Do You Have a Calendar?

Last time when I chatted with my friends from U.S (I think it was on the top of the Jin Mao tower), he introduced a new tool that helps people to use calendar more effectively. He asked me whether it will be a good application for the Chinese market. My short answer was no. My longer answer was “I am not sure how many people in China really use calendar.”

People in China don’t use Calendars as Often

It is a major difference between people in China and in U.S. I don’t know why people in U.S. use calendar, either software or paper based, in daily life.

If I hadn’t worked in a foreign company, I would NOT have used calendar either.

Is it because of the educational system that uses the task based time management theory, or because the schedule of each person depends on the other so much? My friends in have schedules, and I have schedules, but the schedule is flexible enough and not so many and people don’t need something to help remember them.

Restaurants don’t require reservation (Shanghai is the exception). A waiting line is always a good solution.

This is an interesting difference.

Updated July 26, 2007

Recently, I think the question should be asked as “Why people in U.S. use calendars, instead of why people in China don’t use them”.

When I look at the time management theory symbolized by a clock, I found it is not a tradition in western countries either before 1800. The industrial revolution in England forced farmers to go to factories, and for the first time in history, people need precious clock, so the work can be synchronized, and people can depend on the work of each other.

In the recent 50 years, to-to-list as a time management tool get popular in U.S, and task based management, prioritizing, and the concept of goal based time management as a theory get so popular in U.S., that people all rely on calendars and task list to do their work. The current generation of American (and maybe their parent generation) grew up and learn the time management when they are young.

That MAY answer the question of why people (almost everyone) in U.S uses a calendar.

In China, on the contrary, didn’t go through the industrialization revolution yet, and people still keep the pace of the previous hundreds of generations, and time is not that important in the current society.

So, people in China don’t use calendar.

21 thoughts on “Do You Have a Calendar?

  1. I agree with you. The difference is quite noticable. Yesterday, a friend of mine use MSN chat to tell me that he would call me in the evening, but it did not happen. However, one of my Canadian friend will write this on his calendar,even the calling plan is half month away.

  2. I’m local and I use calendar… printed diary books before, but turned to outlook calendar and mobile phone calendar recent years…

    more convenient now! As paper does not talk but I can set alarm to outlook calendar and mobile calendar that ‘talks’ (…ok, beep only)

  3. A calendar is always a must for me. I know when to do what and it gives me a visual when I have to repare for certain things and when I have to remind people in order to have my thing done.

    If you combine them with your details email/phone record, you usually can find out in which part of the chain and when things go wrong and try to solve the problem in a faster way…



  4. Very interesting observation. Actually that’s also what I’ve seen since I came to the US–almost all my American classmates write down everything on schedule and stick to it rigidly. Whenever I meet with my advisor and ask him about the time for next appointment, he would check his PDA and mark down the time. Very schedule-orientated mind.

    Actually I took a course “Intercultural Communication” in the first semester and we did talk about this phenomenon. Edward T. Hall ever proposed a cultural pattern that might give a reasonable explanation. In his book “The Hidden Dimension” (1969), Hall introduced two concepts regarding the way people deal with time–polychronic versus monochromic (I think polychromic is similar to multitask). “The monochronic time concept follows the notion of ‘one thing at a time’, while the polychronic concept focuses on multiple tasks being handled at one time, and time is subordinate to interpersonal relations” (

    In this sense, U.S. is a monochromic culture in which scheduling is important and efficiency is highly valued; while China is obviously polychromic in that interpersonal relations or guanxi is of higher priority. You may also find characteristics of monochronic and polychronic cultures listed in a form on

    Just FYI.

  5. It’s no surprise that calendars are not important here. Any westerner who has spent more than a day or two in China will notice that PLANNING receives a far lower value in China than in the west. The waste, inefficiency, redundancy and poor quality of the results are quite surprising to most westerners. If one doesn’t care about planning, of what use is a calendar?

    Examples abound. How many times do we all see things built, then immediately “un-built”, then re-built. I remember in my first neighborhood in Shanghai the entire street was torn up and re-paved three times in about six weeks, first for new sewer lines, then for new water lines, then for something else.

    At a Chinese company I worked for, one day it was suddenly announced that we would all go to another location for a four-hour meeting. We didn’t know the topic until we got there. Since there was no planning or agenda, no one had any information or data that would be useful for reaching meaningful conclusions. So, as is sadly often the case in China, it was all just a big waste of time. This is not unusual.

    But maybe this is not so important to Chinese, who seem to also place a much lower value on time itself. For example, I know many Chinese who sleep 10, 12 or even 14 hours a day. Many of my students tell me they stay in bed almost all day during weekends and holidays, getting up only to eat or watch a little tv. I often see people spending enormous amounts of time doing nothing in particular, just sitting there, for example watching someone else play cards.

    Whether this is good or bad is a matter of personal or cultural values. Either way, I think it helps explains the indifference toward calendars.

  6. Very simple explanation: Chinese value time less important than that in the US. To do anything in the US, you need to setup an appointment.

  7. Very simple explanation: Chinese value time less important than that in the US. To do anything in the US, you need to setup an appointment.

  8. I also use calendar. It is very useful for arranging your daily tasks and plans. Last time, I use Groupwise. It is integrated with Email client. The software will remind you what tasks you have set, when the appoint approach. Quite efficient.

