Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘Time & Task Management’ Category

Decisions, Decisions… almost Decided!

Posted by Michael Brown on October 11, 2008

Earlier this summer, I wrote about some of the things I, or anyone else who depends on a PDA or smartphone, should consider when thinking about changing. It boils down to one key concept; my data is my Life! It doesn’t matter if you’re digital or analog (i.e. Day Planner binder). In the days before I used a PDA, my binder held all that important data. I had to ensure it didn’t get lost, stolen, or destroyed, and I had to ensure I had a backup of critical data in case of disaster.

In today’s digital lifestyle, it’s much easier for me to backup and access my data from many platforms, but I still rely heavily on my mobile device, since it is my daily companion much like my old binder was many moons ago. So, my criteria for a mobile platform are:

1. Easy and open access to my data. I don’t like “black box” products. It’s my data, and I want to know where it is, and how it’s being stored. And it needs to be stored in such a way that multiple front-ends can access it. A good example on the desktop is Microsoft Office & OpenOffice.org for documents and spreadsheets, Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader for PDF’s, etc. I look at the handheld/smartphone platform the same way.

2. Let ME choose the right tool for the job. Like everyone else, I have my own way of doing things, and my own requirements for how I want my tools to work. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Palm OS platform. It provides all the basics one needs to get started, and yet is easily extensible to meet everyone’s unique needs. When I got my first Palm IIIx, I used the basic calendar/task tools for about a week, then I bought Datebk3. It used the same databases as the built-ins, but gave me the ability to customize how I worked with my data and how it was presented and organized. Similarly, I use other tools like psMemo and MemoLeaf to work with my Memos database. Like my Dad’s always said, “use the right tool for the job”.

3. It’s not the OS that’s important, it’s the applications! Ok, well, that’s not totally true, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The point is, you can only choose the right tool for the job if you have a selection of tools to choose from. If there’s no selection, then you’re stuck working with what you find. The platform(s) you’re considering switching too should have a selection of applications that work for you NOW; after all, you plan on using it now, right? You can’t choose a platform based on what MIGHT come out sometime in the future, unless you plan on making do until the mystical, super-productive *IT* comes out.

Now, to my point about the OS not being as important. The OS is the heart of a handheld or smartphone, but the apps are what give it the “smarts”. There are things that the OS provides that are like the foundation of a house; it gives developers what they need to build on. If those things are left out of the foundation and left up to the developers to build, then they may end up implementing them in different, confusing or incompatible ways. Consumers ultimately pay the price when platforms are too tightly, or too loosely, controlled.

4. Money. You might be able to get a good deal on a new smartphone, but is it really going to be such a good deal weeks or months down the road? The cost of the phone is one thing, but what about other things like chargers, memory cards, cables, headsets, and other peripherals? What about software? Can you leverage any of your existing investments, or will you have to start over and buy new for the new platform? Are you going to be committed to a certain minimum cost of service package in order to get your new device? All things to consider before buying; a productivity device should never be an “impulse buy” based on price or slick advertising.

5. How do I get from A to B? No, I’m not talking about GPS systems, although I do want one on my next device! I’m talking about all my life’s data in my old system, that I need to get into my new system, preferably with the least amount of effort and problems! This is something I can’t stress enough, unless you have a lot of time on your hands to re-enter all your stuff! Other things to consider are:

  • Will I have to implement workarounds for features I used to have that aren’t on the new platform? Think of things like notes, data fields in contacts, task features, alarms, templates, that kind of thing…
  • Is there a corresponding application on the new platform for everything I did on the old one? Let’s say you regularly created office documents on your old platform, but you can only view them on the new one? How will you handle that? What about things like journals, voice recording, capture tools, business-specific applications, etc? Can you get everything over to the new platform, and how will you do it?

6. Get touchy-feely with it! C’mon, get your mind out of the gutter; this is a tech blog! Ask yourself, how does it feel to use? Is this something I can and want to carry with me all day? How does the device work for me, compared to my old one? If you’ve come from a phone-style device, chances are you’ll be ok with something that uses T9 style keyboards, be it physical or touchscreen. If you’ve come from using a large QWERTY-style keyboard, then you may not be as comfortable with a T9 keypad or a small touchscreen. So, if you’re thinking of a drastic change, maybe you should go to a store or borrow a friend’s and play with it for a bit. Sure, there are devices with high-res touchscreens, soft keyboards, and other fancy features, but if you can’t type anything it to it, how productive will you be? Another point to consider is how you use your device; do you create a lot of content, or just consume it? Are you a one finger typist, or are you a two-hander?

7. What am I willing to live without in order to switch to the new platform? Chances are, if you’re looking to change platforms, then you’re tired of dealing with something on your old platform. But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, so you have to ask yourself what changes are you willing to make in order to switch? What compromises will you have to make? What do you need, what do you want, and what are you prepared to live without on the new platform?

This post is about all the things I’ve had to consider given I’ve made the decision to switch off of Palm OS after 9 years of using it, and these are all things other potential “switchers” should consider carefully. I’ve been through a Palm IIIx, a TRG pro, a Handera 330, a Tungsten T, and Treo’s 600 & 650, my current device. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars in Palm software and peripherals over the years, dozens of hours getting it tweaked just right, and I have years worth of data on my Treo, data that I depend on in my daily personal and professional lives. I know Palm OS like the back of my hand, and I’ve been pushing the boundaries of what it can do for years now. But, I’m wanting to replace my hardware, which is getting a little tired, and I’m not willing to give up hardware features any more, just because the aging OS5 can’t support it. These days, most new devices have high-resolution screens, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0, high-speed celluar data (EVDO or HSPDA), GPS, more memory and storage, high resolution cameras, and other new hardware features. Similarly, some other OS’s have new user interfaces, more advanced PIM databases, multi-tasking, more Bluetooth profiles, and other OS or built-in software features. Palm OS is no longer a cutting edge productivity OS, it’s rapidly becoming a beginner’s , but productive, smartphone OS.

So, of all that’s out there right now, what would I choose?

