I've been thinking quit a bit about productivity and the tools I use the past few months. This pondering and evaluating has brought me to the realization that my once critical PDA, a Palm handheld, has become a much less critical part of my life.
As a good chunk of my readers are fellow Palm and mobile device users, I thought it might be interesting to journal my thoughts on this change — to see if others are in the same place or have become even more reliant on their PDA or mobile device.
Once upon a time I was a pretty hard-core Palm enthusiast. I used my Palm all the time, even evangelizing others to try handhelds themselves. I created ran the Palm Tipsheet for several years of my life, helping others make the most of their own Palm handhelds. All of this led to deeper involvement in the wonderful Palm community, which I still enjoy being part of.
I'd still call myself a Palm handheld and PDA fan, though I'm not as hard-core as I once was. Of course I still use my Zire 72, though I've found it occupies a much different space in my daily life management plan. Rather than being a central device for managing personal and work data, it's become a mostly read-only device.
My work and personal schedule and tasks are handled in Apple iCal, contacts stored in Address Book and honestly, I hardly use Memos any more. I'd rather add a note to a task or contact, or enter comments in a text file or paper notebook. I may alter my calendar or tasks in the Zire now and then, but my PDA has definitely become a secondary device.
My other main activities with the Zire are reading blogs, websites and e-books with iSilo, reading e-books with eReader Pro, reading the Bible with MyBible and listening to MP3s with RealOne player. I sync e-mail to the Zire but very seldom read mail or even reply to e-mail, even though I have a system which works pretty well with my Mac and Entourage.
I think there have been two significant changes in my PDA usage. First was the change from Graffiti 1 (Classic) to Graffiti 2 — the second was my re-discovery of paper and notebooks (Miquelrius, Moleskine and 3x5 cards).
The death of Graffiti Classic had a large impact on my interest in inputting text via handwriting recognition. My Sony Clié was the last device that could natively capture my writing at a reasonable speed and accuracy rate.
When I moved to the Tungsten E, I already knew that Graffiti 2 was not for me — I'd invested years in mastering Graffiti Classic. I hacked in the Graffiti 1 libraries and this seemed to work OK but not great. Over time, the lower quality recognition on my TE had a chilling effect on my Graffiti input. Eventually, I dreaded entering anything into my Palm.
I began to realize that it made much more sense to input information directly into the Mac (where I work most of the day) rather than fight with the TE's lousy handwriting recognition. This moved me to Palm Desktop and eventually iCal for calendar and task management, which I find very effective for my needs.
By the time I replaced the Tungsten E with a Zire 72 that has decent handwriting recognition, it was too late. I occasionally use the Zire to capture data, but have found my pocket Moleskine or a 3x5 card and a good pen provides a much more immediate and adaptable place for data capture. With paper, I feel it's OK to doodle or scribble visual ideas along with the text — something I never did with my PDA.
Finally, with a Moleskine or 3x5 card, I never have to worry that my battery might be low. As my PDAs have improved in features over the years, their battery lives have decreased, and it's inevitable that when I need my Zire the most, the battery is low.
What about a Treo or Smartphone?
I have many friends who use and love Treo 600s and 650s or similar smartphones. In fact Marc Orchant, a fellow Moleskine user just bought a Treo 650 for himself. I've considered the idea, but I'm just not mobile enough to justify the costs involved.
I work at my home office 97% of the time and when I do go mobile, my Mac or my pre-pay Virgin Mobile phone is along for the ride. The Virgin Mobile account works better for me than a highly-priced voice and data plan from a mainline carrier. I mean, if I'm mobile for 2 hours in a week, do I really need high-speed 3G service to read the latest scoop about the rumored PalmOne LifeDrive while I'm pumping gas?
The Right Tool for the Job
My dad always taught me to use the right tool for the job. If he caught me banging a nail in with a crescent wrench, he'd always repeat that line "Mike, use the right tool for the job!" What a realistic, practical way to approach how I manage my life. Sure, I could "make" my Zire 72 or a new Treo 650 to do almost everything, from full-on PIM management, web surfing, sketching and e-mail, but if I have a Mac, paper notebooks, pens and other tools which excel at each task, why?
The real question for me was this — am I simply making "busywork" for my Palm simply because it could potentially be done? Just because I can cook a roast on the engine of my Saturn, does it mean I should sell off our stove and use the car to cook dinner? Of course not.
For my lifestyle, I don't need a fully-integrated smartphone. I have a speedy broadband connection for most of my work, notebooks and paper to capture ideas and sketches and a PDA for mobile reading and music play. For the kind of life I lead, this balance of tools to fit their best function just makes sense.
For more mobile people, they can truly see a smartphone or PDA being a more critical part of their work and personal lives — that's great! My decision to put PDA use into proper context is not a call for Treo users to abandon them for 3x5 cards. Each person needs to decide what works best for their own lifestyle.
Hopefully my experience and observations will challenge you to consider what tools are truly best for your own needs — rather than doing things with one device "just because it can."