Calendar and To-do systems
- Fragmentation of data through a Calendar approach
- Summary of problems with existing Calendars
- A distinction between planning and actioning of tasks
- The ideal system – Integration between Calendar, Todo and Contacts
- A new perspective on personal organization
- A centralized & unified system
- Improving connections between Calendar, Todo and contacts.
- A flexible Calendar view
- Person-centric: personal and categorizable
- Seamless integration with communications
- Dynamic and forgiving
- Contextual and historical
- Reduce repetitive tasks
- Community and stakeholder realization
- Person-centric: Table of activities examples
- Person-centric models in industry today
- Psychological and productivity-enhancing benefits from the system
- Improving completion of activities
- Holistic relationships
- Contextual meta information
- The finer details
- The bigger picture
- Freedom to capture and think
- Oversight of delegation
- Integrated communications
- Clear and efficient timeline
- Adherence to system
This article will dissect the existing problems with self organization methods, and show the benefits to be had from integrating a calendar, todo list, and a users contacts data to create a thorough, universal personal organization system. This hybrid approach provides a unique unified organizer. A smart ‘Calendar 2.0’.
Essentially, the system is a dynamic calendar, interconnected with tasks from a Todo list which uses person-centric categorization which links to existing communications data using a smartphone-based app. The app would provide two clear views of organization;
- a novel and person-centric Todo
- a smart Calendar
Self-organization can be managed through personal custom categories that are sourced from the mobile phone users existing contacts list. The todo items can then be transferred onto a ‘smart calendar’ by using these two interconnected views. The two layers would provide:
- A todo view for a raw list of tasks, put into custom categories and person-centered categories, whereby ideation, planning, prioritization, categorization and integration with communications can be performed
- and a calendar schedule, whereby the activity from the todo layer can be placed into a time domain for the actioning of tasks
Both layers offering seamless integration and transference. By adding these distinct layers of planning and actioning, a personal, engaging, timely and integrated form of self-organization is possible.
The dynamic nature of organizing and completing personal activities
What is an Activity (event, appointment, task)?
The tasks that we carry out every day can be parameterized, or distilled into ‘Who, what and when.’
Who: a person(s) required to accomplish an objective.
What: the objective (task).
When: the allocated time for the objective to occur
Many well-organized people try to capture the dynamic changing nature of life by using calendar events. This is because a calendar resolves to a focal point in time. The adding of an event onto a timeline provides a mnemonic for it to be instantiated into reality.
The time-centric approach through a calendar, is the most widely accepted organization system, providing a clear answer to the parameter of “When”. It is a traditional system with a simple workflow; when -> what / who. It has very little integration with our communications or personal categories. We usually write the other parameters of ‘What’ and the ‘Who’ along with ‘When’. E.g. Meeting with Bob (who) about ‘business slogans’ (what) at 2 pm (when). If the ‘who’ is not explicitly expressed it is assumed to be the actual user. (A “where” may also be used, but it is not always necessary, especially in the age of roaming technology.)
The inherent similarities between tasks, events and appointments
Calendar entries often represent appointments, events and sometimes tasks. Appointments may require a few tasks to be completed before the appointment. And appointments may then generate new tasks, or alter existing tasks. In this way, tasks and appointments are often bound and related.
The organizational differences are negligible. Either type of those activities will still resolve to require Who, What and When.
(For the purposes of discussion, the word Activities encompasses events, appointments and tasks.)
Defining activities that require organization
All of our activities can be divided between systematized and unsystematized.
- Calendar (directly entered or repeatable)
- Various other existing systems such as; job allocation software at our workplace, a To-do list, sticky notes (sometimes these activities may be duplicated and copied to our Calendar)
- Unhandled; ad-hoc or event-driven. The normal incoming requests for our time or action through external communications or internal ideations; such as from conversations, ideas, phone calls, SMS or email.
