The Smarter Calendar: Intelligent data sources and views

Where is the calendar replacement?

Doesn’t it feel like our calendars are long overdue a revolution? We got Gmail to fix email. Slack to fix group communication. The world of online groups a la Yahoo! Groups seem ripe (“it is the first social network!”) and so does my calendar.

Do you miss the ripped pages of old?

Even with Fantastical, Sunrise, and the other new kids on the calendar block, it feels like we have taken the literal date book and put it on a screen. In too many calendars you find yourself on a Thursday with much of the week view screen real estate showing you your past week vs. “today + 4” type views.

Once you set your view (day, week, month, year) you are on a linear path but in reality you may want more granularity on what is up today and tomorrow compared to later in the year.

Why are we limited in our calendar UI to look at calendar entries in their static form? When I wake up in the morning and look to plan my day I actually probably want to be able to see:

  • The appointments that I should be aware of (some of which I promised to show up too!)
  • The habits that I want to keep going today (make sure to get in my exercise, push ups, brain work out, Duolingo, reading, writing code, phew)
  • Give me helpful warnings “you have 12 hours until you need to cancel X!”
  • Show tasks that I have marked for Today so I can maybe slot them in, since they you know…. take time?
  • Show meta info such as travel time (and if I create a new item in the mix warn me if there is a chance I can’t make it!)

You get the gist. It would be nice to surface pertinent information today, but you would hate to see this all repeated day after day. Could you imagine having those habits repeated?

Repeating != The Same

The notion of a repeating event is so limiting. It turns out that for many of them I want to have dynamic information in each instance.

Instead of “Push-ups” I want “Push-ups: 72”. In fact I have a simple rule that I use which is “I do X push ups every day, and once a week I make X = X + 1”. Let me tell that to my calendar and have it show me the right info please.

Instead of “Quarterly Business Review” I want “Q1 Business Review” and in the body I want the agenda and attachments for pre-reading.

Data sources and Views

Maybe the revolution will come from two directions. On the one hand we open up the backend and bring in relevant data from beyond the backing .ics files. With this in mind we can add the knowledge of your tasks, habits, and email. Email is an interesting addition. If you use Inbox or Mailbox you may have started to rethink how you process your email.

Your inbox is something that you don’t truly own. Many others can get their info in front of you. Just like with calendar “requests” it is important to politely take back the ownership and instead garden the incoming potential uses of your time and yourself own what you tackle. I process my email by snoozing it to particular dates depending on the use case and when I want to take care of it. This has meant that my email has dates that are disconnected from my calendar and my task list. I believe there is room to unify this all.


Google Calendar blows away Apple’s IMO

On the UI and view size there is also much to be done. Google Calendar is leading the way here. The trivial change that has driven me nuts for so long is in handling duplication. I view the calendars of my wife and coworkers and I really don’t need to see “Memorial Day” pop-up multiple times.

Google Calendar and Inbox go further and take the raw data and aggregate and surface the pieces that are important and fun. It is so much nicer to see a swimming pool background behind my sons swim class! That personal touch also helps me grok my day at a glance. Well played.

Timeful puts together more than just events

Google also acquired another advantage when they brought Timeful into their fold. This crew, lead by Jacob Bank, are really pushing the boundaries and very much grok the user centric approach that joins events, tasks and habits. It is a pleasure to see your calendar work for you, finding time to get those daily things taken care of. I can’t wait to see what they do with the Google resources.

I am excited to see interfaces that seem to be solving my needs vs. just displaying some data. This is an important change that can increase productivity but also add some fun!

Have you seen anything interesting in the calendar space?

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