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How To Make Your Online Calendar Reflect How Much Time Things Really Take

Magneto cofounder Ellen Beldner shares how her new app promotes “truth in calendaring,” including getting real about travel time and personal to-dos.

How To Make Your Online Calendar Reflect How Much Time Things Really Take
[Image: Flickr user Photosteve101, Planet Of Success]

Digital and cloud-based calendars have become indispensable tools for busy people, but it’s safe to say that what goes into your calendar at the beginning of the day is often not reflected in how you actually spend your time.

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Magneto (pronounced “Mag-nett-o,” not to be confused with X-Men frenemy “Mag-nee-to”) is a new calendar app that syncs with your existing work and personal calendars, even if they’re on different platforms. It aims to achieve what cofounder Ellen Beldner calls “truth in calendaring”–in other words, an accurate representation of the time you’ll need to get things done whether you have scheduled commitments or not.

Beldner, who was an early UX designer at Google and has specialized in business and productivity software, says a lot of the idea for Magneto came from her experience of needing to be creative on demand, and struggling with how to make time for that.

Ellen Beldner

“One of the things I’ve seen as a designer and later as a manager of designers is the question of how you make this space for creativity,” says Beldner. “Some people’s jobs are to go out and talk to people and have meetings, and then there are others…who need long periods of uninterrupted work time. The most difficult is the hybrid, when they have meetings that interrupt their flow but then also need the uninterrupted time. How do you get work done? There’s emerging research that shows that we’re actually really bad at multitasking. So how do you not multitask? How do you get into a flow for concentration? How you get into this flow is really important in an organization, especially if there are others demanding your time.”

Beldner says that to find this balance, “you have to be honest about how you spend your day and how long things are going to take. To-dos and meetings are essentially the same thing. If you’re not willing to allocate time for it, it’s something you’re not going to get done.”

Magneto includes features to support this, including an integrated to-do list that allows users to easily drag items into calendar slots. It also includes smart technology to account for the schedule buster of all schedule busters, travel time. Using Inrix traffic data, a user can enter a meeting’s location and get a prediction of how long it will take to arrive, based not only on the distance but on patterns known about the the future time and day of the week–while something like Google Maps works only in real time. “It helps when you’re putting this in your calendar in advance,” says Beldner.

Magneto calendar app | Click to expand

“I am chronically late,” says Beldner. “I was going on a blind date and I was 15 minutes late and the guy I was meeting was really offended. It made me realize how much it disappoints people when you’re late. So one thing we saw is that people who need to be on time in their job will block estimated travel time in their calendar. For Magneto, instead of having people just put 30 minutes in randomly, we allow people to put in the address and calculate how long it will actually take.”

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Integration of work and personal calendars is also a key feature of Magneto, eliminating the need to duplicate calendars or expose personal appointments to colleagues. “Most people have an Exchange calendar and a Google or iCal calendar,” says Beldner. “It’s very hard to represent your personal time in your work calendar. People either have two calendars and duplicate in both, or give up and just use their work calendar and then all your personal stuff is in your work calendar. So we cross them and it will put a dummy block in your work calendar.”

Essentially, says Beldner, truth in calendaring means creating a visualization of your day that accounts not for the ideal situation, but for real-time needs. “You’re making a commitment to yourself the same way you make a commitment to someone else for an appointment.”

About the author

Evie Nagy is a former staff writer at FastCompany.com, where she wrote features and news with a focus on culture and creativity. She was previously an editor at Billboard and Rolling Stone, and has written about music, business and culture for a variety of publications.

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