The Decision to De-Tech

In the coming months I will be placing a couple of PDAs and some other gadgets and stuff on eBay.

Those of you who know me personally, when you come-to, please keep reading.

I have been working with computers for over 28 years. As much as I love working with them, the current state of the art of personal electronics leaves a bit and then a bit more to be desired. I have spent more time recovering from crashes trying to sync than I would like to admit. Even when the handhelds are "working okay" there have been crashes. It can be quite stressful when you need to start getting ready for work and you're trying to sync your checking account balance with your desktop PC and the handheld keeps rebooting before it's done.

It's not just the crashes. There's also upgrade pressure. You're always wanting to be running the latest and greatest software. Then the upgrade you just paid the discounted price for doesn't want to cooperate with the older hardware and you're wiping down to nothing and reinstalling, and hoping that when you do that sync, it will go through and complete normally.

In 2003 I had a car that ceased to serve me and was generating repair bills in excess of multiple payments. I decided one day that I wouldn't have to deal with whatever it was that needed fixing if I just traded it in. After I decided that the stress went down. I guess it's something to do with seeing a way out.

The last week of December I decided to let go of the PDA. All I was doing with it was my checkbook and I had stopped using it for music after I got my iPod. So by mid year the only personal electronics I will be using will be my digital camera and iPod. The checkbook, calendar, to do lists, contact forms, and other managing and tracking are now on paper thanks to my printer, some 24lb paper, D*I*Y Planner dot com and Moleskine Notebooks.

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I hear your cry...

I know exactly how you feel. I forsook my Filofax for six months when I bought a Sony Clie. It was great at first. Tiny form factor, e-mail on the run, discreet privacy. Then the downside: unstable third party software and a battery that hates the cold. In my opinion the stress comes not from a PDA's faults, nothing is perfect, but the unpredictability of those faults. With paper one can keep control... unless the ex or James Belushi get hold of it :O

Leaving tech, to de-stress

You bring up an excellent point, and one that I don't think has really been broached here so succinctly.

When people (like myself, and you, by the sounds of it) spend so much time "involved" with gadgets, there is a constant pressure at work. I had a Palm Pilot, I needed a Palm IIIe. Then I needed a Palm IIIc for colour. Then I "needed" a Clie, a Treo, a PalmPC, and so on. Always a need for the latest and greatest, and of course that often includes costly software that creates more stress when it doesn't quite do things the way we need them to be done, or we need to pay for an upgrade merely to fix bugs or inadequacies with the earlier version. It's a never-ending cycle. And then there's syncing and batteries and anti-theft and so on....

True, the analog world does encourage "upgrades" in a way: you want a nice leather index card wallet, or a Moleskine or a high-end journal or planner, or perhaps trade in your Pilot G2 for a nice fountain pen. But most of these things will last the remainder of your life, not be outmoded in six months or a year.

Last year, I made a firm decision not to spend so much time trying new Mac and Palm software, trying every OS X hint, and constantly upgrading when a new 0.0.1 version came out. In a way, I miss it, but now I have a lot more free time to do meaningful things, things that will endure. Less busy-work, and less stress, overall. But of course, that's just me....

all my best,

now i don't feel so bad.

now i don't feel so bad. this past year i stopped using a palm vx because it refused to synch with my desk top. so, after months of research, i purchased a palm tungsten e2. i loved it when it worked. but it only synchronized intermittently. after spending HOURS and hours trouble shooting and trying every solution suggested, i gave up.

i went back to analog and picked up a large moleskine daily calendar that got me thru the end of '05 and i am happily using an '06 at the moment. no synchronization problems. no upgrade pressures. no need to remember to charge it up.

i still sometimes have periods of techno-lust when i see others happily using their little pda's. i miss being able to read the news and carry around and work in my various spread sheets. but, until the technology is truly seamless and reliable, i'm sticking to paper.

I feel validated!

