If you believe the scientific literature, says the Duke behavioral economics professor and popular author Dan Ariely, we humans have about two hours of peak cognitive capacity, generally first thing in the morning after we’ve fully woken up.
What do we do with that precious time? Commute, drink coffee, answer email, check Facebook.
“It’s a terrible waste of really good thinking time,” says Jacob Bank, a machine-learning PhD candidate at Stanford.
“Time is by far the most precious resource we have and by far the most poorly managed. One reason is time is extremely abstract — we don’t have a money bill that we look at, for time. And also, it’s inherently complex,” adds Yoav Shoham, a Stanford computer science professor who three years ago sold a smart-contacts startup called Katango to Google.
The three men are co-founders of a new startup called Timeful, aiming to apply the best of their research on irrationality and optimization to a rather mundane thing: Making an iPhone calendar app. Oh, great.
“We were dragged into creating a calendar and to-do app kicking and screaming,” says Shoham. “The last thing the world needs is another calendar app. What you really need is help managing your time. We are getting people to do what’s in their self-interest with slight nudges.”
And it’s not just these prime two productive morning hours that Ariely, Bank and Shoham want to help people make better use of. That’s just an example of a slot that often needs work.
What Timeful does is import a user’s existing calendars and then incorporate to-dos and good habits (like getting exercise, calling parents and smiling more) by suggesting times when they should be optimally scheduled based on place, time and history.
In order for Timeful to work, people need to 1) accept those suggestions, or reject them to give feedback to the system; and 2) actually do the things, so their lives get better.
That’s where the premise gets very simple, said Bank. “Things that are scheduled are more likely to get done.”
“Our objectives are to take every moment and think about what is the best use of that moment in a holistic framework,” said Ariely. “It’s a non-zero sum game. We think you can use time better.”
In addition to the researchers-turned-founders, Timeful is being built by a team of about 20 with histories at Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Apple, Groupon and Google.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has raised $7 million from Khosla Ventures along with Kleiner Perkins, Greylock partners, Data Collective, Pitango and Ashton Kutcher’s A-Grade Investments.