PDA’s and Productivity (part 1)

The release of the “Pre,” the latest smartphone manufactured by Palm, made me wonder once again about the design of these devices.

Recently, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of breakthrough technologies, and it made me think in more detail about the job a smartphone/PDA is meant to help users perform.

In the old days when the PDA replaced the paper organizers such as the DayRunner and Filofax, the answer was obvious.  PDA’s were all about productivity.  They were meant to assist users in their job of being organized.

Today, however, as more functionality is added to the PDA it seems that the original mission has been lost, and that designers are no longer thinking about their users’ intention to be more organized. Instead, they are looking to combine as many electronic devices into one, with the goal of maximimizing convenience.

However, convenience is not the same as productive.

Picture two professionals seated beside each other in the typical airport lounge (I happen to be seated in the departure lounge  of VC Bird Airport in Antigua.)

One has brought along his cell phone, camera, PDA, laptop, watch, digital voice recorder and mp3 player.  He uses them in a somewhat clumsy manner.

The other pulls out her iPhone, Blackberry or Pre, and performs the same functions with a single unit.Clearly she is using a more convenient arrangement.  But is she more productive, and is she able to manage her time with greater skill?

That’s not clear at all.

As I see it, the use of more complicated gadgets could either make things harder or easier, depending on the the design.

I have some thoughts about what a device should do to enable a user to improve the management of their time.

1) Ease of Capturing

A good PDA should help users to Capture effectively, and give users a choice of methods for doing so.

Like many users, I use a small pad to capture most of my incoming time demands.  It sounds like the easiest option in the world to pursue, but I wanted to find a way to combine the pad and PDA into a single package so that I could carry it around easily.

I found a PDA wallet that could take a pad as an insert, but the real problem came when I tried to find a replacement pad.  They were impossible to find.


Recently,  I have resorted to purchasing a small pad that I cut down to size using a pair of scissors.  I looked for a replacement PDA wallet that would allow me to use an off-the-shelf pad. It appears to me that they are no longer even made!

I am sure that users of smartphones have the same problem — no easy way to combine a paper pad with their unit.

I know that the manfuacturers would argue that you can use some kind of keyboard or  stylus to capture time demands, but as many users know, that method is slow, clumsy and prone to errors.  They would prefer to use a simple paper pad.

In terms of time management, users would gain more from a vastly improved device for capturing, than they would a camera or mp3 player.

(This is article will be continued)

Meetings and Precious Time

BODY { FONT-FAMILY:Verdana; FONT-SIZE:10pt } P { FONT-FAMILY:Verdana; FONT-SIZE:10pt } DIV { FONT-FAMILY:Verdana; FONT-SIZE:10pt } TD { FONT-FAMILY:Verdana; FONT-SIZE:10pt } This article from the New York Times reminds me of times when I was trapped in endless meetings as a young employee, wondering why this was happening, and what I could possibly do about it!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/jobs/18pre.html?8dpc : Meetings are a Matter of Precious Time

One thing I know now is that once a meeting has gone off in the wrong direction, it’s difficult to bring it back on track after only 10-15 minutes of intoxicating, aimless chatter.  Taking the initiative to define the PAL (Purpose, Agenda, Logistics) within the first five minutes probably saves ten times that time it takes.

What’s the Job of Time Management?

For the past few days, I have been mulling over an interesting article from the December 2008 Harvard Business Review called Reinventing Your Business Model, by Johnson, Christensen and Kagermann.

I found it fascinating because it led me down a path of rethinking the way I am thining about ways that 2Time is being offered to the public.

Specifically, it caused me to ask some fundamental questions about what “job” people are trying to do with their time management systems.  The definition of the word “job” is quite specific in the article — “a fundamental problem in a given situation that needs a solution.”

The article also mentions the four most common barriers that keep people from getting particular jobs done: insufficient wealth, access, skill or time.

I have thought about it a little and have come up with the following answers to the question: “What fundamental problem are people trying to solve with the time management systems that they use?”

Answer 1:   Not Feeling Bad

No-one likes to feel the sting of their inner critic – that little voice inside that points out what they are not doing right.  This voice tells them that they are lazy, or that they are a procrastinator, or flaky, or forgetful or failing to get on top of things. It might also conclude that they are overwhelmed. They try their best to avoid these feelings by using strategies that make them feel productive.

