Your Calendar is Not a Poster: It’s a Game

SeedCode has been using the analytics in DayBack Calendar for a month now, and I’ve mentioned how it’s helped us make better decisions. It continues to surprise me how in-calendar reporting has changed the way we work.

First, there were surprising insights, like “Jason’s only planned to spend 14% of his time on new features”. That was cool, but then we started doing things differently.

For example, Ann has put her followup-correspondence into Horizon View so she can see how long it takes people to reply, and the how long it takes those conversations result in new projects. It’s not that we weren’t doing this before we had calendar analytics. And not even that we weren’t measuring it. It’s that measuring was locked away in reports, and now it’s visible as part of daily work: so now we’re reacting to it.

Here’s a more personal example. The chart below shows Ann’s billable deliveries over 20 weeks. Ann has been with us just over 6 months and has a goal of twenty-five billable hours a week, as represented by that orange dotted line. That’s a formidable goal for starting up. She’s doing an excellent job, and I’ve been keeping a close eye on her progress.

DayBack Calendar, showing deliveries over 25 hours per week

What surprised me is that I’d never before used this threshold chart and looked into the past, as in the screenshot above. I have reports on this same data that I look at every week, and I’d been charting it in our old build of calendar analytics. However, despite charting this data every day, I never played around in the chart enough to look backward, even though the earlier build ostensibly had the same capability.

Something in this new calendar build invited me to use it differently. I think its that the orange dotted line now makes explicit something I had to infer in the previous build. Here is the same view in the previous build:

Older build of DayBack Calendar

In the old build, I had to infer the threshold line in those weeks where we hadn’t met the threshold. Same information: minor UI change. Minor UI change: significant change in my behavior.

Interface Principles

I could go further and say that the new threshold (the new, “horizon line”?) extends off the screen to the left and the right, implying that there are comparisons to be made in the future and the past as well. We could call that the principle of “guiding.” Is that why I decided to plot hours against our goals in the past? Or was it more that the threshold was now “explicit” and I had one less mental plate to keep spinning while asking questions of the calendar.

I don’t know which principle had more of an effect, and I only like to call these things out as “principles” because I think it’s helpful to name what works. Even if you only think that it works.

But one thing is clear: small UI changes can have a big impact on behavior. This is why Jason and I are so often focussing on tiny interface details. They matter; they let our users know what’s possible.

Knowing how often things happen is a different kind of knowing

But there is something even more surprising. Having looked at this same data on traditional reports ever since Ann started with us, I never noticed the oscillation of crests and troughs you see in the calendar.

On the reports, it was all just numbers. In the calendar, it’s periodicity.

The first problems your brain solves are timing problems

There is something baked deep into our brains which pays special attention to when things happen (simultaneity) and how often they happen (pattern). If you hear a twig snap in the forest, the first problems your brain solves are timing problems: did that sound coincide with my footfall (simultaneity) and is that sound repeating (pattern). And if the pattern of that sound is accelerating, you won’t even know you’re thinking about it: because you’ll be running away from something.

This isn’t just me being a paranoid hiker. David Eagleman’s work and Alan Burdick’s journalism on the neuroscience of time describes some of the cognition DayBack calendar taps into.

Seeing data across time as we do in DayBack is simply different. Knowledge with a time component is a different kind of knowing.

Your calendar is not a poster, it’s a game

Lastly, you’ll notice I called them “crests” and “troughs” instead of peaks and valleys. This is partly to stick with the surfing metaphors on dayback.com but also because waves move. Mountains, don’t. At least not on a time scale that matters to most of us.

Movement is the whole point. The calendar we need is not an almanac or a poster. With analytics, it’s a game. Move the pieces of your day and see the consequences of your decisions.