I was heavily leaning towards the iPhone for a while before it’s launch and for a few days after, but no more. The iPhone 3G’s 2.x software, while great for a feature phone, mobile internet device and media player, is less productive than Palm OS 2 was. Apple is targeting mass market consumers with the iPhone, and while some previous smartphone owners have bought it, most are finding it less productive than their last device. Combine that with the relative immaturity of the SDK, API’s and the lack of standardized built-in PIM applications and sync conduits, and it’s a no-go for me. Eye candy is nice, but not at the expense of usability or productivity. It may be something in a year or so, but not yet. In fact, many people are using other devices like Palm OS handhelds or other PDA’s in addition to their iPhone to make up for it’s lack of productivity applications.

The next one that typically comes to people’s minds when they think mobile devices is the Blackberry; so, is it the one for me? I don’t think so! The Blackberry is an excellent corporate platform with push e-mail and built-in PIMs rivaling those on the Palm platform. So why won’t I get a Crackberry? Basically, two reasons: the OS and the software. It’s really intended to be a corporate device, which is how RIM’s been marketing it until recently, but adding Media players and cameras doesn’t make it a personal platform. Other than themes, it’s hard to customize how you interact with the device; you have to use the menu system to do anything, you have to use the scroll wheel or function+nav keys to get around (although the trackball does make it a bit better on the Curves). There’s no touchscreen except on the just-released Storm, and it will be a while before a lot of software uses it to it’s full potential. Only the recently released Pocket Informant for Blackberry really leverages the built-in PIM’s information close to it’s potential, but it’s still behind software running on other, more-mature platforms.

Symbian/Nokia? Software is it’s limitation too, but I expect that will change in the next couple of years with their decision to OpenSource the Symbian platform. Nokia makes good phones, and sells lots of them, but most people don’t load anything other than content on them. So, not a productivity platform right now. And with Nokia killing off IntelliSync, it’s not certain where they’re going as far as desktop synchronization, so that’s another negative for me.

Google’s Android? One phone, the G1 made by HTC, has been released running Android. More are due, and none are in Canada at this point, with Canadian releases likely at least a year away. In my opinion, it has the same problems as the iPhone; the SDK is immature, as is the software ecosystem. A year or two from now, it could be a whole new ball game, but that doesn’t help me now.

So, that leaves Windows Mobile, previously known as Windows CE. A ways back, Palm users used to joke about it; it made you wince (WinCE) everytime you used it. Well, it’s grown up somewhat since then. Palm OS still beats it hands down when it comes to ease of use, but Windows Mobile is now the more capable operating system. It’s mature, has a stable and thriving developer community, with lots of enhancements being made to address it’s usability issues “out-of-the-box”. HTC and Sony Ericson are making touch-friendly front-ends to WinMo, making it more consumer and finger-friendly, and less like your parents old WinDoze. With all the WinMo handset makers out there, which ones made my shortlist?

I looked at hardware features, OS revision, bundled software, manufacturer reputation, and most important, how much of an active user community there was. I also looked at what kind of third party software was available for each device, which addressed deficiencies in that device, or added value to features the manufacturer didn’t exploit to their fullest. And most importantly, I looked at what I use my mobile for, how and where I use it, and the ergonomics of how I use it; those are three important factors in choosing the type of mobile device to buy. In my case, I use my mobile both one and two-handed: one-handed as a phone or camera, and for information viewing or retrieval (reading mailing lists, news, web browsing, etc.), and two-handed for information capture, e-mail, and content creation (like this blog post, written in a memo on my 650). So, a device has to work both ways for me to consider it. Based on all that, the Treo Pro was a no-brainer as one choice for me. Does that mean it’s a slam dunk for the Treo Pro? Nope! It made the shortlist, but it’s not a shoe-in. It’s facing heavy competition from HTC’s Touch Pro, the Touch Diamond’s big brother.

I had initially ruled out the Diamond (and the Touch Pro) because of concerns about the usability of the device. The Touch’s screen is physically smaller than the iPhones, and the software keyboard took up 2/3 of the screen when exposed. On the Diamond, it was a deal breaker; I lost too much screen real estate to the method of input. But then I started to really look at the ergonomics of how I interacted with my present 650 while I did my common tasks, and I realized I do use it differently based on one or two handed use. For serious content creation, the Touch Pro has the slide-out QWERTY keyboard, whereas one-handed use usually involves the D-pad navigator and the menu keys, or the phone keypad. There’s the odd exception to the rule like today, where some of this was typed one-handed on the 650’s QWERTY keyboard while standing on the bus, bouncing down Limebank Road. So, given that perspective, I only ruled out the Diamond, and kept the Touch Pro on the short list.

The Touch Pro betters the Treo Pro in most hardware specs: more memory, faster CPU, dedicated graphics chip, better camera and better video frame rates on video recordings, higher resolution VGA touchscreen, and accelerometer, light and magnetic stylus sensors. On the other hand, the Treo Pro has a QWERTY candybar/slab style the same size as the iPhone, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a larger battery, and lots of hardware buttons for common actions and functions. They both run Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, with similar software bundles, with the major differences being in their software User Interfaces. The Touch Pro has TouchFlo 3D, which adds some iPhonesque finger swiping interfaces, while the Treo Pro eschews eye-candy for a more business-like Today screen with added features. Being that both devices are manufactured in HTC’s facilities, their build qualities will be the same; HTC actually provided some design experience on the Treo Pro, and Palm chose to license some HTC software for use on the new Treo.

So, which one will it be? Like the Highlander says, “There can only be one” (in reality, it’s because that’s all I can afford; I do have kids to feed!). Like a reality TV show, you’re going to have to wait for the results post when I reveal which got cut, and which went home with me, and why. Stay tuned!

Originally published at PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | 1 Comment »

Pocket Informant for iPhone: I sync, therefore I am…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 28, 2008

There’s been a lot of hype and discussion about certain popular applications coming over to the iPhone platform, and Pocket Informant is no exception. The popular Windows Mobile Personal Information Manager is due out on the iPhone sometime in the future, but it’s most important feature is the one receiving the least amount of attention. It’s Sync engine is based on SyncML, specifically the open-source Funambol sync engine. It has it’s own Funambol client syncing to it’s own Calendar and task databases, since the iPhone doesn’t presently have a tasks database, nor does it expose the built-in Calendar to 3rd party applications.

