For months now, there’s been a stealthy buzz around a startup called Timeful. Attracting a nearly $7 million pre-launch Series A round from the likes of Khosla Ventures, Data Collective, and Kleiner Perkins certainly seemed to indicate that the company was onto something interesting, but thus far details on Timeful’s product have been scarce.
According to Timeful’s three founders, an impressive team that includes behavioral economics expert Dan Ariely, serial tech entrepreneur Yoav Shoham, and Stanford Ph.D. student Jacob Bank, the aim of the app is to go well beyond the typical calendar or to-do list app. “The last thing the world needs is another calendar. What they need is to manage the time better,” Shoham said last week in an interview alongside his co-founders.
Prioritizing and sorting the time that should be spent on different activities is a challenging computational problem, he said, which calls on Shoham’s and Bank’s expertise. Ariely’s expertise comes in for helping manage the human and behavioral sides of the time management problem, and applying machine learning and data optimization to address the repeatable mistakes that people make when dealing with timing.
From the user’s perspective, Timeful works like this: You link the app to any of your existing calendar apps, such as iCal, Microsoft Exchange, or Google Calendar. You then tell the app additional things you need to and would like to do, providing concrete things like “buy milk” and more fuzzy things like “exercise” or “cook dinner more often.” You also select a level of aggressiveness that you’d like Timeful to have when suggesting times and activities, from laid-back, to very ambitious. Timeful then provides you with a customized calendar that incorporates all of the things you need to do and want to do at the times that would be best for you to actually make sure they get done.
The way you react to the schedule provided will further inform the way that Timeful suggests things to you — the idea is that the more you use it, the better it will be. The company says that its algorithm for figuring out the most optimal timing for your life activities is similar to Pandora’s algorithm for providing music that you will like, or Netflix’s technology for suggesting a movie.
It’s a unique approach to calendar and list management, so it’s best understood by seeing it. The company’s made a snazzy video you can see below:
The key thing with Timeful is that it lets you schedule things that are important to your personal life with just as much prominence as the things that are scheduled in your work life. A business meeting or scheduled doctor’s appointment often takes just as much time as making the time to help your child with her homework, but you probably only typically add the former activities to your actual calendar. A common complaint people make is that they work too much, or that they don’t have “enough time for the things that really matter.” Timeful’s aim is to help you be deliberate about how you spend your time across all the important facets of your life.
It’s a really well made product, but it could have some challenges bumping up against the status quo: After all, the way most of us use calendars has been unchanged for a very long time. It’s also coming along at a time when there’s been a wave of new personal assistant-type apps that all claim to finally help you spend more time cooking dinner with your family and engaging with lifelong friends, and less time vacantly spending hours clicking around the stupidly addictive new Kim Kardashian game — all to varying degrees of success.
Timeful has a great shot at really making a difference, though: It has a truly simple and intuitive interface, and some very smart people behind it and a 20-person engineering-heavy staff based in Mountain View, California. It is definitely worth a try for those of us who are looking to spend the limited resource of time more effectively.