Analog Scheduling Tools

Thursday, July 7th, 2005
Why, when the planning gets tough, do we often go back to pencil and paper?  Is it because our minds work better that way - with tactile tools, or, is it because some digital tools have not matured to the point where they present a significant gain over their analog counterparts?  I used to feel this way about mind mapping.  (For more than a decade, I created my mind maps the old fashioned way -  then, I found MindManager.)

Today's post is actually not about mind mapping; however, it's about personal and group scheduling.  I'm OK with digital tools for short-range planning - say a day or a week. When it comes to visualizing complex events over a month or more, I like the ability to see the landscape and move around the elements. There's something special about drag-and-drop - literally.

For more than 20 years, beginning with my first major client - a surgery center in Century City - I've been promoting the virtues of digital calendaring and scheduling tools. In this time, I've designed and implemented many scheduling systems - for a small medical center, a military base, and even one for David Allen's office. While the productivity benefits for each of these applications were significant, I always felt that something was missing. To me, what was missing was the visual element. I believe users should be able to make scheduling plans in a digital system as easily (or easier) than they can by moving around Post-it Notes.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed to make this post - after all, I am an eProductivity Specialist. I'm "supposed" to focus on digital tools for productivity. At the same time, I see what clients are doing, and I know what I sometimes do when I need to visually plan complex projects. I delight in sharing honestly what works and what does not. You probably won't be surprised, therefore, to see what's on my conference table today ...


For group planning and discussion with my staff, I've yet to find the ideal replacement for paper and post-its. Once we finalize the plans, we enter them into the computer and toss the paper. In some ways, it's inefficient as it requires double-processing. In many other ways, however, it's the most consistently productive scheduling tool I've found.

There are many good (but not great) digital tools for this type of planning and I continue to evaluate new systems and technologies; however, until someone can come up with a visual solution that does for individual and group schedule planning what MindManager has done for mind mapping, 3M will remain my long-range scheduling tool of choice.

With all of this talk about analog tools, I can see it coming - Michael Sampson's gonna blog about my shift in focus from eProductivity to aProductivity.

Discussion/Comments (3):

Analog Scheduling Tools

Eric, have you looked at NotateIt which might work through your projectors?

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Or maybe a digital whiteboard would work:

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Then again, sometimes sticky notes are just fun to play with. :)

Posted at 7/7/2005 8:08:26 AM by James Kendrick

Analog Scheduling Tools

James, I'm fortunate to have several digital whiteboards at my disposal, including a Xerox LiveBoard, which I restored myself. All of these are great for free-form visual planning. To plan a master calendar (personal or group) you neeed to be able to quickly move around scheduling elements (events) and know at a glance what they represent, which is why colored Post-its remain attractive. Remember, I'm setting paper & Post-its as the benchmark - I'm looking for a visual calendaring solution that will be consistently more productive than paper and Post-it.

A Tablet PC-based or Digital Whiteboard b ased system would be great, but the software is the key. (And, how well it integrates into other apps like Outlook, Notes, etc.) MS Project has some good visual capabilities in this area; however it is a complex solution to what I see as a simple problem.

Posted at 7/7/2005 8:45:21 AM by Eric Mack

Analog Scheduling Tools

Why not just use the calendar in Outlook or Notes (or whatever you are using) with undated events. From the micro-picture you have there, it looks no different than that. I agree, MS Project and it's offspring are way too heavy for project management, especially managing projects in the moment. (Don't get me started on how MS Project can transform a meaningful project into a mash of left-justified boxes. Who came up with this interface?)

Posted at 7/7/2005 9:05:09 AM by CraigM

Discussion for this entry is now closed.