Reimagine Time: Introducing Woven

Unquestionably, time is our most valuable resource. I like how the writer Annie Dillard put it: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” In other words, choosing how to spend your time is choosing how to spend your life. Time is the fabric that makes up life. Think about that for a second.

Many everyday resources, like money, are granted to us unequally. Time is different - everyone gets the same amount of time per day. Yet while most of us know how much we have in our bank account, you can’t know exactly how much time you have left. Time has a unique meaning in our lives.  

Choosing how to spend your time is choosing how to spend your life

These are the things I think about when people ask me: Why did you leave your job as Chief Information Officer of Facebook to found Woven? Why focus on a space as difficult as the calendar? How can reimagining the calendar help us reclaim our time?

Why the calendar?

Calendars are THE system we rely on to manage time. If email is still the locus of communications, and phones our primary connection to the digital world, and a bank account is where we put all our money – the calendar is where we organize our time.  At least for those of us who are knowledge workers.

Yet calendars are seriously frayed. We manage our time in 2018 almost identically to how we managed time in 1992. Sure, we’ve traded our paper diaries for digital ones. A few innovations crept in over the decades: you can email someone else a calendar invite, for instance. Google Calendar allowed us to manage more than one calendar, representing different parts of our lives. But contrast the calendar’s snail-like evolution with the disruptions roiling communications or transportation in the last twenty years. It’s night and day.

We manage our time in 2018 almost identically to how we managed time in 1992

I got my first inkling of the calendar’s importance when I joined Facebook as CIO in 2010. At that time, Facebook had serious issues with Microsoft Exchange, problems that worsened as the company grew. Those issues were largely showing up as calendaring problems. Facebook perceived this as a top issue: if we can’t even keep our calendar stable, what does that say about other mission-critical systems within the company? As CIO I was tasked with helping the company scale its operations, and calendaring was core to productivity.

I recall the first time I was called to meet Mark Zuckerberg. I was so excited to dive into strategy with him. But I got a cold splash of reality right outside Mark’s office: his admin lambasted me about Facebook’s calendar problem. “Fix this, or else...,” she declared. Her pain was not lost on me, and it was something that affected all of the senior leaders at Facebook. So much for strategy. Fixing the calendar wasn’t glamorous, but it was clearly urgent.

For the next six months, every conversation I had at Facebook started with calendar-breaking anecdotes. Every conversation. Consequently I got interested in the calendaring system and digging into the root causes of so many problems. Upon investigation, I was alarmed by the outmoded nature of calendar technology. Its architecture was a core reason for its fragility. That outdated architecture also prevented the calendar from being used in more interesting ways.

It got me wondering: If we re-think how calendars are built, how might that change our lives?

Calendars, reimagined

Examining calendars from the back-end revealed extraordinary limitations and possibilities. Calendars are inherently collaborative. They exist to bring people together, around the globe, for a common purpose. A meeting is a shared moment in time.

Yet the way calendaring systems are built frays this interwoven aspect of time. We each maintain separate time-diaries, with zero visibility into each other’s perspectives. Scheduling a meeting is laborious: finding a time convenient for everyone (particularly the most important person); juggling time zones; working out the agenda; choosing the location and booking it; building in travel time. The logistics are overwhelming before the meeting even starts.

Once a meeting happens, how productive was it? What were our shared objectives, and did we meet them successfully? What follow-up tasks will each person handle, and are they equipped to do so? Consider these questions beyond a single meeting, too. What does a truly productive meeting look like for you? How often are you hitting – or missing – that target? Are the meetings you schedule advancing your long-term goals?

These observations led to founding Woven. The number of knowledge workers has never grown as quickly as it is right now - increasing by 1.9 million annually - and these busy professionals get paid based on time. That makes time, and productivity, their ultimate resource. They need serious assistance with time-optimization, yet nobody is helping them.

The hyper-connected, mobile era

Various forces are converging to make now the perfect moment for Woven and calendar re-invention. In addition to the needs of a growing base of knowledge workers, we see three other factors:

1. The downsides of hyper-connectivity

We’re more interconnected than ever, which is great. But hyper-connectivity is its own problem. Hyper-connectivity is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. We meet more often, with more widely distributed people than ever. We don’t understand how much time gets eaten up in meetings, which meetings are productive, or how to optimize our time-use. The calendar captures this data, but it’s difficult to mine for answers.

2. Ever-accelerating mobility

On average, Americans spend four hours daily on their smartphones - and knowledge workers depend increasingly on their phones for work. Yet mobile time-management tools are even worse and more limited than their desktop equivalents. Mobile calendars exist mainly to tell us where to go next. They can’t do much more – hardly a sustainable basis for the mobile-first future.

3. The atomization of workgroup software

Structural and market forces have prevented calendars from evolving. But that’s changing fast.

The calendars arose as a feature of workgroup software packages like Microsoft Exchange, not as a standalone tool. Workgroup software was a winner-take-all market with big network effects, culminating in two giants: Microsoft and Google.

We’re seeing seismic changes in enterprise productivity now, with frontal attacks on each workgroup suite tool. Take email, productivity enemy #1. Slack, Facebook Messenger, texting – all are chipping away at email’s hegemony. Generation Z is much more likely to text than email. All the old workgroup tools - to-do lists, word processing, spreadsheets, contacts – are being similarly disrupted. Calendars are the next logical frontier.

From better scheduling to time intelligence

We’re launching Woven to reimagine how people use time, so they can spend time on what matters most to them. Our vision starts with scheduling, but it extends well beyond that.

The Woven calendar app makes shared scheduling much easier, a first step along the way to better managing your time. The app pulls together every stage of the calendar lifecycle – planning, scheduling, preparation, meeting, and follow-up – and puts it into a smart, cohesive view. It uses AI and a rich calendar graph engine to create “weaves”, or plans for how the user wants to spend her time. Weaves connect people collaboratively around an event, knitting together any set of information like emails, Google Docs, maps and more, adding enriched capabilities to existing calendaring systems like G Suite. Learn more about weaves at Woven.com.

We’re launching Woven to reimagine how people use time, so they can spend time on what matters most…

That’s for starters. As Woven grows, its AI capabilities will increase its usefulness. Scheduling is a fascinating challenge for automation and AI, as my co-founder and CTO Burc Arpat will explain in a future post.  Scheduling comprises lots of manual tasks that could be automated, yet it’s still maddeningly ambiguous and context-dependent. Where are the opportunities to train machines do tasks humans aren’t good at? Our next phase will harness AI to streamline those tasks.

We’ll also deliver big-data insights to help users manage time more effectively. In a future post, we’ll discuss how time-management needs differ between modern knowledge workers and traditional enterprise users. The former often sees meetings as positive, a sign they’re busy making money. The latter is drowning in meetings, many of which are unavoidable yet drain organizational productivity. Gaining enterprise-level intelligence into time-management will be a crucial advantage.

Reimagining time

I started this post with an observation: time is the fabric that makes up life. Calendars as they currently exist fray that fabric. Calendars make it more difficult to collaborate effectively, more difficult to knit together the many strands of work, family and life, more difficult to understand whether we’re spending our time well. Woven aims to solve this simple, yet profound problem.

One of the biggest industries transformed in the Industrial Revolution was textiles: improving the speed, quality and cost of weaving fabric. An entire society was reshaped in that effort, with long-tail benefits unimaginable at the time.

If we can reimagine how we manage our days, so can we reimagine, and radically improve, how we spend our lives.