So, essentially it works like Chapura’s Keysuite on the Palm; work around limitations of the platform’s databases by simply replacing them. It’s the Sync Engine though that really shows that the WebIS people are serious about making PI a heavyweight on the iPhone. Funambol allows for syncing many different types of devices and services, and allows for the “pushing” of information out to mobile devices. This could really make the iPhone really useful as a productivity device, by syncing Customer relationship managment (CRM) or sales force automation (SFA) data to the iPhone.

It’s been entertaining watching the App store releases; mostly eye-candy and fluff, but the next few months should be really entertaining as the heavyweights start entering the ring.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Inter-operability, iPhone, Open Source Software, Open Standards, PalmAddicts, Time & Task Management, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Decisions, Decisions…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 9, 2008

Lately, I’ve been thinking about switching cell phone carriers. I’ve been with Bell in Canada for years, but Bell’s never been really quick about getting new devices out to market in a reasonable period of time, and lately they’ve been dropping the ball with regard to smartphones. They no longer have any Palm OS devices for sale, and the only Palm Treo’s they have are the Windows Mobile 5 versions, the 700wx. Now, with today’s announcement that Bell and Telus (two Canadian CDMA carriers with cross-service agreements) will be charging for incoming Text (SMS) Messages, that’s merely another reason to start looking elsewhere. In the past, keeping one’s telephone number was a kind of handcuff tying you to your service provider, but since number portability has come to Canada about a year ago, there’s nothing tying you to your provider other than your contract and the quality of service you receive (both technical, like coverage, and customer service).

Bell and Telus’s announcement could not have been planned any worse. The much-hyped iPhone 3G is coming to Rogers this Friday, and Rogers announced that they will be continuing their existing policy of free incoming text messages, which may inspire some people to switch not only carriers, but phone platforms. But not all is happy in Ted Roger’s neighborhood; Rogers is taking huge flack from **potential** iPhone buyers (remember, the iPhone hasn’t made it up north legally, yet!). Their phone plans for the iPhone are nowhere near what they are like in the US. Realistically, ALL our phone voice and data plans are nothing like the US market’s plans. To understand why, you need to understand the Canadian wireless market.

Up North, we have two CDMA carriers, Bell and Telus, and they have cross-service agreements. Bell is entrenched in the East, and Telus in the West. To gain access to each other’s markets, they’ve made deals to make use of each other’s infrastructure, so there isn’t going to be a huge difference in plan pricing, since ultimately your service could be carried over the other’s network. On the GSM side, we have a similar situation; about a year or so ago, Rogers bought up the only other major GSM provider, Fido, and rolled Fido’s network and clients into it’s own fold. There’s Virgin Mobile and Koodo, but they’re not major players here and they only do feature phones, not smartphones, so I’m basically discounting them for this analysis. So, as far as pricing for wireless service goes, you have two choices: your present carrier or the other one (your classic “us or them” scenario). With no real competition up here, there isn’t any competitive pricing for consumers. So, choice up here really comes down to the phone platform itself. If you want a particular device, you are choosing a particular carrier. If that carrier has an exclusive on a device, then they can pretty much do what they want for pricing and plan details. It’s this kind of lack of choice that has led to the creation of Bill C-555, The Get Connected Fairly Act, which I’ll come back to later.

So, at this point in time, choice really comes down to the phone PLATFORM. Why Platform? Because you’re choosing a combination of hardware features, OS, and the biggie, Applications! People use the phone platform to DO something; talk, message, listen or watch media, surf, take pictures, that kind of thing. Feature phones have done these things with a closed OS and application set. If the phone didn’t do something out of the box, it never would. Smartphones allow you to install other applications to add features that aren’t present in the “out-of-the-box experience”. With iPhone firmware 2.0 and the iPhone 3G, it is transitioning from a closed platform to a more open one, which has people excited about it’s potential as a new smartphone platform. For new smartphone users, the iPhone should be a great experience as a platform, since it’s user friendly and “sexy”. For existing smartphone users, it’s not so clear-cut, so it’s time to make some decisions…

If you’ve been using a PDA or smartphone up to now, chances are you’ve got a lot of data wrapped up in various applications, and you have your productivity geared up for performing certain tasks on you mobile device. So, jumping to a new device just because it’s new and “sexy” may be productivity suicide if you suddenly find yourself without the applications or data you need to be productive. And yet, you’re still locked into a multi-year contract with your provider for your new toy, which you can’t use as well as your old one. So, the important thing to remember is “do your homework!” Research the platform(s) you’re considering changing too. Look at the tasks you presently perform with your mobile, and what data you need in order to be productive or entertained. Where is that data kept? How will you migrate it to the new platform? What other tasks do you use your present mobile for, and do they have equivalents on the new platform? How does it feel to use, and how well can you interact with the user interface? What accessories do you presently use with your mobile, and are they compatible with the new one? If they’re not compatible and you really need them, does an equivalent one exist for the new platform? If it has extra wireless features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, will it work with your existing accessories or other products (like access points or headsets that can have many different protocols or profiles)?

In my case, I have a large investment in Treo peripherals. So, I would obviously like to reuse them where I can. If I choose a platform that doesn’t support my peripherals, I would want to make sure that it supports standards that would avoid “proprietary connectors” wherever possible, so I don’t have to go through this whole “incompatible peripherals” situation again in the future. I also have a large investment in Palm OS/Treo software, so it would be less expensive and less work for me to choose the Centro from Rogers from a software perspective, but the Centro is over priced on Rogers ($299 vs $99 on AT&T in the US!). The other downside is that it’s the same old Palm OS that’s been around since my Treo 650 came out years ago, running on similar hardware with minor upgrades in features, software, RAM and camera, but major upgrades in stability.

