Long calendar

Google Calendar defaults to a 7-day window onto your life. You can zoom in to view a single day, or zoom out to view an entire month. Events come with a precise start and end time, and those times are displayed to the minute. Events are either definitely happening or not mentioned at all. Time stretches off forever in both directions.

Google Calendar, and every other calendar I know, lets you micro-manage your life and your work. It’s great at answering questions like: what are you doing Thursday evening? When is the flight out for your trip to Spain? Is the meeting room busy? When should we hold the next conference?

Now consider the following questions. How long will you be in your current house? How do you plan out your thirties? When will you move to Spain, as you’ve always imagined you would? When might you have your first child, and what job would you like to aim for by then? When do you aim to get that promotion at work? How many years of work do you have left? When are your parents likely to get old and sick, and where should you live so you can care for them? When are you going to die?

If you’re like me, you’ve thought about these questions many times, but never written anything down, or sat and sketched out possible answers. I suspect, however, that doing so would be very useful. Perhaps you’ve imagined having a child in 5 years, and you’ve also dreamed of moving country in 10 years. Without sketching this out, you may not have really thought about the difficulties of moving country with a five-year-old.

These life questions require a different kind of calendar. These questions operate on a different timescale, where the month is probably the most granular unit of time you might want. These questions work on a personal human epoch - “I am 29”, not “it is 2017”. Events at this timescale are fuzzier. Plans at this timescale have many scenarios and possibilities. Plans at this timescale are painting a picture, not drawing a blueprint.

Let’s call such a thing a “long calendar”. What might it be like? The long calendar has a definite beginning: your birth. It has, at some fuzzy date in the future, your death. The long calendar has a couple of zoom levels. The most granular shows years as rows, and months as cells. The least granular shows decades as rows, and years as cells. Years in the long calendar are primarily life years, not years Anno Domini. The long calendar deals less in overlapping events than in chapters. University is a chapter of your life. Marriage and child-raising is a chapter of your life. Create a “career” calendar with a chapter for each job. A “family” calendar with its own chapters. A “location” calendar, with a chapter for each house you live in. The long calendar lets you sketch many possibilities. You imagine changing career next summer? Start a sketch to see how this could work. Reshuffle things in a sandbox. Doesn’t work? You can revert your dreams. The long calendar has a different display mood compared to your Google Calendar. Lines are freehand, not pixel-perfect. The display is a watercolor, not a Mondrian. Events in the future become sketchier. The long calendar appreciates the seasons. At this scale, the weather is very predictable. The long calendar lets you share your past and your visions. Embed a sketch of your life on your website. The long calendar occasionally checks in with you. “You wanted to start cycling to work in May. How’s that going?” The long calendar can also work for projects and businesses, which have lifecycles like people.

I wrote this because I felt like it. This post is not associated with my employer.