Currently Using a Palm or Software Planner System

The Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) has been with us in one form or another for more than two decades now. While software planners (such as Palms, PocketPCs and, more recently, smartphone devices) are undeniably good at many things, organising things the human way isn’t necessarily one of them. Switching or returning back to paper can be a daunting task for those of us who have been using electronic solutions. Bringing paper back into your workflow isn’t as hard as it may appear to be at first glance.

  • Make a list. Before you buy that nice leather planner or binding at the stationary shop and set out converting everything from digital to paper, you need to make sure that it is the right thing for you. Think about how you use your PDA or planner application. Make a list of each task for which you use your software planner. Are your primary tasks keeping track of appointments? People? Notes? A journal? Lists? Doodles? You may find that, like me, you often scribble things on pieces of paper and transfer them to the PDA at a later stage. Equally I often forget, or don’t have time, and have ended up with a PDA case that is part PDA and part sticky notes. Those sticky notes are classic examples of things that can be better done, or left, on paper.

  • Which size is right for you? Do you want pocket sized, or something that fits in a bag. I always felt constrained by the small screen on PDAs, and equally by traditionally-sized (3.75"x6.75") 'Filofax' paper. In the end I settled on 5.5"x8.5" (A5) as an ideal compromise. Think, too, about paper(*) and pen. I find that one of the best things of writing on paper is the pleasurable experience, and writing with a cheap ballpoint on laser paper isn’t going to give you that. It can, in fact, be downright uncomfortable. Go and play with pen and paper to find which ones you prefer. An added bonus is that a good pen (which needn’t be an expensive one) can make a world of difference to those of us who don’t have the neatest handwriting.

  • The D*I*Y Planner forms. Now that you have looked at your sizing, paper, pens and electronic records, as well as how you use them, it is time to look at the D*I*Y forms. Remember that, like so many of the features in today’s applications, you won’t need all that D*I*Y offers. So while it is tempting to try to use them all, that isn’t the best thing. Instead, start by looking at which forms best fit the information you have. I started out with plain notes pages and checked how I used them, then revisited the D*I*Y forms and found several that worked perfectly, and others that came close. Even now, many months later I find that I use the free-form Cornell notes pages most often, although I browse the template pack regularly to see if my evolving information can fit in the newly presented templates.

  • Running the electronic and paper in parallel. If you have the time you might try running the electronic and paper in parallel to see which you are more comfortable with, both in entering information and retrieving it at a later stage. This is important; paper doesn’t do everything better. No paper planner is going to wake you up at 6am in the morning because you have to get to the office for that early meeting. If you handle a lot of addresses, that you have to regularly reference, sort, and synchronise then a PDA is going to be more adaptable than paper. And backups of that sort of information are a lot easier to perform: important for those of us likely to lose things to close encounters with pet/baby/mud/wheels. For those times when the PDA is out of battery power you can use the synchronising application’s export function to create a paper copy which can be safely kept in your planner.

  • Paper is friendly. Unlike the electronic realm, paper is infinitely user-friendly and flexible. Never feel constrained by what the templates offer you. Instead of doodling in dull meetings I find myself thinking of ways to organise information better. And if what you need isn’t in the D*I*Y Planner kit you can always roll your own with OpenOffice.org.

(*)Note: please make certain any paper you choose is inkjet compatible.

(contributed by Charles Kooij)

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