Then there’s Windows Mobile, available through Rogers as the Treo 750. Instant compatibility with all my hardware peripherals, but only moderately cheaper than the Centro, believe it or not, at $274. I would have to invest in software replacements to achieve the same functionality I have now on Palm OS, so there’s added expenses there, but I know that all the applications I presently use have an equivalent on Windows Mobile. I would gain a Multi-tasking OS, more memory, and a better camera, a newer Bluetooth stack with Stereo Headset profile, but no Wi-Fi. I know I could bend it to my will if I have too, much like I’ve tweaked my Treo 650. To figure out how much of my software I would have to replace, I could do some testing on the Windows Mobile software simulators available from the Palm Developer Center. So, more work, a bit more money, but a newer OS that has some advantages over the Palm OS that I’ve known, loved, and sometimes cursed, for so long. Were the Treo 800w to come out this week, it might be a more clear cut winner as a platform choice, but it’s only rumoured to be coming out in the US on Sprint around July 13th. If it were to come out in Canada, I think Telus would be the first to get it, since it’s CDMA and they’re quicker on the ball than Bell when it comes to new devices. There’s even a Palm OS emulator (StyleTap), so I could run some of my Palm OS applications on Windows Mobile to smooth out the transition to the new platform.

And then there’s RIM’s Blackberry. With the devices available right now, it’s not really an option for me. It’s lacking stuff at the OS level (no vCal, no sending via Bluetooth, no DUN via Bluetooth), and it’s really lacking in the PIM applications, as well as for other applications I use right now. There is no Blackberry equivalent to DayNotez, nor is there a touch screen I can draw on when I want to like Notepad or Diddlebug. There are other applications I use regularly and would need to replace, adding to the cost of changing platforms, and in general Blackberry applications are considerably more expensive than Palm OS or Windows Mobile applications. Most of my peripherals wouldn’t work with it, but RIM does use standard connectors and protocols, so that in itself is good for the future. Wi-Fi and Docs To Go are coming on the Blackberry Bold, due out around the last week of July, which is a good thing, but still doesn’t address some of my other application needs. I don’t need push e-mail, the Blackberry’s claim-to-fame, so overall, it’s still a no-go for me.

And finally, there’s the iPhone 3G. It’s hyped, it’s new, it’s sexy, and it’s a complete mystery as to what software will be available for it until after this Friday. Out of the box it still can’t do copy & paste, or Stereo Bluetooth Headsets (A2DP). It also doesn’t do MMS, but that’s something I’ve never even used on my Treo 650, so it doesn’t matter to me. It does have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a stable Unix-based OS, and a pretty UI. I’m fast with a Treo or Blackberry keyboard, but I have no idea how well I’d be able to use the virtual keyboard on-screen (I can try out the keyboard at least on an iPod Touch). The price is Right at $199, but then there’s those ridiculous service plans starting at $60/month + stuff like caller ID and voicemail. There aren’t any software simulators to try out, no demo units in stores (at least until Friday), and I have no idea what software will be available that would replace my present applications, nor is there any idea what the pricing structure will be like. How well will it sync with Outlook, and what exactly will sync? How are other applications to Sync? There is supposed to be a version of the StyleTap Palm OS simulator software coming soon, so that’s a plus for smoothing out a transition. There’s also a lot of iPhone/iPod accessories available, so that’s a plus, as well as the rumored user-replaceable battery. So, basically it’s a holding pattern until after this weekend as far as the iPhone is concerned.

So, I still have some of my own homework to pursue, since I want to see how things shake out with the iPhone launch and how the early adopters fare. I try to avoid being on the bleeding edge when it comes to my personal productivity devices. But the best thing about the iPhone coming to Canada isn’t the iPhone itself. It’s the attention it’s bringing to the whole issue of wireless pricing in Canada. The $6.95 Wireless System Access Fee we all pay on our bills was initially created in the 90’s in order to help promote the development of wireless telephony throughout our country, and not just in major population centers. It’s no longer mandated by the CRTC, but the carriers are still charging it as a pure cash grab. Until now, it was hard to prove just how unfair Canadian wireless plan pricing was, since it was easy for them to say “Different hardware features, different software features, different service features”, etc. But the difference is black and white when you can compare Canadian Apples to American Apples when our currencies are so close in value. So, I would encourage Canadian readers to contact you local MPP about supporting Bill C-555, the “Get Connected Fairly Act”. Sign the online petition at http://www.davidmcguinty.com/english/Take_Action/Petition_The_House/Petition_C_555_Frais_d_acces.html or if you’re incensed about Rogers pricing for the iPhone, sign the petition at http://www.ruinediphone.com/ or better yet, sign both! The iPhone launch has a lot of media attention right now as does Bell & Telus’s SMS announcement, so it’s a great time for Canadians to rise up with one voice and tell the carriers, and our elected government representatives, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”

Initially published to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Blackberry, Change, iPhone, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Get some colour happening in your calendar

Posted by Michael Brown on April 24, 2008

Colour is an effective means for getting a grasp on a lot of information in one place. When it comes to your calendar, it can really help you get a handle on your schedule and commitments. For those people who synchronize with Microsoft Outlook, there is an easy way to add some colour to your life. This works with Outlook 2003 and 2007, and the built-in Palm Calendar on modern handhelds. It could also be implemented on other Palm calendars like DateBk6.

Calendar Labels

First of all, get your Palm and open the calendar application. In the category picker, choose Edit Categories. At the same time, open Outlook, select the Calendar, and choose the menus Edit => Label => Edit Labels. Choose Colours that match on both Outlook and the Handheld, and edit the Labels text to match the category you’re using on the handheld. In this example below, I’d edit the “Phone Call” label to match up with the colour I’ve chosen on the handheld. Finish choosing colours for all the Palm categories, and edit the corresponding Outlook labels.

Edit Categories

Automatic Formatting

Now, here’s where the magic really happens. In Outlook, choose the menus Edit => Automatic Formatting. Add a new rule, and call it one of your categories. Choose the same-named label in the picker below, and then click the condition button. Click on the More Choices tab, then type in the name of your category in the Categories field. Click OK when you’re done entering your rule. Add rules for each of the categories you wish to colour code. You can also add rules to look for specific text if you tend to use keywords in your appointments.

