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Analog vs. Digital PDA Thoughts

Hipster-CoverEver since coming across the original HipsterPDA idea several months ago, I've been experimenting with integration of analog and digital methods of idea capture, task management and information storage. While I've not quite settled all of the details of the system, I thought it might be interesting to record my thoughts and share details — in case it might be helpful to others.


I still use and love my Moleskines, mainly for capturing sketches and more permanent, thought-through ideas. I use a pocket sketchbook for sketches, pocket grid book for recording fleshed out ideas, and a pocket lined book for book notes.

For a few weeks I even played with a pocket 2005 daily diary, but the combination of size (it's 3/4“ thick) and worries about data loss of personal and work info leaned me back toward my Palm Zire. However, I am again pondering a pocket 2006 weekly diary just for managing my personal appointments, which are really quite simple.


Hipster-SpreadAs for 3x5 cards and the HipsterPDA, I've been slowly using this method for personal use and am enjoying the experience immensely. I find myself capturing more ideas and tasks with pen and cards than ever with the Palm — maybe this is due to my long history with pen and paper before integrating a PalmPilot into my life.

I happened across an old Day-Timer pocket leather case that fits 3x5 cards perfectly, and have taken to carrying 2 3x5 stacks and a G2 pen inside of it (see the detailed pics below). I keep a stack of blank cards on the right, for capturing ideas and my ordered stack of cards on the left (to-dos, notes, etc.). The tiny pen holder fits the clip of a G2 perfectly!

While this setup works for personal info, I do occasionally capture ideas for work — those are integrated into the Mac-based system I have going which uses OmniOutliner Pro for tasks and iCal for tracking my billable time.

Palm Zire 72

What about the Palm? Well, I still use and like my Zire 72 — but it has become much less of a critical tool lately. The main uses of my Zire are as an contact list, mobile secured info manager (SplashID) e-book, iSilo-ed website and Bible reading, a little WiFi surfing and email, MP3 music playing, recipe storage and occasional photo and movie captures. For these tasks it works well, but as these are not critical, it's sometimes left at home in favor of the HipsterPDA or even just my pre-pay phone.

I've found that I rarely managed work data with the Palm, because I can do so directly on the Mac (which I am at 98% of the time). I've even reduced my personal PIM use of the Zire to the address book and keeping a few recipes handy. Most of my other Palm uses are reading, listening, reference or photo/movie capture activities.

Obviously paper and pen can't replace many of these features, so I do intend to keep using the Palm — just not as fully as I once had. I'm just finding the maintenance of the sync and backup more of a burden than they are worth for personal use... hence my thought to move to a Moleskine weekly journal for my basic activity management.

General Thoughts

I've not fully adapted the system just yet — it's still in flux as I figure it out. I'm not giving up digital tools — just being realistic about the places where analog and digital options fit best. If I come to a more settled point I may post about that and share additional ideas that I've noted along the way.

What I am finding is a craving for simplicity, and the Palm has lost a little of this for me. I can write pretty quickly in Graffiti classic, but it's still no match for pen on paper. There is just the slightest mental drag involved in Palm data entry, which I don't feel with pen and paper. Maybe that's the reason for my decreased use of the Palm for data entry.

Whatever it is, I can look back and see a definite reduction in my use and interest in digital PDAs. I do still like these devices, and use them, but am coming to the point where their required care and feeding seems more a burden than ever before.

If you have suggestions, ideas, thoughts or want to share your own experiences blending analog and digital tools into your own life, please leave a comment. It's always great to learn from the readers and visitors to this blog. :-)

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Reader Comments (15)

Mike, once again you've hit the nail on the head. Your frustrations with your Zire so closely parallel mine with my T|E. I still like my Palm, but really, all I use it for now are as a diary (though I'm not happy with that side of it), contacts, passwords (SplashID, like you) and playing games and the occasional ebook. In the end, I got so frustrated with graffiti I gave up.

But I'm not ready to go all analog, and, because of the nature of my job, I don't think I ever could anyway. There has got to be some compromise to be worked out.