- Internalized; routine-based, habits (Most of our common routines do not require managing but they can be placed as a repeatable calendar event if necessary)
Various other systems and reducibility
The multitude of (1.2.) ‘various other existing systems’ may not always be reducible. We might have a system at our workplace (such as a project management solution, where a boss assigns us tasks to do), perhaps another system for our part-time business and something such as a To-do list for ongoing projects or to capture ad-hoc items (e.g. an extension to the house, a travel holiday to Fiji, completing our Masters studies.) These are all examples of various systems. An under guiding principle is that all systems should be maximally reduced, where possible. For unification purposes, items from other systems may end up being also placed onto a calendar.
Systematizing unhandled activities
The main type of activity that requires management are those from (2a.)’Unhandled’. An item that is unhandled, may need to be moved into a system or it is at risk of being forgotten or even misremembered. This is usually where a person will put it onto a ‘To-do’ list or onto their calendar, and try to move it into some existing system.
Once that unhandled item has been systematized, or perhaps internalized into our habits, it is no longer Unhandled, as it has now been captured into a system, or habitualized. And then, of course, the system must be used accordingly to action the activity.
The dynamic nature of tasks
Not all unhandled tasks require scheduling onto a Calendar because it may be efficient to leave them unscheduled and do them during free time. But we may, for example, make a general plan to complete a few tasks ‘today’ or some ‘tomorrow’. The time required to manage and schedule these items onto a calendar may not have a net positive value while fitting these tasks around our existing schedule, which itself may change. This often equates to a certain level of unscheduled activities needing to exist in a dynamic state of being undefined in a schedule, as it is more flexible to have some liberties to complete them.
How activities necessitate communications
While working through or attending activities (tasks, events or appointments), it is common to need to communicate with the person whom the activity is related to. Perhaps to update the person with some information about the unfolding task, to acquire more information needed to perform it, or to relay/enquire about the status of it. This creates an environment conducive to giving or receiving information. Therefore communications are frequently necessitated and intrinsically linked to the dynamic nature of activities and to ensure a reasonable standard of a quality outcome.
Categorizing activities by Person
All activities have the parameter of ‘who’. This parameter will always resolve to a basic two-part categorization.
- don’t involve anyone else (done by the user for the user)
- do involve someone else (where the user is responsible to, responsible for, meeting with or involved with another person.) Most often this is one person (e.g. a person who works at a company). It can sometimes be multiple people, but one of those people can be defined for practical purposes.
This means that depending on a users level of people engagement, many activities can already be categorized with a person (from a users list of contacts). This is a person-centric workflow. Person->Task->Schedule. E.g. Meeting with Betty -> About home design plans -> Tomorrow at 2pm.
This entity (person/company) centric workflow, is what businesses already use in their Customer Relationship Management (C.R.M.) systems by creating jobs oriented to their clients. Their workflow is Client -> Job -> Details(schedule) and has many advantages. This similar principle applied at the individual level becomes a person-centric workflow. Person->Task->Schedule. Or Who->what->when.
The problems using existing Calendars and Todo lists for personal organization
Problems with using To-do lists for unhandled activities
A common solution for Unhandled items is to use a Todo list app. There are at least three common problems with this;
- If the list is not checked at the appropriate time, tasks can be missed. Reminders can be set, which can help, but if the time for the reminder arrives and that time is no longer suitable the task will likely be missed. If the task is missed, reorganization of it may be required to reschedule it. The more often this happens there is an increase that the To-do system will be abandoned. To do systems have high rates of abandonment.
- To-do lists rely on creating custom categories or using inbuilt non-personal categories. The problem with this is remembering one’s own categorization and filing system. This system is arbitrary. There are no pre-existing personal categories created from the users existing digital data. New systems of To-do apps do not attempt to change any fundamental aspect of the workflow. Instead, they add new extra features to create more arbitrary categorization, things such as; colour coding, different types of lists, different views, more spread out layout, and more lists of chaos.
- A to-do list also introduces another glaring problem, it is itself a new separate system. So to try and get more done, people introduce an extra system which creates extra administration time.
- The pay off between the advantages of organizing an unhandled task vs leaving them unhandled becomes tenuous. The problems saved by being organized should clearly outweigh the time involved to get organized. If this is not clearly realised, the system becomes burdensome.