Now, your desktop and handheld calendars are just as colourful and co-ordinated!

Outlook Coloured CalendarPalm Colour week view

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in GTD, Palm, PalmAddicts, PIM, Time & Task Management, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Getting Things Done using your Palm to Process

Posted by Michael Brown on April 16, 2008

So, if you accepted the mission in our last episode, you now have a large collection of “stuff” sitting in the unfiled category of one or more applications on your Palm device. Now it’s time to start dealing with it.

Projects list in psMemoOpen each application that you put “stuff” in, go to the unfiled category and open each item there. Ask yourself “Is this actionable or not?”. If it’s not something that requires action, then you need to decide why it’s there. If it’s for future reference, then file it in the memo’s application. You can create some useful categories in the memo application that will help group similar things together, like placing them in the same “file folder”. I usually recommend the following categories as a minimum for use with memos: Reference, Projects, Someday/Maybe, and Lists. Most Palms come with Personal and Business as categories as well, so you can keep them if you prefer to separate things that way. You may want to have Projects – Business and Projects – Home if you have a lot on the go. File your memo where appropriate, and make sure the subject makes sense to you (like a summary). The subject will appear in the memo list view, and a good summary will help you find stuff later.

Let’s say your item may not be actionable now, but it’s something you may want to do in the future. That’s what the Someday/Maybe category is for. Stuff in there is “backburnered”, like a trip you might want to take, or a home improvement project you might want to do. It’s a place to keep stuff that you’ve thought of, but are not ready to do yet.

If it is actionable, then ask yourself this question “Can I do this right now in a couple of minutes?”. If you can, then just do it! Delete your item knowing you’ve just knocked off one thing you had to do.

If you can’t do it for whatever reason, then you have to decide what to do with it. First, let’s create some categories in the Tasks (or ToDo) application that will allow us to “put the wheels to the road” for when it comes time to do things. David Allen recommends using “contexts” or places to organize tasks, and recommends prefixing them with the @ symbol which has a dual meaning and a practical purpose. The dual meaning is “actionable” and “at” (as in location). By prefixing your contexts (in our case categories) with @, they will sort to the top of a list of categories, and stand out from non-actionable items.

I usually recommend the following categories or contexts for handheld use: @Work, @Home, @Errands, @WaitingFor, @Computer, and @Calls or @Phone. Since you have a handheld, and can do some things wherever you are, an @Anywhere may also be applicable if you’re able to work strictly with your mobile.

Now we have some categories, let’s start going through the items in your unfiled “inbox”. Do the things you can do in a couple of minutes: if it takes longer to track it than to do it, you’re better off just doing it! For those things that you can’t do, you have two choices; delegate it or defer it. Think about what needs to be done (and who should do it), and create a task with the appropriate description. Start it with a verb; Call Bill about project X, Buy part for car. If it’s a straight-forward, one time action, place the task into the category “where” you can do it. Call Bill would go in the @Calls category, and Buy part would go into @Errands.

Some of the items may be a part of something more complex or with more steps than a simple one-off task. For example, “buy part for car” will lead into “install part in car”. These are the things that require a bit more planning and organization than simple one-offs, so we’ll go into more detail in the next post in this series, Organizing. Now this brings us back to the audience participation part of the show; yup, more homework!

Decide what needs to be done for each thing that’s in your unfiled category. Start it with a verb, and make it specific to what needs to be done as a single action. If it’s bigger than a single action, file it in the projects category of your Memos application; we’ll look at it next time in the Organizing part of this series. Single items can be turned into tasks, and filed by the context you will be in to actually “do it” later. Calls go into @Phone, Work items go into @Work, etc. Now, let’s look at some easier ways to get stuff into a “doable” form.

AccessorizerSince the Palm OS is not multi-tasking, it can be frustrating switching between applications, and then having to find your place again when you want to switch back. In the past, DA’s or Desk accessories were created to allow you to pop up one application over top of another. A whole slew of little programs were created to allow access to the built-in databases. A gent named Alexander Pruss has made something even better than DA’s themselves. He’s created “the Accessorizer”, allowing you to generate a DA from most programs. This gives you the ability to pop-up one of the other built-ins (for example, Tasks) over top of say Memos, allowing you to copy from one application into another. Then you simply hit the Launcher button (the house icon) to return to the previous application. I’d highly recommend using the Accessorizer to create DA’s for Tasks, Memos, and Calendar. This will allow you to process, and later organize, the material you’ve collected and triaged.

DALauncher pop-upTwo things to be cautious about… One, not all applications will like to be turned into DA’s, so you may experience crashes. Start off with one application at a time, and run with it for a while before adding another. The second thing to be aware of is that you cannot pop up a DA instance of an application over top of the regular version of that application; that is, don’t pop up Memos over top of Memos, or your Palm will crash. Accessorizer can be found at 1src.com here. You’ll need a DA launcher to be able to launch your new DA applications; I use the aptly named DALauncher.

Transcribing a noteIf you use the Notepad, use the title line to transcribe what you scribbled down and then use copy and paste to get it into tasks or memos. Diddlebug has a nice transfer function, which gives you a line that you can transcribe onto and then use plugins or copy/paste to get your stuff where it needs to go. The notepad title trick works equally well for voice recorder applications like mVoice; simply listen to your recording (pausing when needed) and transcribe a shortened version onto the title line.

So, you have your homework, and some tricks that can help make it a little easier. Stay tuned for my next post in this series, Organizing using your Palm. This is Michael Brown, signing off till next time.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Technology, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Getting Things Done using your Palm to Collect

Posted by Michael Brown on April 12, 2008

Previously, I tantalized you with a teaser on Getting Things Done using your Palm handheld or Treo/Centro. Well, I won’t keep you in suspense; let’s get Collecting!

In his books, David Allen talks about having a Ubiquitous capture device; something that can capture all the “stuff” that comes flying your way during the day. It can be reminders to get something, someone asking you to do something, thoughts you have about projects or things to do, and so on. Chances are, if you don’t get it down somewhere, it’ll get lost in the storm of other things vying for your attention. The thing is, a mobile device like a Treo makes for the perfect Ubiquitous capture device when it’s your constant companion.

