TimeScapers and TimeRank retrospective

I don’t like the term post mortem that much. Also, there wasn’t really much more than an interesting prototype and a group of beta testers at the end of our TimeScapers adventure, so I will just call this story a retrospective rather.

TimeRank? TimeScapers? What?

In 2011 and 2012 Gerwin de Haan and Charl Botha (that’s us!) set out to test an idea they had:

Would it be possible to take all of your tasks and your calendars, and then automatically schedule those tasks around one’s appointments according to priorities and deadlines?

In short, we wanted an automatic system that could tell us at any given point in time what the best thing was to take on next.

We had to build a web-based task (todo) system first, which we did in a few months (we had day jobs also!), and then we implemented the computational core that was able to solve this task-based constraint system. TimeRank was what we called both the system as well as the technique for the automatic scheduling of work. You can read the manual for more detail on the whole system. Screenshot1 shows the project/tasks screen and the deeply integrated pomodoro-like WorkUnits, and screenshot2 shows the planner output with automatically scheduled task sub-units in a calendar view. TimeScapers was the name of the company we formed.

Technically, the idea worked. Based on live Google Calendar data, and all of one’s tasks and time estimates (based on WorkUnits / pomodoros), TimeRank was able to generate, at the drop of a hat, a complete 3 month calendar, fitting in all tasks around all calendar appointments and configurable free time, hitting all deadlines and taking into account task and project priorities. If anything changed, you could just hit the “plan” button, and it would present you with a brand new planning!

Pretty cool right?

We ended up with an interesting technology prototype, about 30 beta users, but no real business plan or business mojo. Also, although the beta testers we chatted with also found the idea of an automatic scheduler intriguing, there were no real champions. Furthermore, at that point both of our day careers had taken wildly different and exciting turns, so on June 5, 2013 we decided to put TimeRank and TimeScapers in the freezer.

We still think the idea is interesting. 🙂

Tweet us (@gerwindehaan or @cpbotha) or email us if you’d like to chat about this or anything else!

2 thoughts on “TimeScapers and TimeRank retrospective”

  1. Whoohooo blast from the past.

    I think the concept was pretty good. TimeRank was awesome. Two major problems were the automated splitting of larger tasks in an almost random number of smaller tasks and the fact that you had to be extremely disciplined: all tasks, appointments, lunch, travel time had to be there as input, which is a show stopper for many.

    You had a terrible test team, too: my day wasn’t that interesting (do research, followed by research and research). These days I really need tools to optimize productivity. You’ll laugh: every morning I create a list of items I want to get done (on paper), then I prioritize them, schedule them around the appointments I have in my calendar and then I start shooting them down. Then the next day I start with a new list, adding yesterday’s open items to this new list, etc.. Sure you don’t want to pick up this project again? Must be tempting :).

    I do agree you’d need to find a front-end expert. Or two.

  2. Yo Peter! Thanks for being beta tester #1, and thanks for all the feedback all the time.

    Now it’s on to Paradigm Desktop and BEYOND!!

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