One consequence of all this is that my system is still in flux, and I still haven't got a solution I'm happy with. I have an A5 sized DIY planner at work, for work stuff. I love the DIY Planner, but I haven't really figured out a good system for it, and a lot of my stuff still needs to be on the computer. Like you, my home needs are simple, but at the moment my system is almost non-existent at home, so something needs fixing there. I have been thinking about a HipsterPDA for a while now, but haven't got round to putting one together. I really must, because I'm at the stage now where my productivity is beginning to suffer because of my lack of a system, and I know it's me, not the tools, that are to blame.

Your post might just give me the impetus to get things set up properly over the weekend, Mike. Thanks very much!
September 15, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNeal
Thats cool. Sometiems I feel so limited on my PDA that sometimes writing out on paper with a pen gives me new ideas :)

But you should call it a polish PDA :) The polish guy here at work calls his notebook that :) (no offense to anyone!)
September 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNola
Neal, thanks for your comments. I've checked out the DIY planner at think it's quite nice, though none of my printers here can handle 3x5 cards. I've actually considered designing a few hipster pages myself but have not just yet.

I wonder if there are other people frustrated out there with current tools for managing things. I like my Palm but it falls short in some areas, paper is limited in others. I think that's why I've settled on a blend of analog and digital tools for now.

One other thing the Palm does well are alarms -- something you can't manage with a hipsterPDA or Moleskine. But in that sense it makes one take stock of info more regularly, which might not be a bad thing.

I hope your blended system works well for you, once you set it up the weekend... if you have questions just drop me a line.

Nola - I love your note! I already like your Polish collague and his "Polish PDA" � I bet it works well for him.
September 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I have to say that a lot of us have similar struggles with analog versus digital organising. I used Covey for years, then swtiched to a PDA from 1999 to 2004. In early 2003, I used a Time/Design system due to problems with my Palm and Mac. It was great to be back to paper. But after a while, I got tired of re-writing my changing calendar appointments and large task list (600+ items). I switched back to PDA in June of this year, using only my PDA now. I just can't get away from the ease of changng appointment dates and times and managing my GTD Task list.

Will I switch back? It was pretty painful to do so, so I may not anytime soon. Maybe when life slows down a bit and I retire from my busy ministry as a Senior Pastor. Then maybe paper will become my organising friend again.

September 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDean
Dean, thanks for your insights. I have not yet decided to go Moleskine weekly planner just yet, but it has its intrigues with me. I think if anything it would make for an interesting experiment to step a little farther away from the Palm and see how it works for me.

Immediately I can see I'd miss alarms, and as you note, movement of appointments with ease. I also strongly like the idea of my Palm being backed up at sync, which I lose with a single book.

However, I'm pretty certain that I will keep the Zire around, for the reasons mentioned above, particularly for the address book.

After letting my thoughts settle a while on this post, I think the key of what I wrote was that digital PDAs are good things, but they cannot do all things for all instances. Maybe that's why I have found for serious note taking, sketching ideas, capturing things with immediacy, I still prefer pen/pencil and paper.

It keeps coming back to the slight mental drag of writing Grafitti for those tasks and the limits of even a high-res screen for sketching and capturing ideas. Maybe somthing like a Tablet PC would be better for these, but again to add "turn it on, find the app and scribble" when I would have already finished capturing an idea in my sketchbook or on a 3x5 card.

Finally, I think I'm realizing that I am looking for a perfect system that doesn't exist. The reality is that even tool has a limitation and that there will be gaps in any system. Better to get as good a system as possible and work with it than to spend time and energy seeking a perfect system that will never be. :-)
September 17, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Mike said: "Finally, I think I'm realizing that I am looking for a perfect system that doesn't exist. The reality is that even tool has a limitation and that there will be gaps in any system. Better to get as good a system as possible and work with it than to spend time and energy seeking a perfect system that will never be." :-)

I agree with you on this and feel exactly the same way. I, too, use a Moleskine for those moments when I can't stand to use technology one more time and just need a place to WRITE, CAPTURE, RECORD something going on in my day/week/thoughts.

I enjoyed the post.

September 17, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDean
Mike, just a quick follow-up on a couple of your points. Regarding D*I*Y Planner and 3x5 cards, you can download a 4-up version that is sized correctly for standard card stock, and, I believe, comes with rules for cutting after printing, if you can bothered with the fuss. (Haven't tried it myself, but thought it was worth pointing out.)