First of all, you have to capture in a means that works for your lifestyle. Look at what you’re doing now to capture “stuff”. If you use sticky notes all the time, is it because they’re convenient, or because they’re in your face? Do you like making lists? Or are you someone who uses the phone and voicemail a lot? Where does most of your “stuff” come from, and on what medium (paper, e-mail, phone/voicemail, or in-person)? Your capture and collection techniques will need to reflect where your inputs come from, and the pace you need to capture them at.

mVoicePhone-oriented individuals and those with the need to capture things quickly will want to use a voice recorder. Many Treo models and the Centros come with one built-in, as do some handhelds. In the case of my Treo 650, it didn’t, so I bought (and would highly recommend) mVoice from Motion Apps. It’s handy for getting things down quickly, and for times when my hands are otherwise occupied (like when I’m crawling around the back of an equipment rack) . Voice recordings are also handy for reinforcing your credibility and reliability to others; if you get stopped a lot with “in-person” input, they’ll have a lot of faith in your ability to deliver when they see you whip out your mobile and leave yourself a voice note about their request.

Diddlebug“Scribblers” who use sticky notes all the time may want to use the built-in notepad application (if your Palm has one). It’s like an endless supply of stickies, that are always with you. Since it’s always with you, when you need something you wrote down earlier, it’ll be with you, and not stuck to your monitor at work. If those stickies have to be “in your face”, you might want to consider Diddlebug (free) or BugMe! ($), which allow you to set alarms on notes, giving you that “in-your-face feeling”.

Listmakers who have the time to input things can use Memos. It allows you to make free form lists of “stuff”. It’s best to use one memo for each idea or input. The point is to capture or collect at this stage; you’ll deal with it later. There are other “front ends” to the memos database, so if you find that the stock one doesn’t work for you, you can look at something like psMemo (free) or MemoLeaf ($). They add additional features while still using the Memos database; something that’s important if you sync with a laptop or desktop computer to work with your “stuff” there.

Finally, for quick “one-offs”, you can capture them right to the Tasks (or ToDo) application when time permits. Those could be an errand, a call to make, or something else similarly straight-forward and actionable.

TasksNow, with all these capture techniques, you want to make sure you capture to the “unfiled” category of the application. Categories are a powerful organizational tool, as you’ll see later in this series. Palm OS allows for 15 categories plus unfiled, so we’ll create a few next time, make use of them later.

The best approach is to try each of these capture techniques, and see which feels the most natural to you. Definitely try the methods that seem closest to what you may be doing already. If it’s not quick and easy, you won’t do it. There’s also no reason why you can’t use several different methods for capturing “stuff”, depending on your situation at the time. For example, you could use memos for when you have time to input stuff, and the voice recorder for when you’re on the go.

Now it’s time for the audience participation part of the program; yup, homework! Try each of the methods for capturing “stuff” that you have on your plate right now. Try and get as much out of your head and the various other sources of input you have, and get it into your Palm device. If you sync to a laptop or desktop, you can copy and paste from e-mails into memos or tasks, to save yourself some typing. Here’s a tip for Outlook users: you can drag an e-mail and drop it on the tasks or notes folders to create a new item.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to collect all your “stuff” into the unfiled categories in whichever applications suit your lifestyle. Stay tuned for our next installment, when we’ll cover “processing”. This is Michael Brown, signing off for now.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Getting Things Done using your Palm

Posted by Michael Brown on April 11, 2008

Getting Things Done, or GTD as it’s known to it’s practitioners, is a methodology for accomplishing things in your daily life. It’s not a “time management system”, it’s a process or methodology which enables you to be productive. It can be implemented using paper or digital means, or a hybrid combination of the two. In the next five posts in this series, I’ll be giving you tips and techniques to implement the five stages of the GTD methodology using a Palm handheld or smartphone. Many of the techniques I’ll be demonstrating will work equally well for other types of Mobile devices, like Windows Mobile, Blackberry and Symbian, when adapted to those platforms.

The five posts in this series will cover the core aspects of the GTD process, which are Collect, Process, Organize, Review and Do. Each post will focus on one aspect of the process, and how to accomplish it using a Palm OS based approach using the built-in applications and some freeware applications as a starting point. Since no two people are alike, and what works for one person may not work for another, I’ll also suggest alternatives that may cater to people’s different approaches to organization and productivity.

To get the full benefit of the GTD methodology you’d have to read David Allen’s books, but this series of posts are intended to give you a crash course in using a Palm handheld or smartphone to implement GTD. Next time we’ll cover the Collection phase, so make sure you stay tuned. Until next time, this is Michael Brown signing off.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Read the whole series:
Part 1 – Collect.
Part2 – Process.

Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Treo | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Following through on your New Year’s resolutions.

Posted by Michael Brown on January 4, 2008

Times Square BallNow’s about the time people start thinking about their resolutions and how they’re going to achieve them. Your Palm Handheld or Treo/Centro smartphone can be a helpful companion in helping you achieve your goals for the New Year. Here’s how:

First, you need to commit to writing your resolutions down. Saying them is fine, but there’s more commitment when it’s in black & white (or colour) and staring you in the face. In David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”, David insists people keep a Projects List, which is a list of what you presently have on your plate. Resolutions or goals are projects too, so they should go on that list. Create a Memo category called Projects, then create a new memo titled !Projects List. The ! before Projects will ensure that your list of active projects will be at the top of your list of project memos, which you will create later.

Next, write down your goals or resolutions on your !Projects List. Take your time writing them down, since you want to write them in a way that will help you succeed. Goals like “get fit”, “lose weight” or “clean up my office” are too vague, and are guaranteed to fail. Goals should be specific, and allow you at answer them every week with a Yes or No as to whether or not you have achieved them. So, a better goal would be “Lose 20 pounds and increase my energy level so I can easily exercise 4 times a week”. The office example could be better put as “Make my office an area where I can be productive and enjoy my work”. We’ll see why we phrase them that way shortly. It’s also a good time to list all your other work and personal projects onto your !Projects List, which becomes a dashboard for what you’re presently dealing with.