Answer 2:  Feeling Good

For many, getting to the end of the day knowing that they got a LOT done is a wonderful feeling to have.   If they have a sense that they were focused, productive and energetic, then that counts as a tremendous positive that boosts feelings of confidence, and personal power.

Answer 3:  Taking Care of Myself

Exercise is constantly touted as the best medicine there is, and its presence has been linked to a prevention of diseases of all kinds.  Yet, some 77% of adults report that they would exercise more if they could fit it into their daily routine.

Many, whose time management systems don’t work for them, end up not exercising as much as they’d like.

Answer 4:  I Am Getting Better

I think there are a few people who just like the idea of making progress from year to year.  They want to know that they are using better techniques now than they were using a year ago, and that they are simply not stagnating with old tools and stale techniques.

I believe that this is what leads people to purchase iPods and Blackberries when they are interested in using them to become more productive.


These four items are not presented in any particular order, and represent my thinking about what problem people are trying to solve when they consciously think about using time management techniques, tools or tips.

If you have some thoughts on this, I’d appreciate hearing them. Simply leave a comment below.

An Individualized Approach to Time Management

This is a guest post on developing a personal approach to time management by Holly McCarthy.

istock_000004118047xsmall.jpgWith all of the advances in technology over the last several years, many people think that technology alone can help you manage your time more effectively.  While this may be true, it can be very difficult to create a one-size-fits-all approach to time management.  One of the reasons for this is the fact that along with all of these innovations, some people have more or less room for flexibility as a result.

This can be seen in the growth of the telecommuting professional.  Technology has advanced far enough that it is no longer necessary to live in the same city where your office is physically located.  Depending on the type of company you work for, you may need to be available for a certain amount of hours per day, or you may simply be given a quota to fill.  In either case, time management is up to the individual.

Self Assessment

When trying to improve your time management skills, you need to be completely honest with yourself.  If you know you rarely achieve your personal goals each day and have gotten into some bad habits, it’s time to address these issues.  What tools do you have at your disposal that make your life easier when it comes to working and managing your time?

Look at your home office.  Chances are you have many different tools that could be used if you wanted to use them.  There are many free applications on line as well.  Is your time management and planning system working for you?  Be honest with yourself.  Do you need a PDA, or does paper work better for you?  The most important thing when assessing yourself is to figure out what is and isn’t working and why.

Personalize and Individualize

After taking a good look at your current methods of managing your time, fix things to suit your needs personally.  If you don’t really get anything accomplished in the evening, start working earlier in the day.  Any distractions that may be around the house could be eliminated.  Working when people are around may be difficult, so try to work when you know the house will be empty or relatively empty.

Of course, individualizing your time management action plan all hinges on you and your ability to assess your own needs.  If all you need is a calendar and a notepad to get the juices flowing and keep track of things, do it.  Sometimes learning a new system or software wastes more time than it ends up saving you.  The main goal is to improve your own abilities, not to do what works for someone else.  It has to work for you and if it doesn’t, you will ultimately end up paying the price.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of continuing education online. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com

In Emergencies – Forget Email

istock_000002386483xsmall.jpgI am working on a project in which almost everyone around me carries a Blackberry.  My observation as one of the few non-Blackberry users is that many have developed habits that thwart their productivity.

One sad habit that has developed is that Blackberry users have trained people around them to elevate email to a level of urgency that it simply was not designed to achieve.

What does that mean?

Pretend that you are the user and I need to send you an important message.

Because I know you have a Blackberry, and check it continuously, I’d prefer to send the information via email because I know that you are likely to read it. In other words, you have trained me to take the path of less resistance in my communication with you, and to avoid the built-in risk of making a confronting phone call.

For example, all over the world, I am sure, there are people being advised by their bosses that they are being “let go” via an email to their Blackberrys.  if i were your boss, I would also give you feedback on the latest meeting in which I got upset at your remarks via email, before telling you that I am taking your pet project away.  I might even announce the reorganization that places you in charge of the wasteland of “special projects” via an early morning message to your ‘berry, knowing that you’ll get it while you are in the car on the way from work.

I send the message, you get it and (presumably) read it a few seconds later, regardless of where you are.  Communication complete.

Or is it?

The truth is, critical communication should never be handled via email.  None of the examples given above should involve electronic messaging, unless they are limited to simple requests to “meet at 3pm in the office.”  The very nature of critical communication is that it evokes an instant reaction that must be dealt with quickly by both parties.

