What a To-Do: Studies of Task Management Towards the Design of a Personal Task List Manager

 Victoria Bellotti,

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 15, 2005

This presentation reports on work that was conducted for DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office towards the development of a cognitive assistant for busy multitaskers. It involved a short term study of to-do management, looking at how people prepresent to-dos, and a more in-depth study of task management in which we tracked seven very diverse professionals for a month to see how they managed tasks over the longer term. I¹ll talk about our ethnographic findings and our preliminary design work.

A major surprise was that all of our study participants, even those that were not so successful in their career, were remarkably proficient at keeping track of tasks. Everything that mattered got done in time. This was achieved through painstaking use of a variety of resources that reflected the pressures and constraints of the work that our participants did. Since many professionals still complain about the challenge of task management, we infer that the main problem they are experiencing is the effort that must go into being so proficient. Since our ethnographic work ended we have been working on a prototype system that is intended to reduce the effort that goes into task management and automates some of the tedious and time-consuming aspects of this activity. I'll conclude by briefly reviewing this design work and the resulting prototype.

This work was done with Danny Bobrow, Brinda Dalal, Nathan Good, and Jim Thornton.

Victoria Bellotti is a Principal Scientist and Manager of the Socio-Technical and Interaction Research area in the Computer Science Lab at PARC. She studies current and prospective technology users to understand their work-practice, their problems and their requirements for future technology. She also designs novel systems, having a number pf pending patent applications, and she works on analyzing existing or proposed technology design for utility and usability and on finding ways to improve it. She has conducted studies in a wide range of domains from transportation to computer-mediated communication, also including publishing (newspapers and web-based publications such as Wired and Salon), reading both online and on paper, and document and personal information management.


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