Now that you have all of of your goals, resolutions and projects listed on your master project list, it’s time to create a “workspace” for each of the “projects” you listed. Create a new memo, and title it the same as what you listed on your !Projects List (you can copy and paste if that helps speed things up). This memo is the place where you put next actions or steps to take to achieve your end, brainstorming and any other reference material.

As you think of things that relate to you projects, put them into your project memos if you have time; otherwise, find some means to capture it; you could use an application like Slap or Snap, an unfiled memo or task, a voice recorder, or any other means to capture the information for later processing and action. I use a combination of unfiled memos and voice recordings on my Treo for my capture “in-boxes”.

The second step is to make a weekly appointment with yourself to review and plan for achieving your goals. Find a time that works for you, one where there is no distractions for about 30 minutes to an hour. Put an appointment in your calendar for that time, and make it a weekly repeating appointment. Treat it like a meeting with the president of your company; in other words, nothing else should take priority.

The weekly review is the time you go through your projects, read the title to yourself and ask yourself, “Is that statement true?”. If it is, your project is done and can be archived. More than likely, though, you’ll answer no, so the next question becomes “Why not?”. This will lead you to brainstorming and creating next actions. Write them into your project memo. If they are actionable, copy and paste them into Palm Tasks. This is where a DA Launcher and a DA like ToDoDA come in handy. You can pop-up ToDoDA over top of the Memo App, paste your task in, and send it to the tasks Database, and then go back to where you were in your project memo. You may also need to schedule time to work on your goals, so make appointments with yourself in your Calendar and keep them as sacred as if you were meeting an important client.

While you are trying to accomplish your resolutions and goals, don’t bite off more than you can chew at one time. When creating new habits, it’s best to focus on one at a time, and keep at it for a month. Next month you can keep at the first, and add another habit you wish to tackle. Most people get enthusiastic at the beginning of the new year, and try to become a whole new person over-night, only to get overwhelmed and frustrated and return to their old habits in short order. If your projects list is getting overwhelming, choose what is most important to you, and leave those in your Projects Category in the Memo application. Create another category called Someday/Maybe, and file all the others you have chosen not to pursue in that category. At the end of your Weekly reviews, look over the list of items in the Someday/Maybe category, and decide if you want to work on them now, in which case you move it to the Projects category.

DayNotez and Don’t break the ChainTo track your progress, you should consider using Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” approach. I while back I detailed how to use DayNotez 3 to implement that approach, but you could do the same thing in the Palm Calendar using a Category like Goals or Habits, and assigning it a colour for the Month view. DayNotez 3 has has more features which make it easier to use Seinfeld’s approach for a multitude of habit development, where the Palm calendar is a bit more limiting (but otherwise free!). The first is “tags”; tags can be keywords, habits to develop, or indicators. They can be global, or specific to a single category, and they can include an icon. You can use multiple tags for each entry you make in DayNotez. Categories are a means of viewing a subset of your entries, or for grouping related things together, and they can also have an icon. The second new feature of DayNotez is a monthy view which can be set in the “Preferences -> Calendar” tab to show Tag/Category icons, allowing you to see if you have broken the chain or not. Those two new features will allow you to use Sienfeld’s approach to create (or break) habits. You may be able to use the same techniques with an advanced calendar application like DateBk6 or Agendus, if you already own one of those.

The important thing to remember is that goals/habits/resoutions are more important than the tools. Don’t run out and buy any software that I or others recommend solely because we’re recommending it. No software is going to change your life for you. Start with the built-in applications first (or ones you may already own), and get started with those. Give it a go for a month, then start a new project (if necessary) titled “Am I productive with the tools I have?”. If the answer is No, then you’ll have to ask yourself “why not?”. Clearly identify what’s not working for you, keeping in mind that no application is going to be perfect or do things for you. Look for tools that address those difficulties and fit your lifestyle. Try freeware applications and trial software, and give them a try for a month before you make any changes to your routines or commit to buying something. The siren song of the perfect application or combination of applications can lure you down the wrong path, away from your goals. Keep focused on what you want to achieve, and make sure the tools you choose help you get to your goals. Best Wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Productive 2008!

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Time to Reboot my life

Posted by Michael Brown on October 20, 2007

Six loooong months of losing sleep to a teething toddler has taken it’s toll on me. The human body – or at least my body – isn’t meant to run on 2-5 hours a sleep a night, or waking up every 1-2 hours, for long periods of time. I’m tired, run down, and have lacked energy for a while now, which has resulted in overflowing personal in-boxes and a general dissatisfaction with where my life is presently standing. Now that the little one is starting to sleep through the night again, my batteries are starting to recharge and I figure it’s about time I rebooted my life.

Rebooting a long-running computer has the benefit of clearing out memory, getting rid of errant and “zombie” processes, and starting up fresh and clean. So, I’m going to do the same thing for my life. Clear out my head with a GTD mind dump, get rid of bad habits that have developed over the last few months, and focus on developing better and healthier habits. So, basically, a regrouping and “fresh start”, and a chance to clean up some things I’m not happy with right now. And my Treo will play a major part in that effort.

I capture a lot of incoming “stuff” into Memos and Voice recordings, both of which need to be processed. Some of those will get converted into Tasks or appointments, while others are filed away in Memos for reference or as project support. DayNotez will play a major role in breaking old habits and forming new ones, by using Jerry Seinfelds’s Don’t break the chain approach.

DayNotez and Don’t break the ChainDayNotez 3 has some nice new features that make it easy to use Seinfeld’s approach for a multitude of habit development, as well as being an excellent journal and “right hand page”. The first is “tags”; tags can be keywords, habits to develop, or indicators. They can be global, or specific to a single category, and they can include an icon. You can use multiple tags for each entry you make in DayNotez. Categories are a means of viewing a subset of your entries, or for grouping related things together, and they can also have an icon. The second new feature of DayNotez is a monthy view which can be set in the “Preferences -> Calendar” tab to show Tag/Category icons, allowing you to see if you have broken the chain or not. Those two new features will allow you to use Sienfeld’s approach to create (or break) habits.

