Improving Personal Informatics Tools for Planning

A top-down view of someone highlighting parts of various planning documents

Motivation and Vision

Planning is an important activity for people to accomplish many common goals, such as losing weight, saving money, or increasing productivity. Yet, planning out concrete actions to accomplish these goals can be feel burdensome, tedious, and time-consuming. Common time-management tools such as calendars and to-do lists can help people keep track of their plans, but they do not encourage making plans nor do they support people in the process of creating a plan. This limits how many people regularly engage in planning. 

This project builds innovative software that makes it easier to develop a daily plan to help people achieve time management and productivity goals. By observing how study participants use this new software to make daily plans to manage their time, this project will identify ways that future AI-powered systems can support regular planning and help people accomplish their goals. People who succeed in making these changes can become more productive, healthier, and more financially stable. All three of these outcomes have enormous impact for their individual lives, and collectively for our society.

Prior Work

Thus far, we have conducted exploratory work with higher education students to understand the current approaches to planning students use (process, tools, and strategies) compared with best practices and prior findings in time management and planning literature. We interviewed 19 graduate students about their planning practices and asked them to engage in Time Management Planning according to specific guidelines in a 5-day diary study to see how they responded and its effect on their experience. We discovered that students engage in a variety of approaches that differ both between and within individuals - with students adapting their practices and plan formats as frequently as daily to adapt to their personal preferences and contextual factors. We also found our participants opted to use general purpose tools such as pen and paper, notes applications, or text editors to engage in planning - in part due to the need for flexibility and imprecision.

Based on these results, we designed software that supports planning as a proof-of-concept. The design is inspired by notes applications and allows users to use domain specific features such as snoozing planned items, adding reminders to items, quickly adding and editing formatted times, and importing tasks and events as plain text from third party application such as Google Calendar and Canvas. Even with these specialized features, the interface itself is simply an open text field to allow users to adjust plan and item structure as much as needed. More information about the design and these preliminary results can be found in our DIS 2021 publication.

Current/Future Work

Our current work is focused on implementing our design and iteratively evaluating its usefulness to undergraduate students early in their college careers. In our studies with students, we interview them about their experiences and collect usage logs to understand how they engage in planning using the prototype and how their planning changes over time, if at all. 

The project will evaluate participants' experiences by collecting and comparing data through interviews, usage log data, self-report data, and survey questions. Results from this early stage work will provide a foundation to develop more generalized principles for technology to support daily action planning in combination with other behavior change techniques, which has the potential to further increase the effectiveness of software-based behavior change tools for many domains.


Less is More: Exploring Support for Time Management Planning

John R. Lund, Jason Wiese

DIS '21, Designing Interactive Systems Conference 2021, Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 2021, pp. 392–405

Adding Domain-Specific Features to a Text-Editor to Support Diverse, Real-World Approaches to Time Management Planning

Jason Wiese, John R. Lund, Kazi Sinthia Kabir

ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2023

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