  9. One of my colleagues from US always says to me please sending me a meeting request…I say OK…I do need sth. helping me to remember some meetings but most of time, I don’t even remember to check my calendar so I slip meetings quite often…

  10. calendar is a good tool..but i somewhat feel needs better integration with tasks….the Tasks standalone doesn’t really work that well.. making it as a feature in calendar would be much more efficient..

  11. That is a very interesting observation! My mother always uses a calendar for everything, and I have one, but I usually do not mark very much on it. At one point I used my Palm V as a calendar, and I put almost everything on it.

  12. I count on my mobile to remind me things important and forgettable, mainly. But sometimes I also use a paper-based notebook. Keeping a calendar is quite helpful for me. My background is: typically & traditionally Chinese education; an English major in the university, and college English teacher now.

  13. I used to work with an English guy before I graduated from school. I noticed that he used calender everyday and keep that with him all the time, so I learn to use calender from him since then and have been using it for 5 years. feeling quite well-planned even without lots of stuff.

    So my comment is that if this is popular or influential among your circle or colleagues, most people will use it, otherwise this cannot become a thing to mention.

  14. The explanation: it is the difference between an industrial environment and a farming way of life. Even in the US, calendars are not uniformly important. On the farms of the South or the Midwest, people plan their activities in more or less the same way as the Chinese do — “I’ll get to that one when I’m done here.” Even in the industrial offices in those regions, the habits (of the employees because many are hired locally) are carried over from the farms. There was once a study that found the work habits (atmosphere) in factories in northern or northeast US are much more serious, tightly clocked, and fast-paced than in factories in the south where workers tend to joke loudly, go on long breaks, and act less “seriously” or “industriously” in comparison. However, that study found, surprisingly, that the overall productivity or efficiency in the southern factories are NOT statistically lower. People work best when they do things in their own pace, in their own habit. It is a good observation that things in China are less planned, but it may not be prudent to link this, thus, to efficiency. As China becomes more industrialized, I am sure calendar use will catch on. However, WTO not withstanding, it is often not at all necessary to measure things in place A with standards from place B. What’s valuable is the awareness and prudence that Jian Shuo has demonstrated here in making a marketing assessment of the present potentials for a particular calendar utilization tool.

  15. Great observation on industrial versus agricutural societies and their relationship with time! There is a good argument that the Industrial Revolution owes more to the invention of the clock (and the resulting regimentation of life) than the steam engine.

    I can’t agree, however, that planning isn’t linked to efficiency (assuming we’re talking about “efficiency” in the economic sense). It’s pretty darn hard to be efficient without planning for it.

    I am sorry to see Chinese increasingly surrendering a more relaxed pace of life to the demands of industrialization, the calendar, and the punchclock (just as westerners earlier paid this terrible penalty).

    On the other hand, it’s vital that China get more efficient quickly. As consumerism grows here (according to Chinese retailers – for whatever it’s worth – retail sales increased 50% in the last four years alone), the demands on China’s and the world’s resources are going to be staggering. By it’s own measure, China is currently about one-third as efficient as India. With numbers on a Chinese scale, inefficiency here results in an enormous cost in resources.

    So WJS, please introduce more friends to that calender! ;-)

  16. I’d have to agree with Shanghai Slim’s comment above.

    The Chinese have a serious planning deficit, which is fine for a backward agricultural society, but won’t fly in the long run.

    It’s the same reason the Chinese will buy a $100 heater that won’t last 2 months, instead of a $120 heater that will last 5 years. Most of the Chinese are incredibly myopic. I guess that’s what happens when your government tells you what to do and can take anything away that you possess without. Why prepare for a future you can’t see and can’t control?

    Even when the Chinese do plan ahead, they always change their mind anyway, so what’s the point in writing it down? Anyone who’s ever spent any time here has had the experience of a planned event changing dates a week in advance – despite inconveniencing thousands of overseas travellers who did plan ahead and bought plane tickets. This happens frequently with major international conventions in addition to local events.

    Wouldn’t we all love to live our lives in such an ad hoc (selfish?) manner? Well, that’s fine for retirees, drop outs, philosophers, and authoritarians intent on fucking everything up, but it doesn’t cut the mustard in the modern world.

  17. yesyes, it seems the cultures here converge on a timeless (erg! bad pun! bad!) contradiction. you see this all over the world; the less-organized cultures are being devoured by the moreso. i cannot say that this is an entirely good thing — many of the most financially successful people I have met are shallow, unaware, and effectively worthless. however, for those of us able to draw the best from both worlds are at a huge advantage. certainly, it is not easy to deal with people constantly changing scheduling dates with me, anymore than it is easy to deal with people calling me and expecting me to be available to them at a moment’s notice. my simple solution — i refuse to, and (in the case of business associates) tell them they must schedule a meeting, or in the case of friends i drop everything and have a good time, _whenever possible_, and cherish a society that values interpersonal communication as much as earnings. after all, that is why i am here! but yeah, calendars kick ass. i can barely remember my own cell phone number :P

  18. My Indian colleague’s opinion is that Asian are good at problem solving while westerners are good at building up a good framework. I think it makes sense in some way.

  19. The only comparison has been made here is between the American and the Chinese concept and treatment of time. It may be useful to compare the European as well, especially the Latin countries in the south. Italian, French, Spanish. and many other European countries are not that time conscious. The quality of their life, I think, is much better than the American. They live much happier. As they say, the thing Americans know best is to work, but do not know how to enjoy life. I hope the Chinese are not taking up the American but rather staying with the Chinese/European way of happier life!


  20. its surprising how many restaurants DO require reservations nowadays in China’s big cities…Its truly only become commonplace during the past year or two…

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