Thursday, January 11, 2007

Productivity Issue: Planners

Ever since I started using computers in Earnest, back in the '80s, one of my goals was to have everything be "electronic," meaning, everything on the computer, and nothing on paper. That, of course, was a mission for computers in the '60s: The Paperless Office. The idea was that since everything would be on "The Computer" (this was way before PCs, or Personal Computers, and there was only one capital "C" Computer), paper would be obsolete. All memos, correspondence, reports, etc., would be read from the screen.

Well, that was my mission, too. From a pure efficiency point of view, it makes sense: Enter it once, and access it forever from a computer. No need to re-write to-do lists, Rolodex cards, schedules and calendar appointments, etc. If you have your to-do list, say, on your computer, you do not need to re-create the new list every day. You just create the list, and as you finish the items, they disappear from the list, and the unfinished items are carried forward.

Over the years, computer programs and devices were created to make this happen. From a personal productivity point of view, there were a number of programs on PCs that would help out -- I used Borland Sidekick, for example -- I coded a lot of software using the Sidekick editor. Others available at the time were Lotus Agenda, and Netmanage Ecco. There were hand-held devices, like IBM's Simon, and Apple Newton. In 1996, the Palm Pilot made its debut, and we were off to the races -- new Palms, Windows CE computers, BlackBerries, "Smart Phones," etc. They all promised to allow you to go paperless, get rid of the Day Timer, Franklin Planner, or Filofax, and run your life electronically.

Well, I gave up on the "dream." This is a prime example of "just because you can do something, does not mean you should do something." At the end of the day, a personal productivity system, or personal information manager (PIM), or agenda, or whatever you want to call it has a primary goal: To make you more productive. Secondarily, it is to allow you to find information on who you know, what you are doing, what you did do, and what you want and need to do. As it should be, the goal trumps the method.

Electronic devices seem to be excellent for use for personal productivity -- except that they are not. Computers and hand-helds are great for keeping your address list in order, and are good for calendars and appointments, but lousy for tracking tasks and progress and goals. Tasks, progress, and goals are the heart of productivity. At the end of the day, paper and pen (or pencil) is the "killer app" for personal productivity.

My next few posts will cover some of the things I have been looking at in this area, including time tracking, task tracking, filing, etc. "Stay Tuned"