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Why aren't digital calendars smarter?

Jason Snell | April 30, 2013
I use Google Calendar, Apple's Calendar app, and Fantastical to manage my schedule. In general, my calendaring is in the best shape it's ever been in: My colleagues can see my free and busy times, and schedule me for meetings, and we can even reserve our office's conference rooms, all using the same system.

I use Google Calendar, Apple's Calendar app, and Fantastical to manage my schedule. In general, my calendaring is in the best shape it's ever been in: My colleagues can see my free and busy times, and schedule me for meetings, and we can even reserve our office's conference rooms, all using the same system.

And yet it all feels a bit pedestrian, like I'm really just using a computerized, networked version of a paper calendar. What's missing are features that could turn my calendar into something more like a personal assistant.

Google's development of Calendar seems to have slowed--the newest item in the Calendar Google Labs tab is from October 2011--so I'm dubious about Google's ability to invest in these kinds of features. But maybe someone else could do the job?

In any event, here's my wish list for ways that the calendaring programs and servers I use could get smarter and save me time. (As a user of the three aforementioned programs and services, I realize that some of these features may be available in some apps or services. They're just not on the ones I use!)

Meeting overload

Enough is enough. Some weeks my work calendar resembles a particularly successful game of Tetris, with lots of filled blocks and very few areas of free space. If I had a personal assistant, I could tell him or her that beyond a certain point, I've just got too many meetings. It's impossible for me (and I assume most people) to be effective in their jobs if all they ever do is move from meeting to meeting. I need time to think, to walk around, and even to do things that I might define as my "real job."

Why can't calendar servers or apps be this smart? I'd love a feature that allowed me to set a maximum meeting load, after which my entire day would become blocked off as busy and all future meeting requests would be declined. Right now, I do this manually: On huge meeting days I'll just start filling in the gaps with events called (with a tip of the hat to the Scarlet Witch) No More Meetings.

It works, sort of, but this seems like exactly the sort of thing that computers should be able to do: Count up my meetings, and if they total above a certain amount, block off the rest of my time. Store's closed. Find another day.

As a smaller adjunct to this concept, how about refusing to schedule long blocks of meetings without breaks? Three straight hours of meetings can be tough if you drank a cup of tea just before going into the first one. Or what about intelligently reserving lunch time, so that you always have at least half an hour of free time between the hours of 11:30 and 2? (Then again, perhaps computers just aren't very sympathetic to our needs for sustenance.)

 

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