Calendar Conundrum

I began the year posting the following message on my white board:

“Creativity isn’t a limited resource, but time is. Use it wisely in 2012.” jbb

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time lately trying to straighten out my calendaring system the last few weeks (pun intended). I had the brilliant idea that my girlfriend and I should share the same calendar to more easily plan out our weeks. I have my stuff on a MobileMe/iCloud account and a school/work calendar on Google calendar and she didn’t have either. Because we’d recently moved her to a gmail account it seemed pretty natural for us to create a shared calendar on google calendar. That worked, well, except for the part where she tends to create events and forgets if she’s posted them to her google account or our shared account. The thing is that this is still more complicated than it needs to be.

Handspring Visor Deluxe (Orange) by Pelle Sten

As with most things that I write about, I’ve been at this for a very long time and have an overly-long history trying to make this stuff work. Let’s just begin with the notion that in the early 80s I tried to get my contacts and such working on the long demised Sharp Wizard hand-held, which had no connectivity whatsoever and forced you to input the data by hand on the tiny calculator style keyboard. Yeah. Crazy. Thank God I learned quickly that this was hardly better than having paper calendars and address books. The revolution for me really took hold when I bought my first Handspring PDA in the 90s. No manually keying in the info on the device, I could create my calendar and contacts on my computer and sync the info to the handheld. I went through a lot of applications and devices trying to find the right balance between flexibility and complexity. I almost always went too far in the direction of complexity.

When I began my teaching career in the mid-90s I was running Windows and used a PIM (personal information manager) called Commence. Talk about something way too complex, but it was perfect for me to track all of my students’ contact information and easily record any academic observations. I was able to type in my report card comments into the program and then print out little labels that I attached to their paper report cards, enabling me to get my report cards done in about two nights versus the two weeks it tended to take my coworkers to do their report cards. Commence had task management and Gantt charting built in, but I never quite got there. In fact my “computerized” version of calendaring tended to be making monthly or weekly calendars using Microsoft Word’s chart function. It was hardly complicated or automated, but it was still world’s easier than drawing out calendars manually by hand like most of my contemporaries.

Jumping ahead to around 2005, I was teaching in a middle-school mac lab and I’d gotten used to using a commercial learning management system (LMS) called School-Loop that we were piloting to communicate and deliver my content to my students and then they took the system away. I had the brilliant idea to post my assignments as webpages on my MobileMe account and use the publishing feature in iCal to direct my students were to access their assignments. It was primitive, but it got the job done. By this time I’d been playing with various ways to do calendars and technology for over a decade and using iCal to post my assignments was complicated enough that I didn’t expect anyone else to go through the same hassle (Lord knows that we were still at the stage where teachers were expressing anxiety about having to check their school email on a regular basis).

So as long as I had one main computer where my calendar information resided and maybe one mobile device life was grand. I could “share” my calendar as a webpage but it wasn’t a collaborative calendar and I couldn’t embed the calendar in another webpage. That’s where Google Calendar finally won out over iCal/MobileMe/iCloud. The Apple model is very pretty, very consumer friendly and very one user focused. In the current world, where I have four or more computers where I expect to be able to access and edit my information, the Apple model works as long as “sharing” means read-only posting and not collaboration. i mean, I can make it so that my calendar data is shareable, allowing others to subscribe to my calendar, but since Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, they have to use iCal as the interface and cannot even view the information as a webpage any longer. I wouldn’t have been able to use iCal account as my hacked together LMS if I were to try to do it today. So, I’ve moved all of my calendar data over to Google Calendar, which presented it’s own special challenges.

Years ago I bought a copy of BusySync to help keep my calendars synced up (when I was mostly iCal with one google calendar in the mix). Life was good. Then last summer when Mac OS X 10.7 Lion came out I didn’t like the revisions they made to their calendar app, so I switched to BusyCal and life was, again, back to normal. In fact, BusyCal was doing such a good job making iCal/mobileme/icloud play nice with Google Calendar that when I saw the vendor at this past Macworld I begged them to make an iOS version because I was having sync issues with my iOS devices.

Speaking of Macworld and iOS sync issues, I was putting conference info into my iPhone and it wasn’t tracking the conference sessions, so I created a conference calendar in Google calendar and went about my business. But, for some reason I couldn’t get the new calendar to show up on my iPhone or iPad. I remembered that iOS natively only recognizes the default google calendar account, which isn’t too useful if one has more than one calendar to monitor (in my case, one to share with my girlfriend, one for my students, one for meetings that my students don’t need to know about, and the new conference calendar). It took a google search for me to also remember that besides setting up your gmail account on your iOS device, you have to go to a website on the device to activate additional calendars: Doh!

Agenda Calendar by App Savvy

Once I got over that hump I concentrated on how I wanted to work with my data on my iOS devices. Basically I didn’t want to run Google Calendar only in the browser because I still have some iCal calendars that I need to monitor. And just like BusyCal on the Mac, there are quite a few apps on the iPhone and iPad that offer better feature sets than the native calendaring apps. On my iPhone I really like Agenda Calendar by App Savvy. Agenda is designed for both the iPhone and iPad and offers a very simple interface. The iPad version offers a Day, Week, Month and Year view while the iPhone is best used in the Day view.

On the iPad I’m favoring Pocket Informant HD (see the featured image for a screen grab of the app). When I first purchased Pocket Informant the focus was on flexible calendaring and task management and I was hoping that I could get my project management skills better developed. Alas, at the time Pocket Informant was a little too complicated and wanted to sync and display all of my iCal calendars with no option to select which ones to work with. Fail. But in the most recent updates one can now select which calendars to work with. And they’ve expanded the app’s functionality by adding Notes and Contacts tabs. It looks like Notes and Tasks work with data inside of the program and aren’t natively pulling info from Notes and Tasks embedded in Mac/iCloud/mobileme. More exploration on this topic is needed. It looks like Contacts works with the native iOS Contacts app data. We’ll see how these vendors fare when OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion drops next summer and most likely tweaks how one will get data moved between all of our devices.

Macworld recently published a guide to setting up iOS calendar syncing that you can find at this link. I heard about both Agenda Calendar and Pocket Informant HD on the TWiT podcastsiPad Today. Besides the TWiT podcasts I’m also getting great info from AppJudgment on Revision3. I’m always looking for new solutions (some might call this an addiction…), here are three more iOS apps recommended by AppJudgement and iPad Today:

Calendaring is a very personal thing and there are thousands of apps on iOS and Mac (and even PCs!) to cater to one’s needs. The important thing to remember that the objective is to get things done and not spend one’s time managing all of these apps and devices. The tools are supposed to serve us and not the other way around. Onward and upward, my friends.