Productivity and Choosing a New PDA

pdas.jpgiPhone? Palm Handheld? Palm phone? ipaq? Dell? Razr?

The choices are numerous, and the technologies being used today are simply mind-boggling. When I encountered the first iPhone in person
I was stunned at what Apple had created – an amazing blend of functionality and aesthetics.

It was at the very least a tasty piece of techno-candy.

But is a PDA more than just a portable entertainment device? Does it actually make a person more productive? Should a user always be chasing after the latest gadget? If a product has a new function that is new, does it deserve to become an object that I carry with me each day, showing it off as my new piece of techno-jewelry?

How does a user see past the features that have nothing to do with being productive, to determine which ones are important? Once the right features are determined, how should they be evaluated?

Why I Am Asking
I happen to own and use a Tungsten T, and this week I almost made a decision to upgrade it to a newer Tungsten TX. The single reason that almost pushed me to do so is the fact that on a flight this week, my battery died in mid-sentence. As a frequent writer, this was right up there with my heart stopping in mid-stride.

I was so pissed I made plans right then and there to purchase the new device, if it had a better battery life.

Well, it does have better battery life, but my plans were changed when I learned that I’d have to buy a new keyboard… a wireless keyboard that consumes battery life. I learned from my reading that my current keyboard would not work with the TX, which meant another US$69 purchase. At the very best, I’d have to spent some US$350 or so, just for more battery life. I opted instead to purchase another 2 batteries for my Tungsten T, setting me back some $12.99, including shipping.

Converting Down-time to Productive Time

The seems to be 2 kinds of productivity that a PDA can be used to improve.

The first is simple: A PDA converts down-time to productive time. For example, the time I spend in an airplane seat has become an opportunity to write my articles and blogs, and I will pay extra for a device that ensures that the choice is available to me. I would to also love be able to send and receive email, and browse the internet.

This conversion is particularly important to people who spend time commuting on buses and trains, and are loathe to waste the time doing things like reading the free newspaper, when they could be listening to their favorite music or reading email.

This kind of productivity improvement is obvious to see.

The second kind is less so.

When a PDA is being chosen, the device also has an impact on a user’s productivity in the sense that it changes the way he/she engages in the 11 fundamentals.

For example, a user who purchases a Palm Smartphone to replace her paper pad may discover that she has forced herself into a HUGE change in how she Captures without realizing it. A phone call she gets that gives her a phone number she needs for later can’t be scribbled down in an instant — instead it must be entered into the tricky and time-consuming interface of the PDA.

She has become immediately less productive as a result of her new gadget.

How to Make the Right Choice

The best way to prevent the fiasco of becoming less productive after buying a productivity gadget, is to forget about the gadget for a minute, and instead concentrate on the 11 fundamentals.

Which fundamental is the user trying to improve?

At what expense are they looking to make the improvement?

Will the choice of the new PDA actually destroy the way in which a fundamental is practiced?

Here are the steps I recommend:

1. Go through each of the 11 fundamentals and decide what the appropriate belt level currently happens to be in each discipline

2. Decide which fundamental is the one that requires the most improvement

3. Look to see which PDA would help to improve the chosen fundamental. Look to see what will happen to ALL the fundamentals when the PDA is purchased and used.

4. Make a choice based on the information on hand

What the Manufacturers Are Not Doing

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had the sense that the companies selling productivity solutions — DayTimer, DayRunner, FiloFax, Covey et al
were committed to finding productivity solutions that happened to be paper based.

Now, when I visit any of the PDA or smartphone manufacturer’s sites, I don’t see anything other than a focus on new features.

As an engineer, I confess a certain love of technology. However, I am unwilling to destroy my productivity just in order to obtain a
new piece of techno-candy, no matter how much it enhances my appearance.

The problem is that it’s just so easy, fun and sexy to jump on the internet or visit the Apple store to buy the latest device. And it’s
just so damn hard to sit down and figure out the fundamentals by following the steps I describe above.

It’s the reason why so many gadgets end up at the bottom of so many desk drawers. Trying to engineer an improvement in one’s time
management system by purchasing a PDA without knowing the fundamentals is a hard trick to pull off.

Some are able to do it, but many fail.