I have recently gone through the same thought and decision-making process, with the added complexity of having never completely left the analog world! At one point I was using a Covey planner with I-Scribe digital paper, IScribe software and a Logitech IO Digital pen, a low-end palm pilot, and a regular notebook. Needless to say, I was more scattered during my initial teching up than after. I started reading "Getting Things Done", got disillusioned with the Logitech IO and digital paper(great concept, premature execution), and the IScribe software (never worked well with my email), so I decided to go back to paper as my primary reference for notes, projects, next actions, to do's. It was just plain simpler and more logical for me.

I also think the physical act of writing focuses my attention on the words, such that I am more cognizant of what I am thinking about, proposing, committing to, etc. I think David Allen's insight is the need to put all your informational stuff into one trusted reference place, and paper is working out best for me. Besides which, it isn't susceptible to static shock like my flash drive was (as are other USB toys). I do have to admit to upgrading my planner binder (needed bigger rings to manage more paper stuff), so "version creep" is real, but on a much longer time cycle (multiple years vs multiple months)

In thinking about this, I am put in mind of a time in the nineties when I was using a power Mac on my desk top, Windows in one part of my lab, and a proprietary Unix-based software on another instrument. The mental overhead of being up to date and functional in different operating systems and software packages just becomes too great and your ability to work suffers. However you "de-tech" it should point you to a better mental space that removes the upkeep and maintenance shackles from your productivity and creativity.


de-teching after thoughts

what is it about human nature that in our efforts to simplify our lives we tend to do the exact opposite?

although i enjoy my moleskine calendar, which i adopted when my one a few months old plam tungsten e2 stopped synchronizing, it is large and requires my carrying a pencil when i prefer to carry a pen, and it doesn't allow me to carry around documents in word, excell and powerpoint. nor does it allow me to carry cad drawings in a pocket sized package.

if truth be told, i rather loved my old palm vx. with a folding keyboard, i could do pretty much anything i ever needed to do, with the exception of sketch, for which i used my moleskine sketchbooks. but it was old and developed a tendency to crash.

when my technology was performing correctly, all i need to to carry with me was my wallet, my cell phone, my palm, the keyboard, my moleskine and a pen. it sounds rather a lot, and it could be cumbersom, but it fit in my small shoulder bag and i didn't need to carry them all all the time.

now i generally need to carry my wallet, my cell phone, my moleskine calendar, my pen case, my moleskine, file folders with hard copy of documents i need to refer to, and [best case] a 12 x 18 set of drawings, or [worst case] a 24 x 36 set of drawings. [i'm an architect.] add to this a lap top if i need to actually work on files or run a power point presentation. most of these things fit in my brief case or in my lap top bag, neither of which is as convenient to carry around as my small shoulder bag.

i've been flirting with the idea of getting a pda/cell phone thing, but my significant other has not had a good experience with his: the battery life is ridiculously short and it crashes at the drop of a hat. not to mention my own unhappy tungsten experience. i fear that it won't really make my life easier.

now all of the above is about my working life. for my personal life, like weekends and evenings, i carry my wallet, my cell phone, a levenger pocket brief case wallet thing loaded with 3x5 cards, a pen, and sometimes my moleskine journal. in an ideal life, this same small grouping would function for my work life as well. to date i haven't found a way to make it work that doesn't involve a pda.

i was reading a thread on google's 43 folders group about "man bags". apparently i'm not the only man obsessed with finding the perfect bag. one of the posters said if you can't put what you need in your coat pockets, you're carrying too much. which at first i thought was rather flip. but, isn't that exactly what i want? it's pretty much what happens on my weekends. it's pretty much what i used to have before i returned to analog.

this is just me rambling on about an irritation in my life which hasn't been satisfactorily resolved. maybe i'm making it too complicated. probably

Analog = unleashed

An important part of moving to analog planning is the admission that you don't need to carry around a bunch of Excel, Word, and PowerPoint documents all the time. If something in those documents should be changed, make a note of it -- and change the documents when you get back to your desk.

You may be better served with a loose-leaf binder than a Moleskine calendar. With the binder, you can keep hardcopies of documents you need for reference, and you can add and delete things as needed. Update your Excel file at your desk, print it, punch it, and put it in your binder. I keep various letter-size pages in my classic-size notebook this way.

