Productivity guru Paul Minors on the past, present, and future of calendaring

Paul Minors is an expert on harnessing technology to improve productivity. He offers business and self-improvement advice on his popular podcast and blog. Paul also offers consulting to help businesses optimize their systems to scale and grow using the productivity and sales tools like Asana, Pipedrive, and Zapier.

We talked about how Paul fell in love with tech and productivity while time blocking his calendar in college as well as the present and future of online calendaring.

An early time blocking acolyte

Clockwise: How did you get into the productivity space?

Paul Minors: My interest in productivity really started at university. I'd paid for a new computer and wanted to get the most out of it. So I put my classes, lectures and part-time job in Apple calendar. I just started putting more and more of my life into the calendar.

The lecturers gave us all the due dates at the start of the semester. That never happened for me before. So I just put everything into my calendar and tried to work backwards from these deadlines. If the essay is due on this day, when should I start writing? And I would go through this process of dissecting my work into the smallest steps that I'd need to do.

So I knew I'd have to spend an hour doing the introduction and a couple of hours doing these paragraphs. I would just kind of dissect everything and literally put in chunks of time on my calendar because I had my timetable in my calendar.

And then I could look at my calendar and sort of figure out that I've got a class here and then another class an hour later. So maybe I could use that hour to write this introduction. And so I'd just go through this process of playing Tetris with my calendar, time blocking, putting in when I’m going to write things and work on these assignments and so on. It was just a habit that's sort of evolved quite naturally, really.

Starting to work full time, trying to schedule my time around other people, collaborating via email and other instant message tools, I tried to figure out how to use my time more efficiently to achieve my goals and further the company.

Clockwise: It's interesting how a lot of productivity advice is very analog. And then you've got tech advice. I like that you're very much at the intersection of tech and productivity. Do you use any kind of tools for time blocking now?

Paul Minors: No. I use Asana for my task management. That's where all my work lives. Everything I need to do lives in Asana. It is a bit of a manual process of transferring that into my Apple calendar.

I see a task in Asana and I know I need like an hour or two hours, and I'll slot that into my calendar. I know there are some apps that do make time blocking a little bit easier. I actually quite like the fact that it's a manual for me anyway, it's quite a manual process because it forces me to be a bit more intentional and think about how long does this task take.

It's something I constantly do. I do a big time block or a big weekly review on like a Friday to plan my upcoming week. But then all week, basically anytime my computer is on, my calendar is open. So as I'm thinking of things, or even throughout the day, as I need to make changes, I will just jump into my calendar and change it on the fly as I'm going.

The present of calendaring

Clockwise: It seems like basic calendaring, whether it's Google or Apple or whatever, hasn't changed since you were in college. We've seen so many changes in everything else and our calendars are so essential to our lives. What do you think? What would you like to see in calendaring and why do you think it's been so stagnant?

Paul Minors: That is a great question. I don't know why. I think you're right. If you look at other categories of tools, like if you look at email, there are so many email clients you can try.

I don't know why the calendar has been so stagnant. Specifically with the Apple calendar, I would love to see just a bit more thought going into it. Things like, I can set an alarm on my phone. I'd love to be able to see my alarm on my calendar. Because one of the things I do before I go to bed is I look at my calendar for tomorrow and review my day, see what I've got coming up. I then have to think about what time I need to wake up to start my first appointment on time. I would love to be able to make my alarm or at least see my alarm from my calendar. Same thing with reminders. We have reminder apps like Asana and the simple reminders app on the iPhone, which I don't use that much actually. If I have a reminder, why can't I see that on my calendar?

And this is not unique to Apple. Google has their own reminder products. They could be doing these kinds of things. I would like to see more of time-sensitive stuff on my calendar. Like how some apps now will ask if you want to add this movie you booked to your calendar. I'd like to see more proactive suggestions.

Actually, Sunrise calendar was really good. It actually took me out of the Apple ecosystem for a few years because it would show you your tasks and your calendar, which I really liked. And then Microsoft bought them and incorporated some of that features into Outlook, but not all of it. And now Sunrise is dead. I definitely feel like there's more we could see with calendars.

The future of calendaring

Clockwise: What do you think about a tool that could time block a task for you? It would have the context of how long it thinks that it'll take and then block that on your calendar. Do you think that would be a value add?

Paul Minors: Yeah, definitely. And actually, Asana have hinted at this. They gave a presentation earlier this year about the roadmap for their product and one of the things they discussed was proactively telling you what tasks to work on and actually blocking out on your calendar. It'll be interesting to see how that works. I personally feel like we're kind of far away from that being a reality because it's going to require some pretty advanced AI to be able to understand the meaning of my task and understand that Paul is saying write a blog post or record a video and we know that from the times he's done it in the past, it's taken two hours or whatever it might be.

I love the idea. If I could have a digital assistant that would just tell me, this is what you have coming up, these are the tasks on your schedule, and this is when I think you should do them. That's kinda my dream for the calendar, a digital assistant that just suggests things or manages my day and even tells me: this is your most important thing right now.

If you could have a digital assistant suggesting things to you or even scheduling as well, that's a slightly different category of app. I use Calendly for scheduling appointments. It's really just a branch of calendar management. But for some reason it has to be done in a separate app.

Apps like Google and Apple Calendar don't have any kind of scheduling features. Well, they have some very simple ones. But that's the kind of thing where if they just put some attention into that they could actually have like a really powerful calendar app.

Connecting with Paul

Besides his podcast and blog, you can also find Paul on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Posted in:
Future of Work

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