Email communication is simply no substitute for live communication.  We all know people who have sent mildly critical emails that were interpreted as outright attacks by the recipient.  Those mistakes have been happening for years.

We now have people who feed the addiction that other have to their Blackberrys by sending them important emails, knowing that they’ll read them between messages from their cousins, theViagra people and Nigerian heiresses promising millions of dollars. They also know that they’ll be read at 6 in the morning and at 11:30 at night, right before the teeth get brushed.

Blackberry users need to be firm, and insist that they be contacted via phone or in person for all messages that are neither positive nor neutral. They also need to train their colleagues that urgent messages sent by email will be stale by the time they are read, so it’s a better idea to call immediately.  They can start the “training” by letting people know that they check their email/Blackberry on a schedule, and that for them, there is no such thing as “urgent email.”

The save time for themselves and others by adopting good technology, but more importantly, sophisticated habits.

Writing a Time Management 2.0 Book

2009 seems to be the right year for me to take the 2Time principles out into the larger world, in the form of a book.

I have two ideas in mind for the book. The first is in the form of a how-to, written as an abstract set of concepts with lots of examples.  The other idea is to write the book as a fable, in which a single person meets up on some kind of guru who teaches him/her how to use the principles in order to bring more peace of mind to his/her life.

As I am writing this I can see a third option, in which the first book is in the form of a fable, and takes a user though Principles 1-7, and the second is an abstract book that takes them through Principles 8-11.

If you have an opinion on which way I should go, please let me know, and be my partner through this process that will hopefully produce a publishable product by early 2010.  I’d love to see an example of a book that I could follow that others have found useful.

Speechus Interruptus

giuliani-speech.jpgDuring a speech to the National Rifle Association during the Presidential campaign of 2008, Rudy Guiliani stopped to answer a cell phone call.

Obviously, from the tone of the conversation he had with his wife, it was much less important than the speech he was giving. Like many professionals, however, he has developed the bad habit of stopping what he is doing to do something else that just might be more important.

This flies in the face of the principle of focusing on the task at hand so deeply that one enters the Flow state. You can see from the video that he mind takes a moment to return to the task at hand, and if his wife had just told him that there was “an emergency at home,”  for example, he would have shot himself in the foot by taking the call and possibly ruining the speech.

Click here to be taken to the video of Rudy Giuliani interrupting his speech to the NRA to take the call.

Richard Branson’s Capturing

bransonastromos_468x321.jpgWhile many of us are insisting that “we’ll remember” and therefore don’t need to write things down, it appears that Richard Branson has made quite a few comments on the power of carrying a portable notebook at all times:

Quote 1

On how to get ideas for new products: “Always have a notebook in your pocket. People at parties and events can have great ideas, and you won’t remember them the next day.”

Quote 2

 On the February afternoon when Branson is explaining all this by phone he happens to be sailing into Antigua, his cell connection coming and going as he rounds some headland or other and then picks his way through yachts in Nelson’s Dockyard, which the seasoned Caribbean sailor will recognize as one of the partyingest of the Leeward Islands ports. Branson had Virgin colleagues aboard, and later that night would be sharing a spirited evening out with 15 or 20 of them, his notebook as ever alongside. “I keep a notebook in my pocket all the time,” he says, “and I really do listen to what people say, even when we’re out in a club at 3 a.m. and someone’s passing on an idea in a drunken slur. Good ideas come from people everywhere, not in the boardroom.

Quote 3

Carry a notepad at all times

“Of these five things, and it may sound ridiculous, but my most important is to always carry a little note book in your back pocket. I think the number one thing that I take with me when I’m traveling is the notebook.

“Make sure you can use it for ideas, for contacts for suggestions for problems and get out and address the issues. Your life will be that much better organized for carrying it.

“I could never have built the Virgin Group into the size it is without those few bits of paper. I think if you’re going to run a really personal airline, its those little details that matter and therefore the notebook is an essential part of my traveling day.”

 Quote 4

 Branson is well known for encouraging fresh ideas. He even keeps a notebook in his pocket to write them down in case he’s away from his office — which he usually is. Branson is always interested in learning new things and he encourages others to do the same.

I guess he’d be a good example to follow… maybe!

One easy New Year’s Resolution to follow would be the develop the habit of always having a capture point within easy reach.  That move alone would take a professional from being a White belt to an Orange belt, according to the 2Time system.