What about “Big Data” in our calendars?

Big Data and Work Time/Personal Time

Hmmm. Think about how much we discuss “data” these days. (It’s a lot. It’s maybe even too much.) We have data channels for everything: if you manage a website, you can get detailed stats on who’s visiting and what they’re doing. If you want to know how many steps you walked in a given day, you can look at your phone. Hell, you can even get an app to tell you how many times you’ve looked at your phone that day. Data is everywhere. Some people think it’s “the next big thing,” some people think it’s already arrived, and a handful of people (smarter than I) are already pushing back on it.

Interestingly, as data has permeated most crevices of our life … the one area where it hasn’t really arrived is our calendars. There’s a good article on Harvard Business Review about that. To wit:

Self-quantification has quickly become the most valuable coin of the introspection realm. Fitbits and Garmins track steps and heart rates; Mint and American Express monitor expenditures; a nascent Google app promises to instantly convert photos of your food into calorie counts. There’s no shortage of selfies. Media and methods for self-monitoring along multiple dimensions have exploded exponentially.

But time management has seemingly stood still. As I reviewed my calendar, I was struck by its visual banality. No pie charts; no histograms. No creative visualizations of the whos, hows, and whats associated with the whens and wheres. No synthesized, aggregated, or comprehensive views were readily available. No computational comparisons of time spent/managed in the immediate or distant past. Visually and algorithmically, my email, searches, and social media were “smarter” than my calendar.

My calendar(s) should be telling me where—and how—I’ve been spending my most productive time at work and leisure. My calendar should flag my “Top 5 Timewasters” in the next month. There should be graphics dynamically illustrating the three most significant “time shifts” in emphasis over the past 100, 365 and 1000 days.


This article goes on to talk about a few people the author contacted, some of whom did take their calendar info … export it to Excel … and then do some visualizations with it around time-wasting. That’s interesting, but it’s also a very small minority of people, if we’re being honest.

Most people I’ve ever worked with are slaves to the calendar. They will bitch, moan, and complain about “OMG, this meeting request is so pointless!” but they’ll still take it. I’ve worked so many places where some “cross-functional” meeting with no real purpose persists for about six to eight months until someone finally says “Hey, let’s shut this down or make it less frequent. It’s useless as is.” 8 months x 4 times a month x 1 hour per meeting = 32 hours of your life. They ain’t coming back, you know?

We analyze everything, or at least claim to/try to. So why don’t we analyze our time usage more?

I think the first major reason is “The Temple of Busy” argument. No one wants to analyze their time, because they might figure out they have more leisure time than they thought. Once you figure that out, you’re not as busy — and once you’re not as busy, you’re approaching worthless. (In the modern canon.)

I think the second major reason is that no real app has caught on around this idea; apparently some company was just bought by Google and they may be incorporating stuff into their calendars (here’s the merger). Once something crosses that product chasm around analyzing your time spend, it might catch on. Most people don’t have the fundamental skill to export to Excel and analyze. I definitely don’t.

The third major reason? Maybe people just assume work is work … get there, heads-down, nose-to-the-grindstone, chase your deliverables, and leave. Who wants to analyze your time spent? Will that really make it better?

What’s your take? Why aren’t we there yet on applying “Big Data” to personal and work time?


Ted Bauer