- The new system also increases fragmentation. This is incongruous to the principle of system reduction, which reduces friction by unifying or reducing systems.
The cursory solution to this problem is to put all of these Unhandled tasks on our Calendar. And the Calendar checked at least daily.
However, there are some problems with this approach also.
Fragmentation of Calendar and To-do systems
The primary existing options for managing Unhandled tasks are a calendar or a to-do list. This creates an unstable solution;
Create a new fragmented, non-personal system (to-do list), or
Schedule all tasks onto a time-centric calendar, thereby limiting flexibility, increasing administration and not providing a working space for the freedom to have unscheduled tasks.
Fragmentation of data through a Calendar approach
Consider the following scheduling story: Bill the architect, plans to meet with Betty the customer tomorrow, to show her some house designs he’s been working on for her. Bill has to finish a couple of tasks regarding the details of the plans, before he’s ready for the appointment and then also needs to remember to take some print outs along with him.
Bill writes out these other tasks in his to-do list. He makes a new category in his Todo list and names it Betty. And creates a task just to remind himself to take the printouts.
They have an appointment made for tomorrow, however Bills father takes sick and he needs to fly out of state for 1-2 weeks and isn’t sure when he’ll be free again to meet.
When Bill gets news of his sick Dad, and realises he can’t make all of his upcoming appointments over the next week, to resolve the situation, Bill would;
Find Betty’s phone number in his contacts. Call her to cancel. Delete appointment.
Scroll through his calendar looking for all his other upcoming appointments, find the persons phone number in his contacts app, and call them and delete the calendar record.
There was no way for him to simply put these appointments ‘on hold’ and take it off a time domain, into an unscheduled workspace to follow up with and reschedule later.
He was not able to easily see a list of all those people he had appointments with within that date range, he had to scroll through his daily view. And write out a list of names.
He was unable to instantly access the phone numbers of the people he was due to meet with, as the Calendar is not linked to a person.
Also, he will need to consult his other system, his To-do list, and manage any related tasks in there also.
The other fragmentations that occur with the calendar, is that Bill does not have instant (easy) access to the events discussed at the previous meetings, nor anything on related tasks with Betty, neither on any other future tasks or appointments that may be in the pipeline.
Summary of problems with existing Calendars
To summarize the problems with existing calendars, an activity;
- cannot be turned off, and then back on. An activity can’t live in an uninstantiated unscheduled existence. There is no ‘time free’ workspace zone. It either exists in a timeline or it doesn’t.
- does not provide the environmental context of the task. What were other tasks leading up to it, what was discussed in a previous event or completed in the previous task, who is responsible for the oversight of the task, or who is involved with the task?
- does not integrate concisely with a Contact. It can invite users to an event, but it does not:
- provide a clear categorization and communication link between a Contact, their details (email, phone,etc.) and an appointment.
- is not organized or grouped by Contact/Person. It can be difficult to find when an upcoming appointment with a person was scheduled for, especially in a busy calendar or if the event is far into the future. This is because the event is not easily categorized into some relevant or personal category in another dimension. An option is to use colour coding for categorization, but this first has to be created and memorized and is difficult for another person to easily identify. It does not inherently provide any information.
- is time-centric, not person-centric. A time zone does not provide any extra information or categorization related to the content of the activity. Unlike a person-centric workflow.
A distinction between planning and actioning of tasks
Although they are intricately linked, planning and execution are vastly different in terms of our cognitive processing, however, they are not layered clearly or well in existing organization systems. Planning a task requires rumination about importance, prioritization and scheduling. Executing a task requires carrying out action steps to provide a quality outcome. For a task to be thoroughly completed, it should be clearly defined, and then scheduled.
When a task presents itself and needs to be systematized, the required stages of the task preparation are;
- What are the details or steps to execute it to a quality outcome
- When can it be planned or scheduled for
Writing down the known information in a timely fashion so the details are accurately stored reduces mistakes. We may later schedule and plan for the task. Or the task schedule might be known before the details are known. In either case, task preparation can be divided between scheduling and details. A to-do list is helpful for recording details but not integrated to interface with a calendars view, a calendar is useful for scheduling but not very complete on details.
