web-based task manager designed for Cornell students. Our goal is to create a product that helps students better handle their workload by motivating them to finish their current assignments and get started earlier on future tasks.
We are currently designing V2 of Samwise based on the data we collected in our diary study of our MVP product, which is launched at https://samwise.today/.
| User Research
To get started, our team interviewed Cornell students from a diverse set of majors about their current task management and study habits. We found that their methods varied greatly, with some users scheduling every moment of studying in their Google Calendars, and others that only keep track of tasks in their heads. Despite our participants having unique ways to record tasks, I found that most students fell into the same brutal cycle for completing their work.
No motivation to start
Even though students know they have assignments coming up, they don't feel compelled to begin since they associate work with unhappiness and stress.
Regret not starting sooner
After this negative experience, students wished they had started a few days earlier since they would have benefitted both personally and academically.
Students avoid the pain of starting and continuing to work on assignments with Netflix, naps, and hanging out with friends, and justify these activities by underestimating their workload and keeping it out of mind.
Approaching deadlines finally force students to start or finish up their work last minute, which results in stress, all-nighters, and substandard performance.
We knew that we wanted to tackle the origins of the cycle, which was this willingness to procrastinate instead of starting sooner to balance their workloads. From here we generated our problem statement:
How do we help students feel motivated to begin assignments earlier and complete the tasks they have despite their dread and low discipline?
| The Current Market
Before jumping into ideation, I wanted to take a look at the options already out there for students to manage their tasks to see what they do well, and where they fall short.
Applications like Google Calendar and My Study Life are popular workload trackers among students, providing schedules of when assignments are due, allowing students to visualize their workloads. However, they do not provide any incentives to students to complete their work in a balanced way other than clearing deadlines. Additionally, adding tasks to these managers is clunky, requiring students to fill in fields that are not always sufficient or relevant to their needs as Cornell students.
Forest is a mobile app where users grow digital trees for the time they spend focused on their tasks, and kill their growing tree if they use their device during a focus session. While the app is good at motivating people when they are actually doing their work, it has no task management features to help students track their workloads. Habitica takes motivation to the extreme, attempting to gamify users' lives. You can go on quests with friends, buy rewards, and acquire items for completing your tasks and keeping good habits. The app may be fun to some, but is far-fetched for others, and ultimately does not have a student-centric focus.
Arguably the most important phase of this project was the ideation phase. With the abstract task of providing motivation, and the variety of study preferences students had, we had a lot of directions we could go in.
First, I explored ideas for giving students a better visual representation of their workload based on the size and difficulty of tasks, so that they could make more informed decisions regarding time management.
I also generated flows that enabled students to plan their assignments. I hoped this would encourage students to break down their larger tasks into smaller and more manageable milestones so they would feel less intimidated to begin them.
To further address the issue of providing motivation and encouragement, I wanted to try and frame tasks as opportunities for achievement rather than dreadful obligations. I explored gamification that rewards students for finishing assignments before their due dates, and weekly reports that track your semester progress and accomplishments.
In order to get students to regularly tend to their tasks, we decided to give them a pet, Sam the bear, to care for. The idea was simple: complete assignments to keep Sam happy, let too many tasks pile up and Sam gets hungry, miss deadlines and Sam runs away. Sam would be our app's primary form of motivation for users to finish their work and even to get ahead on their course load.
From our ideation phase, my team and I decided to take a first stab at generating a single design that incorporated our favorite ideas.
Function: Welcome, with user-defined motivational quote.
Goal: Personalization and motivation.
Function: Show which assignments to complete today.
Goal: Make task completion seem less daunting and achievable by focusing on highest priority assignments.
Function: Fills up as users checkoff tasks.
Goal: Motivate users to finish their tasks for the day.
Function: Freeform line to create tasks.
Goal: Fluid task addition.
Function: Scrolls to screen with upcoming tasks for the week.
Goal: Forward looking while still keeping task priority focused.
Function: Add earlier due dates to subtasks.
Goal: Break large tasks into manageable subtasks, and get started on them sooner to balance the workload.
We performed internal heuristic evaluations, conducted usability studies, rethought how our solution fit into the problem statement, and used this to create the final MVP mockup below.
Sam - Most users found Sam's functionality to be too intense for them. Although they thought he was cute, they did not foresee actually altering their behavior to take care of him. We decided to make him a mascot instead, and reserve new functionalities for V2.
Look ahead - This page did not provide users with enough information and had parallel task adding, so we decided to scrap it entirely, including future tasks on the main dashboard. We also added 2 week and monthly calendar views to make it more powerful.
"Today" label - The term "Today" was confusing. Is it tasks due on that date? What about tasks due tomorrow morning that you should get done today? Instead, we renamed it to "Today's focus" indicating a user wants to complete it that day, regardless of due date.
Subtasks scheduling - Scheduling individual subtasks was confusing to users - were these actual due dates with consequences? Instead, users can fluidly add subtasks of tasks to their Focus if they want to complete it that day.
Subtask relation to main task - The design of subtasks in the Today section that were due earlier than their main tasks was awkward and confusing. Focusing subtasks now clearly shows that the subtask is related to a main task with a later hard due date.
Adding task prominence - For something that is the main functionality of the application, having the task addition line be near the bottom of the a page made this feature too hidden. We moved it front and center for clarity and accessibility.
| V2 & more
We are currently working toward V2 designs to include more features to help students in the actual process of completing their tasks, such as a pomodoro timer and meditation guide, and to help them get ahead by suggesting they start future tasks. I am also running a diary study on the MVP project to asses how our designs are meeting our users' needs and to identify more opportunities for improvement.