Bringing Technology to the To Do List

To do

To do lists have always been a staple of any attempt to improve our productivity at work.  Indeed, the former chief executive of IBM Lou Gerstner made particular note of them in his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance.  The book, which charted his miraculous turnaround of IBM, saw him proclaim that the to-do list was the single best means of securing productivity improvement he could think of.

His particular method of compiling such a list would require employees to end each work day by compiling a list of the things they needed to do the next day.  They would then have to rank those items in the order of their importance.  The next morning, the employee would work through the list one by one, with no distractions allowed.

Suffice to say, since Gerstner wrote his book, technology has developed to play a significant role in the humble to do list.  In recent years a plethora of apps have emerged to help us complete our to do lists without procrastination or distraction getting in the way.

Some for instance have tried turning the lists into a game.  Timeful is a new app that probably goes one step further though.  Not only does it use algorithms to make suggestions on tasks you need to do, but it also suggests the best time of the day to complete each task.

The app offers users three distinct types of input:

  • Events
  • To dos
  • Habits

In the land of Timeful, events are the kind of activities where you have a fixed time schedule, and these are inserted into your schedule just as calendar appointments are.  A meeting for instance would be a good example of an event.

To dos by contrast, are tasks that you need to have completed by a certain time.  You may have an assignment to finish for instance, or you may even set yourself a task, such as to clear your inbox or read your RSS feeds.  For these activities, the user can plug in the deadline for it and the app will automatically assign it a slot in your day that is most appropriate to ensure it gets completed.

The last kind of activity, the habit, is more of an aspirational one.  It’s the kind of thing you’d love to do more of, but seldom seem to find the time.  So it could be exercising or calling your mum or something.  You can assign habits a frequency per week and also a desired time of the day to complete them, and the app will then fit them in where it can.

You enter in your typical sleeping times, together with the hours you spend at work, and then the app will work out the best time of day to squeeze everything in based upon things such as your productivity flows, your daily rhythms, and any other manually entered preferences.

See also: Why You Should Be Using Project Management Software in Your Workplace

If for whatever reason you can’t complete a task at the prescribed time, the app learns from that and updates future recommendations accordingly.  Its clever stuff, which is to perhaps be expected considering it was developed by a team including a behavioural scientist, an AI professor and a Stanford University academic.

I’ve no idea if Lou Gerstner would approve, but anything that helps us stick to our task has to be a good thing.