Because the two are separated the integration between the details and the schedule is not easily determined nor clear.
The ideal system – Integration between Calendar, Todo and Contacts
A new perspective on personal organization
A traditional view of personal productivity is one that is dominantly goal & time-based in nature. Tasks are the central parts that constitute the structured elements of the bigger goal and should be carried out with economy of time. This is at its core a methodical and practical approach to solve the problems of achieving a goal.
This outlook could be defined as:
Individuals are used to serve tasks with efficiency of utility.
A standard calendar captures this approach through a static time-centric workflow: When-> What/Who
However, this outlook is being successfully challenged by the person-centric ethos.
Through the engagement of the individual, tasks are completed better and more efficiently.
Person-centric still encapsulates the essential aspects of the structured elements of the goal and also retains the timeliness of the schedule, however, it adds onto it a new dimension of realization. This dimension opens a channel for interactions that leads to improved quality of outcome.
In an age of extreme specialization and global connections, people are heavily interconnected and interdependent. This creates a bustling interactive network with a ripple effect between individuals and especially functional relationships.
Challenging the old model requires rephrasing the question from only asking ‘what are the steps required to achieve X?’ to ‘who is involved and what are the steps to achieve X?’.
A centralized & unified system
An organization system should be maximally unified.
On this system, it should show maximally existing activities from what is already scheduled from all our other various systems. A calendar fits this model as it is compatible or can be compatible with all other systems in receiving scheduled activities. A universal calendar, such as a Google calendar, can receive activities from any other system that can write to it. Disparate systems should be maximally reduced. The calendar data can be sourced from Google and other online calendars and can be received and integrated into the unified system.
Improving connections between Calendar, Todo and Contacts
A calendar can operate by having activities from the Todo layer, placed onto it or placed off of it. These activities on the novel Calendar would be ‘smart’ in the sense that they would hold information from the Todo layers workspace, such as the Contact person categorized with the activity. The calendar view would then allow instant access to the Contacts details such as phone, email, SMS or location data (for GPS travel). Therefore providing maximum leverage for categorizing and communications within a fully integrated system.
A flexible Calendar view
A calendar view shows a clear and visible schedule to follow for days and times. The reality of our existence is in a time-based realm.
The calendar should ideally be the mirror image of our most salient actions, through a dynamic unfolding view.
Person-centric: personal and categorizable
All tasks need an element of “Who” to be actionable. That “Who” will involve the user, or someone the user knows, who is most likely already in their list of Contacts on their mobile phone. And if not they can be added. Contacts can also be imported or grouped into categories within existing Contacts management apps. This data can then be read and leveraged by the new system. With every task, whoever the who is, it will match one of the following types of situations; meeting with another person, doing things for other people, managing other people doing things, or ultimately doing them by yourself for yourself.
Each task, therefore, will be categorizable in two ways, with the primary user (activity is done by the user for the user with no one else involved), or one of their contacts is involved somehow with the task (e.g. responsible to, responsible for). A plethora of individual personal categories already exists on smart devices, which are our list of personal contacts. These existing Contacts can be used as pre-existing categories.
In the above example with Bill and Betty’s meeting, Bill could initially categorize the event with Betty, who is available as a premade category from his list of contacts that is dynamically read from the system. If the meeting is postponed indefinitely, he could then let her know by calling her from the Contacts Category profile which already contains this information. On a smart calendar, he could then ‘take it off’ by unscheduling it. The event still exists as an activity/task but is not scheduled. It would be shown in a list of all tasks and would be categorized by Betty. Which would also show related tasks that were categorized by Betty as well.
Seamless integration with communications
The smart calendar would integrate the event, and where relevant, the Contact (person) the event is categorized with. In the above example, Bill’s original appointment with Betty would be categorized with Betty and link to her Contact information. The event would show the person who has been categorized (labelled) to it, and would provide instant access through to that person’s contacts details. Such as their; phone, email, SMS, or address location. This saves time finding contact details, as they are already contextual to the task at hand. This instant availability to the contact details encourages communication which leads to better quality of outcome.
