TIMEFUL NOW

One of the many iterations of long-gone Timeful Now, a screen that captures a user's current context and how she can best make use of that moment.

One of the many iterations of long-gone Timeful Now, a screen that captures a user's current context and how she can best make use of that moment.

Project Summary

Timeful Now captures your current context and uses it to make smart recommendations about how to use your time.

If you look for this view in the Timeful app, you won’t find it. It didn’t make the cut.

Looking back at this project, I can see why it failed:  It was far more compelling as a concept than it was in actual use. We made the mistake of isolating Timeful's smartest feature--task recommendations--in a lonely tab, rather than integrating it into our users' desired workflows. Eventually, the rest of the Timeful product met the needs this view was trying to fulfill, and that was the end of Timeful Now.

I remember this feature fondly because of how much I learned from it falling flat on its face.

My Role

I led the product and interaction design of this view. I was one of its main champions—until I experienced it with real data, that is.

Development started in fall 2013 and ended in spring 2014.


What Is "Timeful Now"?

Timeful Now was a way to pull relevant task recommendations on demand. It existed as a full-screen overlay, called up by a button in the tab bar.

For example:  Have 30 minutes free this morning? Tap the Now button. You’ll instantly get recommendations for 3 tasks appropriate to do in 30 minutes during your most productive hours of the day.

This page was also used to display other information relevant to the moment, like time until an upcoming meeting.

Example of a "Now" Overlay:

timeful_now_view.png

Interacting with Now Suggestions:

Think Tinder:  Flick a task left to snooze it for another time. Flick right if you want to accept Timeful's suggestion and do the task now. Timeful will block off time for it at the current time.

Think Tinder:  Flick a task left to snooze it for another time. Flick right if you want to accept Timeful's suggestion and do the task now. Timeful will block off time for it at the current time.

A Glimpse at the Feature Spec:

Here's an overview of what the spec looked like. It covers how to access Now from the calendar, how to swipe cards left/right to act on them, and empty states. I worked with an engineer to hone the physics of swiping objects around.

Here's an overview of what the spec looked like. It covers how to access Now from the calendar, how to swipe cards left/right to act on them, and empty states. I worked with an engineer to hone the physics of swiping objects around.


Early Development

Here's a snapshot of mockups throughout the ~7 months of Timeful Now's history.

It started as a very comprehensive view of all possibly relevant information. Over time I honed it to focus on task recommendations.

Early Information-Dense Mockups:

Early versions of Timeful Now were very information dense. I explored ways to show the person's context, to recommend useful tasks, and to get a quick pulse on the day.

Early versions of Timeful Now were very information dense. I explored ways to show the person's context, to recommend useful tasks, and to get a quick pulse on the day.

Early Task Recommendation Mockups:

Eventually the Now view was culled to one purpose: Recommending good tasks to do now based on your current context. These are early mockups of what that could look like.

Eventually the Now view was culled to one purpose: Recommending good tasks to do now based on your current context. These are early mockups of what that could look like.


Backing in User Research

I thought we were on the right track when people got excited about this feature in my user research. I held in-person user interviews and sent out online surveys to gather feedback on the feature before it was built. Would they use it? Responses seemed positive:

ALL THE TIME. Between any.do, Boxer, and Tempo I’ve built a similar workflow, but with more manual steps.
Most definitely. It would help me plot out my day (typically after work) so I can get additional things done before going home.
I met with people in person for user studies and sent out surveys online to gather feedback and reactions to Timeful Now.

I met with people in person for user studies and sent out surveys online to gather feedback and reactions to Timeful Now.


What Was So Very Wrong with Timeful Now

Timeful Now never gained traction for many reasons:

1.  Our target users don't usually make spur-of-the-moment decisions about what to do.

When's the last time you wondered, "What should I be doing right now?"

This certainly happens in the few minutes between meetings. But when it comes to longer blocks of time, our target users think ahead what they'll be doing with their time.

2.  It only functions for power users with a lot of data.

I made the mistake of designing Timeful Now for a perfect world:  I assumed we'd have tons of different tasks to recommend.

People just didn't have enough tasks in the system for this feature to be useful.  In practice, they received the same task recommendations over and over again.  They got stale extremely quickly.

3.  The interaction encouraged structured procrastination.

I loved playing with Timeful Now.  It was so satisfying to flick tasks off to the left and right with a swipe.

I came to realize, however, that this interaction encouraged procrastination. Rather than just showing you the best use of your time, it encouraged you to sort through many options unnecessarily.

This sort of action should be left to inbox triaging and Tinder matching.

4.  It provided great information, but totally out of context!

This was the downfall of Timeful Now.

By creating a whole tab for Timeful Now, I thought we were highlighting Timeful's smart capabilities. Instead, we were displaying our recommendations out of the familiar context of their calendars.

We tried reminding people to check Timeful Now by highlighting the button and by pointing to it with callouts. But, without it ever being truly integrated into their workflows, people didn't naturally remember to check it.


How We Obsoleted Timeful Now

We concluded that isolating our smartest feature was the wrong approach. Luckily, we were also finally technically capable of redoing it the right way.

Rather than hiding task recommendations in a tab off to the side, Timeful now puts its best recommendations in perfect context:  Your calendar itself.

And, rather than waiting for "now," it makes these recommendations far ahead of time. With tasks planned far into the future, you can block off time for what you need to do before your day is clobbered by meetings.

Timeful Now was a great learning experience. It helped me understand that if we want to influence our users' behavior, we need to build features that support and integrate seamlessly into their desired workflow.