For decades, email, contacts, and calendars have been shipped together as a bundle in everything from Microsoft Outlook to today's Google Workspaces. Email always got the focus; calendar and contacts always seemed to get the short stick, tacked on as extras. And sometimes there'd be a basic notes tool thrown in seemingly without much thought.
But what should a Personal Information Management tool include? If you could build the modern take on Outlook and more, what would your ideal personal information app include?
I'm a big fan of trying to have everything in one place or at least having all the different places talk to each other. I've tried so many apps and tools over the years and have never found something that works for everything. I still have hope that it is possible and that the solution will be easy to use and implement and available across platforms. I know, probably a pipe dream.
Currently loving Obsidian for my notes and clipped content and everything else. Interlinked Markdown for as much of everything as I can because it is the most flexible and not tied to a specific proprietary app. I've figured out workflows for a lot of my needs.
I think tasks/to-dos should be integrated with a calendar since both are usually time-based. So much easier to see everything in one place. Amazing how hard that is to find these days. There are apps that are good at one or the other, but rarely both. Currently using TickTick since it has the integration, but it is quirky and has issues. I'm a teacher and find that recurring tasks with some variations (like canceled classes) are too much for TickTick. So I have a Google Calendar linked in. Was using Todoist with Google Calendar integration and may switch back to that. Quirky as well, but not as much.
Still wish I could squish calendar and integrated tasks into Obsidian. Then I would have everything in one place. I've tried things like Notion and Zenkit but they felt too much like databases and had too much overwhelm for buttons and knobs and settings. Plus, they both broke on my too many times when something important needed to happen.
I currently have several emails for different parts of my life and they are all on different platforms (microsoft, gmail, etc). I use Outlook on iPad and Android phone since the different accounts all get integrated into one app. Desktop Outlook is too messy and overloaded for my needs, so I use Ferdi (open-source version of Franz) to combine everything into one interface. There are plenty of alternatives out there these days that do this. I don't mind migrating content out of email to my notes or calendar, but can see the benefit of having email integrated too. These days our communication streams are more than just email though. Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc. Everyone seems to be trying to find a solution that integrates everything. I wish them luck.
I tend to prefer "best of breed" individual products rather than all-in-one apps, and so my default take is that email should stand alone—perhaps with tight integration with a CRM for contacts, a Notes app for reference, a Calendar for events, and so on.
I could almost imagine a different take on the PIM app that's more contact centric. Imagine a list of contacts ordered by how recently you'd communicated, showing all emails and chat messages across all platforms with that person, along perhaps with co-scheduled events and video calls. And if that was deeply tied to a notes app, with backlinks like Roam Research, you could have a detailed view of all the personal information that goes through your apps and services every day.
Or, in another direction, perhaps a mix of 1Password and the Apple Health app would be closer to a personal information manager, as those two keep much of the most sensitive personal data we record on our devices.
With the phrase personal information manager though, I almost think social networks to a degree filled this space. Maybe that's why the set of apps hasn't attracted as much attention, with standalone email apps being now more common.
I'm a simple man, I use the native macOS and iOS versions of Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Notes, etc. I find them to be straight-forward enough to utilize for virtually everything in my personal life and work. I really dislike how Outlook is setup and much prefer separate apps, seeing as I don't always need all the info displayed at one time. In my opinion, Google does a much better job in Gmail/G Suite at combining the tools without feeling overwhelming.
Having worked as a sysadmin for PIM/workflow/groupware tools for the best part of two decades (yes, I'm a yellow-bleeding Lotus Notes guy) the biggest single challenge for that sector has been a lack of interoperability between calendar apps. For what seems to be a trivial feature set it's incredibly difficult it would seem to be able to engineer it so it.just.works
The reason it's bundled with email so often is because it's easy and universal to use SMTP email as a transport mechanism. What it lacks of course is genuinely useful stuff like availability lookup (hey, that was even hard to implement within organisations on different instances of the same PIM platform) and automation. It's way in need of a major revamp and an open standard that any tool can use. Yes, it might put personal assistants out of a job but I shudder to think what a huge productivity hole "Book me a meeting with Jon on Monday please" is for the economy. Its just so damn hard.
I do like Calendly because at least that handles the common use case of booking a meeting for me with multiple people from another company, and does a reasonable job of integrating with Zoom and other apps. Also handles reschedules and cancellations reasonably well.
Overall, Calendaring is one of those things that looks trivial but really isn't. You've got to handle timezones, DST changes, local holidays, reschedules, repeat meetings on unusual frequencies (e.g. every 2nd Tuesday & Thursday). No-one has solved it in 30+ years.
Des Traynor built this template based on this Tweet, thought it might be relevant here. Here's what the Tweet said:
* Your email is what others think you should work on.
* Your Todo list is what you think you should work on.
* Your calendar is (usually) what you actually work on.
Email's not just a way to send messages—it's also a way to connect apps without APIs. And with some apps, it can be the main way you use the software. I Done This, for example, was entirely built a...
I’m working on a SaaS workflow platform that helps small businesses and freelancers intake, onboard, and guide their clients through business processes, step-by-step. My product is an easy way for ...
It's been a year since I am using Superhuman mail, and the command+k feature has been a time saver no doubt. Adding to this list is Vimcal, they have similar command+k shortcuts and feature and hon...