Dynamic and forgiving
The calendar should be able to take events or tasks off and put them back on. Easily keeping up with dynamic and changing events. While also providing a workspace, separate to the calendar, where tasks can be managed, such as scheduled or unscheduled. Essentially ‘saving’ a task in a state of being unscheduled, and then when an event of ‘X’ happens, it can be scheduled onto the calendar. The event of X could also be triggered through a time-based alert, this alert would be a reminder that an unscheduled task might need to follow up for scheduling and to take appropriate action. This separate workspace would show a clear and linear view of all tasks and events in a list, including unscheduled and scheduled tasks with options to filter by other parameters.
Contextual and historical
By categorizing tasks through a person-centred approach, it allows historical and future tasks to be visible that are related to the same person.
Bill would then see what prior tasks (and appointments) he had with Betty and provide him with a clear context of past and future activities.
Reduce repetitive tasks
Creating a task in a todo list, and then having to duplicate that same thing onto a calendar is not efficient. However, posting that same task straight onto a Calendar is. These ‘smart activities’ would be managed through the app solution and would be placed onto the ‘smart calendar’.
Community and stakeholder realization
Completing a task, which is categorized with a Person, provides an opportunity for integrated communications through to that person’s contact details. Automated or semi-automated updates can be sent. Notifying the Contact about the status of the task is quite simple, as the Contact person details are linked to the task. The system can then send out event notifications through the task lifecycle with status updates, such as; Completed, Delayed, or a predefined list of items, such as ‘Running late, see you in’ X ‘number of minutes’.
Semi-automated notifications provide the user to determine/edit what automatic messages are created. For example, Bob could complete a Task for Betty, mark it as done, then the system creates a message addressed to Betty (email or SMS) saying “Hi Betty, that’s done: finish the first draft”. Bill would have autonomy over the message so it would not be sent, but just created and populated for his approval or modification before being sent by him.
Further future possibilities to the current system, could include an incomplete task being shared to an individual (via a Task receiving inbox), or be shared out to a pool of workers or community, and outsourced.
Person-centric Table of activity examples
These examples show how an activity is created on the Todo layer.
Items can then be placed (copied) onto the integrated smart calendar as needed. These items, although still existing as tasks, are termed as appointments for clarity in the table below.
All items exist on the Todo layer even when appearing on the calendar layer.
Appointments can be marked as completed in the todo layer. Appointments remain visible on the calendar, and to-do items that are completed get moved to the history section of the todo layer.
The only required information to create an activity is two parts:
- What (is the task/appointment/event)
- Who (should it be categorized with – who is involved with it, someone else or just the user)
Note: ‘When’ is not required, because tasks may not require scheduling. However, the option to set an alert for a task or to schedule it onto the smart calendar is available.
The todo layer provides instant communications access via the Contacts profile.
The last column of the table highlights the Person-centric workflow and the smart calendar abilities. The todo layer and smart calendar provides instant access to the Contacts profile and therefore communications access.
The table also demonstrates how any type of activity that is created in the Todo layer can then be scheduled or unscheduled (turned on or off) onto the smart Calendar. The calendar layer reads in activities from the users existing digital Calendar, showing all present activities on the calendar that were not created in the smart calendar.
Items in bold font are the only required data inputs to illustrate these examples activities. The rest of the management is done through data transference of the Todo and calendar or through access to the Contacts profile details.