I carry a wallet, keys, cell phone, 3x5 card holder, and one or more pens (usually a fountain pen and a ballpoint) pretty much all the time. My classic-size planner goes with me lots of places, but sometimes it stays on my desk too -- I can take a note on a 3x5 card and process it later. Without the planner, I can carry everything in pockets.

The point, which I'm drifting away from, is that you don't have to be connected to all this digital stuff every minute of every day. Is there a real, serious reason why you need to have a fully functional office with you at all times? (I'm not an architect, so I don't know what you actually do need.)

Do you procrastinate?

trying to break the leash...or repair it

for the most part i agree with you about not carrying what you don't need.

what i LIKED about being able to carry around all those excel, word, powerpoint and cad documents all the time was that i didn't have to carry around all the hard copies, which, if i'm going to a meeting on a job site, can weight upwards of 25 pounds or more depending on the size of the project. the benefit to my back was tremendous. also, it meant i didn't have to be in the office to work. as a self employed person with no employees, being able to work on the fly, in spare moments here and there, is a real boon.

i am currently working a variation of your suggestion: hard copies of the documents i need go in file folders that go in my brief case and rolls of drawings and too-big samples get juggled along with the brief case. and the result is that my bag weighs a ton and i often need a third arm to haul the drawings.

an engineer i sometimes work with has a very small dell notebook computer with a battery that he can change on the fly without having to power down his notebook, which he uses for everything. i understand from him they don't make this model anymore. don't know if he's correct or not. but the idea is great and a potential solution to my dilemma, though a notebook is still a good deal bigger than a pda.

as i said, i'm still processing all this information about devices and systems.

kind of off topic:
my professional liability insurance carrier recommends always using a bound calendar or note book with numbered pages. it has to do with the reliability of one's records. loose leaf calendars and notebooks are deemed unreliable. i follow that advice as a form of risk mitigation...and i never liked my old day runner, pages were forever getting torn out.

Needing a portable office

Thank you for your reply -- now I have a a better understanding of your situation. You're a one-man show, and it sounds like you spend a lot of time in motion, so you do have a real need to carry things with you.

I would recommend a small laptop/notebook computer -- Dell may not make your engineer friend's model anymore, but they probably do make something in that niche. One of the great advantages of a notebook computer is that it doesn't get any heavier when you put more stuff in it, as opposed to paper notebooks.

You can do your daily planning on paper (paper doesn't crash, after all), but still carry data with you in a computer for heavier work.

About the bound notebooks -- I've seen that suggestion before, and I can see the merit in it. If anything serious ever came up, your bound books mean you haven't rearranged your notes or logs.

Do you procrastinate?

portable office

i'm starting to come to the same conclusion. a portable office is definately the objective, i think. i've been thinking that a tablet notebook would be better for my particular needs than a lap top.

Tablet PC Option

I'm glad to see you have considered a Tablet PC (TPC) as an option. I too have grown weary of the issues around overly complex technology solutions. I work in IT and have been at it for over 30 years. I've gone the route from Day-timer to Franklin to Outlook on a PC with a PDA.

The TPC is finally to a point (for me at least) that it gives me the benefits with few of the drawbacks listed above. I have a Toshiba M-205 (3.5 lbs), 12" screen. It serves as my desktop and PDA as well as my portable PC as it is a convertible TPC and thus has a full keyboard.

These two links might give you a better sense of the possibilities of going paperless with a TPC. It would seem to be a huge potential benefit for your situation. Link 1 Link 2

thanks for the links! the

thanks for the links!

the more i thought about what it was i needed, rather than wanted, the more a tablet pc made sense. i'm definately looking into getting one.

hey you dont need to carry a

hey you dont need to carry a bunch of word exel files powerpont etc. you take them with you on a usb stick and change them, share them or wathever you want to do, anywhere

recent owner of iomega micro mini 1 Gig

I recently purchased an iomega micro mini 1 Gig USB2.0 stick. I've loaded it with a custom tiddlywiki ( and am going to experiment with how well this works to capture thoughts and ideas anywhere I am away from my hipster AND powerbook.

