Getting Organised

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I notice that mpk has a posting on getting Reorganized, relating his experiences with Palms and Treos and various methods of organising yourself.

I've gone through so many PDAs over the years - the Psions, my Palm V, and sundry later Palms and Clies leading finally to my Treo 650 - always thinking that maybe this latest gadget would be the one to iron out the bugs and actually become the life-organisation tool that their proponents claimed it would be. But it's never happened - every one's just ended up being a fun and expensive toy.

Source: Uffish.net: Reorganized

I'm in a similar situation. I've had a Palm III, a Palm m515, and now a Palm TX, and they've all been great tools for keeping track of things, playing the odd game and looking busy in meetings when you're really playing solitaire (or recently, surfing the internet). But as a tool for Getting Things Done, they do have a few shortcomings.

One problem with the Palms (and WinCE too) is that the To Do list isn't infitely configurable. You can't set it up to reflect your exact priorities and requirements. The normal Palm ToDo allows a due date, a category, and the task itself. What I want is:

  • What is the overall task?
  • What is the specific action to be done?
  • What resources do I need or what other tasks does this depend on?
  • Where do I need to be to complete this task?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • When does it have to be done by?

Which is about five categories over what you're allowed to do.

But the fundamental problem with Palm-style devices is input. Sure, they have handwriting recognition (where you learn the handwriting the Palm can understand), and they have little keyboards (either real or virtual), where you can hunt and peck like someone who first saw a keyboard thirty minutes ago. But one thing they don't have is a system where one hand can input text as fast as you can type.

(Actually, they do. It's called MicroWriting, and it was developed in the 1980's in England. Devices called Microwriters enabled one handed text entry and they were wildly popular when a typical desktop computer had 64K of RAM. There's a modern version which works with Palms (see the link above), but they're a little too expensive for me, at about EUR 90.) I've love to see a commonly available chording keyboard.)

But practically, input on Palm-style devices depends on having a decent sized keyboard on the PC you sync to, or some IR/Bluetooth type of keyboard, which are pretty universally crap. (Trust me, I've had a few; they fold in the middle, they're not stiff, they flex and wobble and you can't touch-type because they're even worse than lap-top keyboards with all the punctuation keys in the wrong places. There was a stunning device available a few years ago: it projected a keyboard on a flat surface and used infrared to detect your key presses. Trouble was, it required a flat surface about the size of a normal keyboard. I'm sure it was hell on batteries too.)

You may not always be syncing to a PC and, if you're on the road most of the time, you want to be able to enter decent amounts of text on your PDA.

So what's my solution? Well, currently, I'm carrying two notebooks plus a palm plus a phone. Two notebooks, because I'd already made notes in a larger notebook before getting the smaller one. But basically, it's one notebook (which fits in a shirt pocket) as a todo list, and another notebook (which fits in a cargo trouser pocket or suit jacket pocket), for more detailed notes and sketches. (Note: notebook here refers to rectangles of paper bound up between slightly harder covers. Not 5kg of portable computer.)

Really, if I want to doodle out an idea, I want to use standard A4 size paper, not A5 or A6, which are barely big enough to see, let alone use as a serious sketchbook.

(Use of Letter size or other non-standard sizes is a short cut to American Exceptionalism which leads to electing idiots like George W. Bush and starting nuclear wars because you're too stupid to see if your president is a moron or not.)

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