DayNotez TagsSo, you could create a category of Exercise and give it an icon, and tags (with no icons) for types of exercises. This way, every time you make an entry in the Exercise category, you can see every day that you exercised, and thus, did not break the chain. You could do the same with personal development; create a category for it with an icon, and tags for things you want to develop. If you give a tag an icon, and then tag an entry with it, that day will show the tag’s icon, and not the category’s; basically, tag icons will override category icons.

Templates can make the whole process smooth and consistant. You can pre-fill template text, tags, links to a person, duration, and follow-up status to ensure everything you need is captured. When you create a new entry, you can select a template and simply fill in the the extras. You can even add a photo or take a voice recording and make them part of the entry.
DayNotez Details

You can also use DayNotez to chart energy levels or moods (or even the weather) by creating tags, and giving them icons. The Month view can then show you trends. DayNotez 3 also has filters that allow you to “slice and dice” your entries as needed, so you can see the information or trends that can help you refocus your efforts or gain insight into your daily life.

A Palm device paired with DayNotez 3 makes for an effective means of tracking your progress towards goals using the “Don’t break the chain” method, and you don’t lose any wallspace in the process! Because DayNotez works with the built-in PIM databases and hardware features, you can use other tools like DateBk6, PSLink, MemoLeaf, or anything else you like to help you accomplish your tasks and manage your commitments. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading off to reboot.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

Posted in Habits, Palm, PalmAddicts, Productivity, Time & Task Management, Treo | 1 Comment »

Palm Desktop for Vista: Thar be changes here!

Posted by Michael Brown on September 7, 2007

So, as I wrote in the piece “The Desktop is a Dying breed”, I was in the need of PC mobility, for in my house. Well, last week Tiger Direct had a deal on refurbished Gateway laptops, and the price was too good to pass up. Out came the credit card, and a few days later I had my “new” laptop. Like many new laptops, it’s running Vista Home (Premium), which is a different enough beast from XP that many applications don’t work properly. Vista itself is pretty slow on a laptop “out-of-the-box” unless you tune it up, but that’s something for a different day.

Now that I have the laptop, it’s time to see if it could replace my main machine as my personal productivity device. So, I start installing applications and testing them for compatibility. One of the first to install and test is the New Palm Desktop beta for Windows Vista. The Palm Desktop application looks and feels the same as the old one, so I won’t go into it. There are some major changes to the HotSync Manager and some others under the hood that anyone upgrading to Vista and the Palm Desktop Beta should be aware of.

Firstly, when you right click on the HotSync manager icon in the system tray, you only get two choices, as opposed to the many on the previous versions of PD; Settings, and install. Install launches the Vista compatible install tool, which resembles the original install tool and not the newer QuickInstall. The settings option launches the screen below.

HotSync Manager on Vista

Yup, HotSync has been “Vista-fied”. Looks pretty, and surprisingly, is actually very well laid out and organized. Applications is where you will find your conduits. It works much like the old one, where you can double-click to set-up the conduits. You have to click the Show Details checkbox in order to show how the conduits are configured.

HotSync Applications or Conduits

The HotSync Progress Dialog gives you the option of hiding it during the sync progress, which may make some people very happy.

HotSync progress indicator

The HotSync log is now a part of the HotSync Manager itself, and is displayed in the Summary screen when you hit the link shown at the top of the summary screen. The HotSync log is still created as a HTML file in the root of your Palm Desktop User Directory, and HotSync settings are saved in the sync.ini file in the same location.

HotSync Log

The major changes are where it stores your user data. Palm Desktop veterans know that in the past, Palm has stuck data in C:\Palm and later C:\Program Files\Palm or C:\Program Files\palmOne, in a directory that relates to your HotSync user name. With Vista, that has all changed (finally, and for the better!). Palm Desktop program files are stored in, wait for it… C:\Program Files\Palm but your user data is actually stored where user data is supposed to be stored, in your user directory. This means that backing up your Palm Desktop data is just as easy as backing up the rest of your user files. You can see in the picture below how it’s now organized.

Palm Desktop folders in User directory

Now, here’s the real problem for those that make use of third-party software like Dimex, Dawn, or any other package that accesses Palm Desktop data directly; Palm Desktop for Vista no longer uses .DAT files to store your PIM data in. They’ve made the switch to using Microsoft Access databases (.mdb) to store the data. That’s a mixed blessing; your old software won’t work unless it’s updated to work with the Access databases, but because they’re now Access databases, it means that it’s likely that there will be more third-party plugins available to use the data sometime in the future. Doesn’t help you now, though.

If you’re thinking “hey, I’ve got MS Access, I’ll just open and modify the databases directly”, you might want to hold off on that, or just open it read-only for viewing. Palm is using a BLOB (Binary Large OBject) to store large amounts of data in each of the PIM applications, and to my knowledge, have not released any information about their formats. If you try to modify a record, Access doesn’t know how to handle what’s in the blob, so it may trash your data. Third party developers should encourage Palm to release information on the formats, or create an API (Application Programming Interface) for others to use to access the PIM data (pardon the pun).

So, if you’re thinking of upgrading to Vista, and you rely on Palm Desktop, here are the key points to consider:

  • The Data is now in your user folder: C:\Users\{Win User Name}\Palm OS Desktop\{PD User Name}\
  • Third-Party Plugins may not work; contact the vendor for support information.
  • Documents to Go version 10 is the only one that works with the new Palm Desktop for Vista, so you’ll have to shell out for the upgrade (I did).
  • Other conduits may not work or may need updated versions; contact your vendor or read the FAQ’s on their website.
  • And finally, Vista is Slooooooooow on a laptop; spring for as much RAM as you can afford, and Google for “Vista Laptop performance tweaks”. That will help a lot!
  • Originally posted to PalmAddicts here:

    Posted in Palm, PalmAddicts, Time & Task Management, Treo, Windows | 3 Comments »