I’ll have my robots talk to your robots

We really should stop micro-managing our calendars. Instead, calendars should be smart enough to be sent out to negotiate and arrange our activities for us.
A robot, and one piece of extra information make that happen.

This is a really complicated task

Deciding when a group of people should get together hasn’t changed too much in the last million years or so. It still involves some back-and-forth, ego and politics, and then some local culture thrown in the mix. Not the stuff computers excel at.

It’s easier these days to get over the geographical constraints, now that we have our cars and airplanes and fancy HD cameras. On the other hand, we’ve gotten so much more busy. It could take considerable time just to scan for a free spot on your own weekly agenda, not to mention comparing it to the others’.

Not all the people you meet are equal

Scheduling a meetings with your friends or peers is usually an exercise in finding a common free time that fits everyone.
This is complicated enough, but what happens if you need to meet someone, and ask her to invest in your project? Obviously, her time is so much more important than yours. Actually, you’d cancel other things you have, just to make the meeting possible.
How about if you’re the General Manager of a 15,000-employee organization? Your schedule is a tank that runs over other schedules. And what if you need to meet 10 other GM’s like you? Will your assistant survive?

Silence of the calendars

Fact is, your calendar knows a lot about you. What have you been up to all week? Where will you be tomorrow? Who you’re hanging with? Everything.

Actually, even the holes in the calendar have meaning. Look at this heat map. It shows its owner’s meetings from the last 6 month overlaid:

Red is busy, Blue is free

See what’s happening on Tuesday afternoon? Nothing, right?
Well, I would guess there is actually something there. Something that just doesn’t go into this particular calendar. Maybe this guy writes his business meetings in, but the family stuff goes somewhere else. I guess he’s pretty strict about seeing the kids on Tuesdays. If you wanted to meet him for something work-related, you’ll have to push it to Wednesday.

So here is this tool that knows us so well, holds this treasure of knowledge about us and our preferences. And what do with do with all that? Make sure we haven’t double booked ourselves, and check that we’re not late for our next meeting.

The missing piece

Turns out, there is one more piece of information that could make calendars much more powerful. And this is the meeting’s original intent. I mean, you could keep on micro-managing your calendar and marking the Thursday, 12:30pm as “Lunch with Jane”.

But what if you could tell your calendar:

Hey Cal, I want to have lunch with Jane sometime next week

And your calendar will read it as: “Talk to Jane’s calendar and see when we both have a free hour, between next Monday-Friday, 12:00–2:00pm. Go!”
And he will sit down with Jane’s calendar, and they’ll come up with some options, but knowing both of you so well, they can agree that Thursday at 12:30 is probably the best time for this.

Just like that, it’s booked.

But, oops! You have just called your doctor, and you need an appointment, but the only spot he’s got is next week: Thursday at 12! So you write that, and your calendar notices that it’s overlapping: it’s on top of your lunch! Panic.

Wait. Aha! Remember the original intent? It was “Lunch next week”, so you can push it a bit later (or a day earlier), and it will still be what it is. Your calendar goes ahead and asks his pal, Jane’s calendar “Is it okay if we move this lunch to 1:00pm same day?”. Yes, it’s okay.

And lunch is rescheduled.

Do you mind if there is a small shuffle in next Thursday’s agenda? Not really. As long as everything falls into place, and all your commitments are fullfilled. So let the calendars figure it out, and just tell you when you should show up.

Enter Meekan, the scheduling assistant robot

This is the basic principle behind Meekan’s scheduling engine. Add him to your Slack team, talk to him, and he figures out your intent:

Meekan, can you schedule a quick video call with @dan and @jane?

The robot will then go and get everyone’s calendars to discuss the best time for this video call. He’ll figure out that Jane’s not a morning person, and you’re really busy on Wednesday, and Dan’s actually in a completely different time zone, so any time before 11am means he’ll have to arrive really early for this.
This whole negotiations takes only a few seconds, and Meekan comes back with the options (and a link for the video room to go with that).

You should try it. It just works. You say “book it”, and the meeting appears in your calendar.

He will also let you know when you double booked a spot (and would you like to move one of those to a different time?). Or you can just ask “Meekan, how busy am I on Wednesday?” because you haven’t bothered to look in your calendar for a while.

Shut up, it’s too complicated. A robot can’t figure out my meetings for me

Okay, here’s a number. A year and a half ago, Meekan still had no brains, it was just a plain old iOS scheduling app. On average, it took people 4.5 hours of back-and-forth to schedule a meeting. That’t not too bad, right? It used to take days to do it over email.

The robot changed that number. It now takes 53 seconds.

The AI is not solving the problem on every case. But what it does, is take this huge tree of possible times, constraints and decisions, and trim it down. Cut off a huge chunk of possibilities, and you’re left with a tiny list of pre-checked, ranked, known-to-be-good options. And you say:

Meekan, book it

Meekan’s scheduling robot works inside Slack. You can install it here

This is a part of Meekan’s journey to create the digital office manager. Read more stories here