Record, prioritize, and follow through on your most important daily goals.
From the most sluggish procrastinators to the most ambitious go-getters, we all fall behind our target level of output at one point or another. Despite best efforts, our to-do lists, reminders, and memory inevitably fail us. So, what is the key to consistency in personal productivity? Why do we fall behind? And what can we do to set ourselves up for success on an everyday basis?
Top is an iOS app that tackles these tough questions in helping University of Southern California students efficiently manage their most important daily goals.
Tools | Sketch
In order to achieve a set of personal near-term goals, management is required: you must know what your goals are, prioritize their execution, and follow through to see them to completion. Most people manage their day-to-day goals with some hacked-together combination of memory, to-do lists, and reminders. Unfortunately, the resulting solution is usually inefficient and unscalable. Keeping goals in memory is not a viable or sustainable strategy because it requires too much cognitive effort (you'll probably forget something). To-do lists are great for recording goals, but they perform poorly when it comes to helping users prioritize and follow through. And reminders are often presented without proper context or personalization, which can cause us to become desensitized to them.
Top began as a mini side project that I took on with a friend at the University of Southern California. I led product design and product management and my friend led engineering. Initially, our primary goal was to build a simple productivity app for the learning experience. We gave ourselves two weeks to create a minimum viable product (MVP), but ran into technical challenges that required us to dedicate more time. To produce the MVP as quickly as possible, we conducted fast and informal customer discovery. Through casual conversations with a couple of potential users, we got a basic understanding of how they experienced the problem and an overview of existing solutions. Combining these learnings with our personal experience within the problem space, we moved quickly to conduct productivity research, design the UX/UI, and crank out Swift code.
To acquire functional inspiration for Top, I explored two prominent productivity methodologies: the Ivy Lee Method and the Eisenhower Matrix.
The Ivy Lee Method is a century-old technique named after a productivity consultant who worked for Charles Schwab in the early 1900s. After Lee was engaged to help Schwab "get more things done," the consultant met with each of Schwab's executives and explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity:
- At the end of each work day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. Do not write down more than six tasks.
- Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.
- When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.
- Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
Repeat this process every working day.
The user interface and user experience of Top are designed around the principles of simplicity, prioritization, and focus, which are key in the effectiveness of the Ivy Lee Method and the Eisenhower Matrix.
The UI is based on two simple screens: Top and Done. The Top screen contains the most important near-term goals that the user plans to complete, sorted in order of priority. The Done screen contains an ordered, reverse chronological record of completed goals.
To promote explicit prioritization, each goal has a circled number to the left of it that indicates the order in which it is to be completed. Users can re-order goals as desired.
To promote focus, the number of goals users can have in their Top view was initially limited to seven. I removed this restriction for the time being because, in the current version of the product, there was no place to record goals that were important, but not particularly urgent. In a future version of the product, I plan to create a "Later" screen for this purpose.
I initially designed the Top view such that goals could be marked as done by tapping on the circled goal number, but soon realized that this option did not provide the user with sufficient affordance (clues about how an object should be used). After additional exploration of the solution space, I decided to adopt a left-to-right swiping metaphor for marking goals as done.
Launch & Next Steps
We launched Top on January 21, 2018 and plan to begin beta testing by mid February. We limited early access to USC students so that we can:
- Create a highly customized productivity product that serves the unique needs of university students
- Develop a tight feedback loop that allows us to collect rich, in-person feedback from our users on a regular basis
- Achieve product-market fit for a small market, before scaling