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December 28, 23:26

Three benefits of digital schedules

Fafner seems to believe that I enjoy digital gizmos for their own sake. Well, that's true to some extend, but the greater reason is that I'm a sucker for productivity improvements. Especially when they come with all the benefits inherent in digital schedules.

While the list of benefits that digital schedules have over their paper-based counterparts undoubtedly is longer, I have here three reasons:

  • Calculated summaries: Estimates are notoriously wrong and needs to be updated continuedly. This means either fooling around with an eraser and a pencil a lot or (more likely) not revising your paper-based estimate. Why do work that the computer can do for you? Calculations and updating existing calculations is something computers excel at. Let them.
  • Sharing the schedule: Schedules rarely live in solitude. You need to coordinate your work, which makes sharing of detailed schedules a necessity. Especially if you and your team mates aren't located physically close (like I am with team mates abroad). Omni schedules exports to a variety of easy-to-share formats. Paper schedules needs scanning, which is ill likely to happen, so schedules remain verbal, inaccurate, and wrongly aggregated (all bad).
  • Storing the schedule: Paper schedules are arguably more easily lost than digital schedules, which increases the likelihood that you won't be able to find previous schedules when you have to make a new one. That's terrible news, since the precision of schedules rely on your history. When you see how you under-estimated something in the past, you're less likely to commit the same mistakes in the future.

To reach maximum utility, schedules need diligent handling. Scratching a few quick notes down on paper is better than doing nothing, but still unlikely to invoke that kind of diligent care they deserve. But I don't want to argue diligence again when Joel Spolsky already did a splendid job.

Challenge by Morten Krog on December 29, 1:38

Well, calculated summaries: I'm not a great beliver in putting numbers on tasks. A simple todo-list is sufficient for most of my needs.

Sharing the schedule: I can work with a whithboard as well as pen and paper.

In a sense this problem is very closely relateded to one of my favourite sayings: You can, with eleganace, explaing the most complex issues with words, that would otherwise take the reader a long time to understand if he had to decipher it from a table or a drawing.

I always get flamed for this one, but it is my firm belief that the classic skill of writing is a lot better than mordern days schemes, tables and illustrations.

Storing: Again, in my experience things are more likely to be stored correctly once the paper enters the archive for papers. Information on computers is fragile and gets lost and deleted at a whim.

Challenge by David on December 29, 1:56

"A simple todo-list is sufficient for most of my needs", then this discussion is pointless as we're not discussion the same problem. The omni schedule is one of estimating and scheduling. Not just "a simple todo-list" (hmmm, or were you attempting to set up a strawman?). For that purpose paper is more evenly matched with a digital solution.

Even for todo-lists, though, I'd still rather use a computer since I type much faster on a keyboard than I write with a pen. And I'm able to reorganize the list with ease (changing paper todo-lists is cumbersome for anything but adding to the end or erasing existing items). And I'm able to copy'n'paste parts or all of the lists into an email or otherwise replicate the information with ease. Doing so with a paper list requires duplicating the effort.

Paper has many advantages. It can be used discretely at a meeting for taking notes (which then later can be transformed into digital). Or it can be used away from the computer (I always carry a paper notebook for capturing thoughts while travelling, for example).

But I don't believe paper has much advantage to claim over the digital alternatives when you're already in front of the computer (as you mostly are when doing schedules). Especially not for partly computational tasks, such as scheduling.

Challenge by Morten Krog on December 29, 12:10

My point was that you do not have a need to schedule/estimate things so fine grained that you need more than paper based solution. I think the idea to keep tasks estimated to the hour level is an illusion (btw. I did read that articl by Joel, more managment BS in my opinion). Tasks you thought would take 2 hours takes 4 days, others estimated to 10 hours takes 35 minutes. Having documentation showing that your estimates are wildly off is not usefull.

It seems to me that the idea that if you assign hours to a lots of tasks, then the sum will be more or less correct even when most of the numbers are wrong, is a fallancy.

Programs designed to help you do all these tasks have other problems in them selves.

1) Screen space is precious. I write code all day and despite the fact that I have an 19" monitor I still have way more space on my desk than on my screen. I do not want non-relevant application taking up space on the screen. It reminds me of all those "post-it" applications you can get (I even think it is a part of Outlook). With those you can put yellow sticky notes on your computer desktop. That is a pretty stupid idea to waste your screen space with that wich works so much better off the computer.

The usability issue I'm talking about is really that to look at something on your desk you have to turn your head, to look at something else on your screen you have to move whatever you're working on to the background first.

2) Application lock in. If you work with others the use of applications are much more likely to force those you work with to use the same program. Big problem if they don't like the program that you like. This issue is significant in volunteer-projects. In the company office the boss can decide.

I think I'm running out of steam here :-).