Extra space will go to file sharing and swapping, of course :D


PocketMan/BeltMan vs. BagMan

>one of the posters said if you can't put what you need in your coat pockets, you're carrying too much

That's a very nicely put rule of thumb that works for some people, but not all.

Coat pockets

The trouble with the coat-pocket rule is that some locations make it impossible to wear a coat without risking heat prostration in the summertime. Unless a dress code requires it, most of us in Kansas City are coatless from, say, May till late September. And pants pockets, as probably anybody interested in analog alternatives soon discovers, are not ideal vehicles for paper. A shirt-pocket notebook may be insufficient for most busy users.

Otherwise, I'd agree that if it can't fit in coat pockets, it's too much.

By the way, when my Tungsten E gives out finally, I will not use another PDA. I'll continue to use the desktop software as it's the only easy-to-use calendar/noteplace/address book I have, but no more portable electronics except my cell phone and, when I want or need it, my digital camera.

Expenditures, I write down in a pocket notebook and transfer to both a spreadsheet and my paper check register (where appropriate) when I get home from impulse buying, etc.


Hi Jon, Mike from Manchester here. How are things going?
Drop me a line if you feel like it.

Coat pockets

I found a local seamstress who put some extra inside pockets, zipped and velcro'd, into my coats

This evened out those lumpy, "stuffed hip pockets" bulges, thereby looking smarter. It is now easier to find and manage my digital toys and paper-based systems.

It cost about the same as, or slightly less than, a collection soft cases, hard cases, briefcases and "steal me first" man bags.

Peter Bryenton


I have been looking at the forum for awhile now as I have tried to implement the GTD methodology. I, like many, have moved away from Covey for a host of reasons. What I realise is that many people's fixation with productivity and associated tools is a sympton of a much deeper issue that requires some courage to overcome. If you are swamped with information, tasks, emails, etc. and you are attempting to cope by discovering the perfect system or tool you must stop. You must find the courage to push back and accept that life is more than a clean inbox or a perfectly organised office or the perfect notebook that is too good to use. The real cause is that we continue to accept more and more inputs into our lives that the machine (tools and systems) are the masters and not the servants. I realise this requires courage since more is expected of us in our work and professional lives, but having a new PDA or mastering Outlook is not the answer. We all try to squeeze into other people's structures; for instance Outlook is the norm, yet how many of us find the interface and navigation pleasing to work with? David Allen, Stephen Covey and others make ridiculous sums of money by offering more band aid simplistic solutions for those of us 'under the gun' of having to produce more output and deal with massive more inputs. If ever you have attended a Franklin Covey Focus course you will see what I mean by simplistic garbage. David Allen is considered a guru??? You have got to be kidding.

Managing/limiting inputs

From your argument it would seem that the way to a solution would involve managing and/or limiting inputs.

On guru-ness

"David Allen is considered a guru??? You have got to be kidding."

Even David Allen admits that what he teaches is common sense. Keeping track of the inputs we have allowed into our lives brings our commitments into focus, which helps us make better decisions.

No, it's not some mystical New Discovery, but it's something that a lot of us need to be reminded of before we burn ourselves out.

Do you procrastinate?

to a certain extent, yes,

to a certain extent, yes, much of the overload we experience is from taking in more stuff than we can actually handle. however, for some of us, finding a way to organize and track the input that exists in our lives lets us know when to say "no" to more.

then, there is a group, and i suspect many who read at, for whom a good system or a nifty device is like candy or a great wine.

You're so right. That last

You're so right. That last statement really hit the nail right on the very head. Even an improvement in a system I'm already using is a big help. It's taken so long to work out a system for some of the things I deal with, and I still have problems with the details, so any improvement could really save me money and time.

I work at home and at clients' officees, and carry around a portable office, less the computer, every day. And sometimes I have to take a notebook computer with me, so this site and the templates, comments, tips, and articles have been helpful. But I'm still looking for more, something that will really simplify things while also helping me do everything I need to do. And get my desk cleaned off, too!

