ColorDay is a novel GTD app that combines time tracking with task management. It uses shape, colors and distance to communicate information. Having long been interested in persuasive technology and design for positive behavior change, I designed this app as my first venture into this field. In the CMU Apple Hackathon Challenge, I teamed up with three CMU developers to build ColorDay. We implemented it with Swift and presented it at the final pitch.
- KEYWORDS | Persuasive Design, iOS app, Hackathon, Paper Prototyping, GTD(Get things done), Data Visualization, Swift
- MY ROLE | Product Designer, Collaborating with 3 developers
Lots of people suffer from procrastination. Lots of GTD (get things done) apps are on the market. Lots of people try lots of apps in the hopes of staying away from procrastination and retaking control of their lives. With so many potential solutions, the field has not yet settled on the right answers.
Why do people procrastinate?
After reading books on procrastination and talking with procrastinators, I summarized the following reasons for procrastination:
- Perfectionism and lack of confidence can make it hard to start working. “It seems so unachievable; I’ll just do something else instead.”
- It is also hard to start working if the task is not emergent, or without interim milestones for big and long-term tasks. “There’s still plenty of time left, I can start tomorrow.”
- Once someone has started working, it can be difficult to maintain concentration.
- Failure to finish one task on schedule can demotivate people, which forms a cycle.
- Pomodoro Technique, which uses a timer to break down work into 25 minutes intervals separated by short breaks, could help people focus on one task.
- Time tracking apps improve concentration by making people more mindful of how time is spent, therefore reducing the chances of unconsciously wasting time.
- Task management apps often do not work well for procrastinators because simply entering tasks is not sufficient motivation to start working, and failure to finish a task can be further demotivating.
- People need a clear idea of what tasks they have and how emergent and how big the tasks are.
- Breaking a big task into executable subtasks can help people feel that a task is achievable.
- Translating a distal goal into several proximal ones can help people proactively start working on long-term tasks by bringing deadlines closer.
- A focus on progress rather than result avoids demotivating people when they do not finish a task on time; the app should focus on how much has been accomplished even if the task was not entirely completed by the deadline.
- Feel confident about working on a task, and know when to start working
- Stay focused and mindful on the task by actively tracking working time
- Be able to monitor progress for each task based on that time tracking data
- Close connection between planning and execution through a combination of two time management methods (goal setting and time tracking)
- Novel data visualization utilizing size, shape, and color
- Application of motivational design and goal setting research principles
- Highly integrated reward system
- Intuitive interactions based on user testing
Does GTD app work?
After trying out various GTD apps myself, talking with procrastinators and doing some social media research, I found that:
While the problem of concentration could be solved by the Pomodoro Technique and time tracking apps, the key problem becomes how to motivate people to start working in the first place.
The research has inspired me: What if there were an app that could support people in setting and time tracking achievable, proximal goals? The user would:
I explored this idea through sketches and experimented with different interfaces and interactions. One key design challenge was how to incorporate the two major features (task management and time tracking) while keeping the app simple. I solved this problem by introducing a novel form of data visualization and organization.
Since the Hackathon challenge had a very tight schedule, our team worked together closely. As we finalized our wireframes, I started visual design while the developers began work on the technical infrastructure.
In the next semester, I was able to reiterate on this product based on what I had since learned from classes. I ran a paper prototyping user testing session, updated the design, and created a high fidelity prototype.
As a time tracking and task management app, ColorDay distinguishes itself from competitors with the following features:
Connection between planning and execution
Most current apps in this field support either task management (planning) or time tracking (execution). In ColorDay, the main interface combines both task management (the bubbles) and time tracking (the center zone, and bubble size):
This innovative data visualization is the glue that connects these two major features while keeping the product lightweight. Tasks are displayed as bubbles, where the size indicates the estimated time to completion and the distance to center indicates the amount of time remaining before the deadline. For example, the most urgent tasks are closest to the center of the screen, and tasks that will require a lot of time are larger bubbles than shorter tasks. After spending time working on a task, the corresponding bubble shrinks.
Application of motivational design and goal setting principles
Extensive research shows that goal setting can positively influence motivation. Hierarchical goal setting (setting proximal goals which lead to a distal goal) is effective because accomplishment of small and proximal goals gives people the confidence to continue working towards more goals. When ColorDay asks users to estimate the time for a task, it uses a 4 hour limit to force users to keep the task size manageable. ColorDay also encourages users to set goals for only the next three weeks so that goals are sufficiently proximal.
Reward system - color palette
Since the UI design is centered around color use, the reward system is also integrated with this theme. Once users have worked for a certain amount of time and completed a certain number of tasks, they can unlock new color palettes and change the visual look of the app.
When starting work on a task, the user simply drags the task bubble into the central work zone to start time tracking. He/she can then drag the bubble out to stop work on that task, or drag another task to the center to switch immediately.