Why can’t I pencil an appointment into my digital calendar?

When I used a paper Day-Timer organizer – which I did for nearly 20 years – I clearly understood the difference between writing something into my appointment calendar, and penciling something into my appointment calendar.

When you write something into your calendar, the assumption is that it’s a commitment.

Sure, you might erase or change it, but if you wrote in “Lunch next Tuesday, 1:00pm, Red Robin, with Bob,” the assumption is that unless you hear otherwise, you’re going to show up at 1:00pm and expect to find Bob there.

By contrast, penciling something in means that you’re putting a hold on the date.

If you pencil it in, it’s clearly not confirmed that you’re having lunch with Bob, or that it’ll be on Tuesday at 1:00pm. You’re just making a notation in your calendar so that you’ll be reminded to follow up later.

Why is it that calendar software doesn’t understand the difference between a confirmed appointment and a tentative one? Sure, you can add in descriptive text: “Lunch with Bob – tbc” is what I usually type, with “tbc” meaning “to be confirmed.” However, that entry in iCal or Google Calendar, or on my BlackBerry, looks exactly the same, whether it’s a tbc or not.

In other words, I can’t see at a glance which appointments in my calendar are definite vs. penciled. I have to read the text and look for that “tbc.” I can’t easily see an actionable list of unconfirmed events, unless I do a text search. Nor am I prompted by the software to confirm tentative appointments: the software doesn’t understand the concept.

What would I like? Perhaps a check box for “tentative” in the calendar software. Perhaps two buttons for when you create or edit an appointment, one marked “ink” and the other “pencil.” Definitely we need a visual cue that tell me, at a glance, that while I have some stuff set up for next Tuesday, some is confirmed and some is not. And yes, programmatic pop-ups or other prompts that remind me that I need to confirm things, and make it easier to confirm something other than editing the description to remove the “tbc” text.

C’mon – there’s a reason why we say, “Okay, Bob, I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday.” Let’s get the calendar metaphor right.

>> Update 12/6: Another point is that the difference between confirmed and tentative events should be clear when viewing events on a graphical page, like week-at-a-glance.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
4 replies
  1. talldave
    talldave says:

    I’ve been thinking about this recently… My idea that I havent implemented yet is to have a “pencil” category. Either a single category, and I will then prefix all of its events with its eventual category “Me-blah” “wife-blahblah” “event-foo” “hobby-meeting” etc.
    Or maybe I’ll have a separate ‘pencil’ category for each and every of my real categories.

    The other reason I want to do this is because maybe there are 6 activities to choose from for this weekend, and I wont be deciding anything til the last minute. I’d like to go ahead and throw everything on the calendar. Inundate. That will allow me to see all of my options for my upcoming days.

  2. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    I had a very early pda which allowed me to do this AND let me show deleted appointments. Why can’t appke?

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