Simple is not easy

Last year was some of the same for me. I have had only two Palms (V and then a TungstenE) in between the two models I bought a Classic Planner ( the V was crashing) and during that time I had never felt so productive and at ease about home and work. Father's Day came and I recieved the Tungsten and back in the rat race , I spent money on apps , upgrades, making things work with work (Windows) and home (Mac). In October my company bought me a Blackberry, which is the biggest weight physically and mentally you feel like you have to read email all day long. My work peers and even my boss actually send emails at 12:00 am , yet we constantly tell employees "quality of life". A good thing I never wanted to add the software to my Mac, because I just started to feel -- this is stupid.

I went to a meeting in November with a legal pad and was actually writing on paper and people noticed. A week later I had my planner out of storage armed with DIY forms and people really noticed.

Managing my time is something that I am passionate about and in my company I am known for my organizational skills. I just do not think the tech part of it was personally pleasing nor long-term effective. I live in a high-tech town where tech is in, but I have over years noticed that a lot of people that do tech for a living do not use a pda --- hmmmm.

Going back to paper for me means there is an off switch to crazy. I do not feel so compelled to work all of the time, becasue I did not write it down nor did something "repeat item|every three days" on my task list/calendar.

Covey nor David Allen deny a simple principle of life : you know when something is not working you have to chose how to deal with it. For me I think both authors are merely stating the putting first things first is probably something that people are struggling with because they cannot say no or manage all of the stuff. Technolgy plays a role in making things easier , I just do not see that in Life management at all. The technolgy of human nature - more than likely I will remember what I write (physically I did and visually I saw the words) is a lot simpler for me.


-- I like being different; I love my Ibook ; I love progress ; I made my PC smarter by adding Ubuntu ; I love creativity ; Why pay others to do what you "want/can" do yourself

Controlling Inputs

After reading an email management article a few months ago, I made the bold move of turning off the function that automatically checks for new email messages. Now the only time I receive email is when I physically click on the "send and receive" button in Outlook. That way I get email on MY terms, not someone elses. Granted, I don't receive much time-sensitive important email (pronounced: "urgent"), so I can turn it off without fear of retribution. Generally, I check my email three times a day.

I also frequently put my telephone on "do not disturb" and then listen to voicemail messages when I have the time. Additionally, I routinely "silence" my cell phone. I usually keep it in vibrate mode, but sometimes I don't even want the buzzing on my belt.

One thing I've learned about not always being immediately available is that my staff have started thinking more and depending on me less.

I realize that many people don't have the luxury of turning off the outside world when necessary, so these solutions are not for everyone.

Controlled but predictable/reliable

I hear you and agree.
I know folks that are impossible to reach directly, but I know I can send them an e-mail and get a response within a day or three. You can rely on such a person only so far, and then it is all up to you.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

bad habit

I have the horrible habit of 'hovering'... If I'm expecting an email or a reply over the internet of some sort, I'll stay in my computer/studio room and wait... very very big waste of time that I'm working on.

my artwork

The Pony Express

Since becoming a DIY regular, I've learned to slow myself way down. Thank you Doug, et al! This has really been a life changer. Instead of looking at all the cool electronic gizmos at Office Max, now I find myself fondling paper and pens. The other day I got into quite a lengthy discussion with the copier guy about the different weights, textures, etc. of paper. Thanks to a post by innowen, I've started journaling...and loving it. All of these things have caused quite a down-shift, and for that I am grateful. Instead of trying to keep up, I'm opting to go the other way. I'm approaching Pony Express pace...


Slowin down

I was layed off after a 6 year employment and had a medical issue in 2004... after that I began to take a closer look at myself and my life.

Slowing down is so important in today's society. I really believe that too many people are in too much of a hurry to even notice if it is sunny or if the local flowers are in bloom or if the stars are out... the world is around us, how can we ignore it?

No matter what triggers it, slowing down can be a life saver ♥

my artwork

Simplicity and the PDA-user's 12-step program.