|Activity type||Who||What||When||Scheduled / Unscheduled||Benefits of person centric/smart calendar|
|Appointment||John the web guy||Get new website made||Today 10am||Scheduled||Send SMS tell him running 30mins late. Use his location address to GPS for the drive.|
|Event||Bobby||Birthday party for Bobby||Saturday 7pm||Scheduled||Send SMS to RSVP attendance|
|Appointment||Betty||Meeting to show house designs||Next tuesday||Scheduled||Send email about further information wanted on colour choices. Check notes from previously completed meeting with her, which is under her name in history mode.|
|Appointment||Betty||Meeting to show house designs||Postponed||Unscheduled||Take off calendar, store only in Todo list layer for time being.|
|Task||Sarah the graphic designer||Get sarah to create portfolio slideshow||Sometime today||Unscheduled||Email Sarah to request task|
|Task||Tina the hairdresser||Call and make appointment to see the hairdresser||Sometime today||Unscheduled||Task opens Contacts phone number to ring them|
|Appointment||Tina the hairdresser||Appointment (now made). Attach photo of haircut example||Wednesday 11am||Scheduled||After ringing to book time of appt, add a new task to Tina’s category to record appt. Add photo of haircut example to appointment using todo layer|
|Task||Self||Clean up the garage over weekend||Sometime on weekend||Unscheduled||Todo and calendar are unified. Task not in separate system, reducibility achieved. Get alerted on saturday morning|
Person-centric models used in industry today
In many fields and industries the application of the person-centric model, or individual as the primary agent and resource, is showing powerful benefits to the traditional productivity model.
“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” – is the first principal from the AGILE manifesto, the approach used for modern software development. Software development evolved from oftentimes a utility based view. A new job even sprang into being, a User eXperience (UX) developer, focused on the experience of the user.
Health care is moving towards a person-centric model, to provide better individual-based modalities. For example, one study found that the greater a ratio that a patient talks to their doctor the more accurate the diagnosis would be. A doctor who listens to their patients provides improved quality of healthcare.
Management is also seeing improved employee retention and work engagement through managers who work closely to understand their employees’ needs.
In sales and customer relations, it has long been known that customer care is about focusing on the customer and their needs. Companies have already used a client-centered solution for many years.
Psychological and productivity-enhancing benefits from a person-centered flexible calendar organization system
Improving completion of activities
Activities are more likely to be completed and completed accurately if they:
- Are written down or recorded.
- Have an allocation of time or deadline made for them.
- Are backed by a compelling force (Are of value to someone – either yourself or someone else)
- Have an external 3rd party who provides accountability.
- Are alignable with goals; contextually clear to the realization of a bigger or smaller goal.
Categorizing tasks by this new and fresh method, by a person(client) helps people pay attention to both the person and the task. This provides a wealth of benefits, such as focused customer care, well-rounded management and people interactions.
Contextual meta information
The person-centered approach now provides (such as accessing a contact’s details instantly while working on a task for someone), which is a common time that they would need to be contacted. This makes tasks much more engaging and gives seamless communications.
The finer details
Having a task that is categorized by a person, allows related tasks for that person to be easily accessible and therefore access to the past, present and future tasks are clearly evident providing a very fine level of details.
The bigger picture
The person categorization approach adds much more meta information to the task at hand; the relationship to them, who they are, what our interaction and purpose is with them.
Freedom to capture and think
Tasks can be anything from a random idea to a specific appointment with detailed information. Being able to plan and process which items require scheduling or otherwise can just be left in the ‘one-day’ pile is liberating and high in openness. The unscheduled tasks are not visible on the calendar view and can be filtered out on the Person-centric organizer view.
If a task is categorized by a person, you know who you are accountable to, and also visually if using a Contacts photo.
Oversight of delegation
Although the system would not presently have a direct delegation of tasks, it would nonetheless provide a way to categorize the tasks a person is managing so that the person whom it was delegated to, is categorized to the task. For benefits such as mnemonics, and linking through to their phone number and the above-mentioned uses.
Provides ease of access to communicate with the person responsible for the task, or for the person whom the user is responsible. This leverages the benefits of the categorization system by providing an integrated and rapid communication method.
Being people focused helps with consistency, objectivity through another persons point of view, and increases the likelihood of a quality outcome.
Clear and efficient timeline
Through an all in one system. Reduced complexity mitigates risk and creates clearer paths forward.
Adherence to system
An all in one system that uses a person’s essential calendar but adds communication and todo creates an environment for adherence, due to the necessary information all being unified and accessible in one place.