If this post is out of place, my apologies. Like may of you, I have had many of these same experiences. I also have ADD, which compounds the issue with distractability and inconsistency, making it very difficult to keep with a single system or use any system effectively. Racing thoughts and impulsiveness leave me frequently taking the tangent, and sticking with a system long enough to realize it's benefits it not easy.

I'm also very much the Uber-Geek, both by trade and hobby. I find great challenge and excitement in problem-solving and pushing technology to it's limits, so naturally I am very attracted to PDAs and tech-toys. I've been a die-hard PDA user for 14 years, starting back with an old Psion. Throughout that time, there were countless hours and days wasted on fixing, loading, and optimizing my PDA and/or PC. This is in addition to the time spent looking for the perfect "solution" or application for any given dilemma (in other words, excuses for not getting the real work done). All this wasted time had taken away from work, relaxation, and family, without consideration to the cost on my life.

I reached a point last late year where I knew a change had to happen and the cycle must be broken. Having followed Covey off-and-on for a few years, and discovering Allen more recently, I've found truly great insight based on common sense and age-old wisdom. Looking back I realized how obsessed I had become with technology, letting the "machine become the master" (thanks, bizcoaching). I came to the realization that many of you have already found - the best solution may be to simplify and get back to basics.

To start, I left my position as a senior consultant and went to work for an organization where the work remained "at work". No laptop, no 24/7 connectivity, and my weekends are free. Coincidently, I could now remove all the work-related distractions from my home office, leaving only the PC and printer for home use. Next came the decision on productivity and my reason for finding D-I-Y Planner. Now the tough part - minimizing my dependency on the PDA. Just contemplating life without a PDA or laptop caused me great anxiety, simply because I have come to rely on technology for just about everything - even with the crashes and unreliability. I thought back to a time before my PDA-phoria when I used an old Franklin planner. I also remembered how productive that time was for me. Then I considered many successful clients and executives I've worked with over the years and the tools they used. Most of them relied on paper-based planners above all else. If paper-based systems worked so well for these leaders, and so many generations before them, there must be some merit in the simplicity and effectiveness of such systems. Through these observations, and acknowledgment of my unnatural anxiety to life without a PDA, I found the the reasoning to go analog. Armed with this new direction, I've purchased yet another Franklin-Covey binder (I appreciate the workmanship, and the image it reflects has it's benefits as well) and basic planning pages, then personalized this with a mix of Covey and Allen philosophies and tools. So far, so good...I'm already seeing a significant improvement in my day-to-day function.

To address the mobile data question, I've created an Office-in-a-thumb using a USB flash drive and select freeware. I can now perform any work I would normally do on my home PC from almost anywhere with a PC, and the drive fits seamlessly into my planner. This is a great solution for schoolwork, sharing information, and even when you want to do home management away from home.

As for my Treo PDA, it has gone from a single (unreliable) source of information on the go to being a phone (go figure) that provides online access to music, traffic, news, etc. And if I don't sync the PDA with my PC, or if it crashes or the battery dies - no biggie! The phone is now a convenience and no longer a necessity, just as I believe it should have been all along.

The result of these changes in philosophy is profound. The stress is now minimal, helping to improve my overall health and mental wellbeing. I now have time at home to relax and spend with my family, creating more wholesome relationships. And I even have time to play and socialize without the guilt of some pending unresolved technical issue hanging over my head (read: more excuses not to get things done). Now the only thing remaining is to stay with this system, keeping the ADD in check, and keeping life and work simple. Sometimes, returning to basics IS the answer.

If you've read this far - you're braver than me! Thanks!

Kindest Regards,

I'm an ex-PDA user

I had a Palm m130. I used it for a few years, but being young when I had it, I didn't get much use out of it. Now that I'm older, I could probably get more use out of it, but it got rained on (long story). So, the other day, when looking up 'index cards' on Wikipedia, I found the wonderful Hipster PDA. And I now have my personal organization system.

My Grandmother and Grandfather use a Daytimer, but that just doesn't work for me. 3x5's do.

Thanks, Merlin Mann, and Douglas Johnston.