Also, alarms are great for the "you've got a meeting in 15 minutes" type of situation, but I agree, too many alarms can make you too reliant on being reminded. The whole point of systems like GTD is the need to review things constantly, and too many alarms are just an encouragement to ignore this review. If I need an impromptu alarm, my mobile phone is often more convenient than my Palm.

And lastly, I didn't get the system set up over the weekend:-( Bought a new archive box to deal with the rapidly diminishing space for all my archives, and of course that meant some reorganising, and one thing led to another. The task that fell off the end of the list was the HPDA. Tonight, maybe.
September 18, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNeal
I've struggled between the use of analog and digital for nearly 5 years.

I began using the Franklin Day planner system back in the early 90's and loved it. I kept all my important information in my planner and used it every day.

When I fist saw the Palm PDA and really gave it some serious thought I was taken. It was capable of doing everything my day planner was able to do and more in such a smaller package.

Though after finding just the right software to be productive for my new PDA I still found myself being less productive after using my PDA for almost a year.

I realized that when I had my day planner either at work on my desk or home I often times would lay the planner open during the day so I could occasionally glance down at my To Do's, schedules, daily notes, and with a simply flip of a few pages see anything else I needed too. As I went about my work I found with a day planner open I'd remember to do things more often and sometimes be inspired to make plans to do other things. When I used my PDA I wasn't able to always keep it on and had to remind myself to turn it on through out the day which was burdensome. And the times when it was on, I felt as though I had "tunnel" vision, only seeing whatever application was open as oppose to seeing several different things listed on my day planner when I had that open. On my PDA I would have to cycle through the different applications when I remember to turn it on and as such found my self missing appointments or not doing things I had planed.

Over the years I have switched back and forth from PDA to day planner and than back to PDA a number of times. Most recently when I tried to do this about a year ago, I found I had grown to accustom to the ways of digital life style. Even if I were never to use my PDA for WiFi, email, music, watching videos, reading my daily current events, reading other e-books, doing my scripture studies, keeping my local forecast, and the times of local movies, and so on and so on, I'd still go back to my PDA... Why? Because I never have to re-write another task or appointment again. I just simply cut and past and schedule reoccurring events now and with all the appointments and To Do's I have.. it's worth it.

Now I will say that over the years I have accustom my self to doing everything digital. So much so that everything I have is archived digitally and printed out if needed. It's taken a long time to learn to live this way, but I think I am now getting use to it. So much so that it's now become a rare event if a pen can be found in my home.

September 20, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPDA_Guy
This is the kind of post that makes users of the Apple Newton shake their fists at Apple even harder. Who knows what Apple could have done with 7 extra years of development on a device that allowed pen and paper style input alongside the standard digital components.
September 21, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
PDA Guy, thanks for the insights. I think this analog vs. digital issue is a struggle for people, because we're still in an in-between stage. I like both the Palm and paper for their benefits and wish there was a clearer blend available.

I think I'm getting closer, but as always it is an experiment.

Also, good post about Newton. Would have been interesting to have seen what a Palm sized Newton would have done, had it arrived when the Pilot did � though I really don't think people were ready to accept such a mini PC replacement at the time. We're close to that becoming a norm now... but back then the Pilot with its sync was well suited to the mindset.

Ah, the Newton... :-)
September 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I've been printing the hipster templates on 3x5 post-it notes. I've been doing this for a while, and the 3x5 post-its are great for staying put when needed, but coming out cleanly when it's time. It takes a bit more time to set it up, but once it is done it's a lot cleaner. Here's a down-and-dirty post on it...

I find that I'm much more consistent with the analog than digital with my calendar as the only real exception.
September 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Swedler
Steve, very cool idea. I would sort of worry about post-its popping off of the pages -- have you had that issue arise yet?

If I do go Moleskine Weekly diary for 2006, maybe this is a way to make it a central item for managing personal stuff. Thanks for the note and link!
September 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Mike - the pages stay on tight for much longer than you'll generally need. I rotate my pages out and put new ones in all the time, but some of the pages have been there since I started using it (a few months now). It's neat and easy to reorder. I would highly suggest it if you want the moleskine functionality with the hipster convenience.
September 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Swedler
Sounds like you've got a great system going there. Its been almost three months, so how has the process gone? Have you found yourself more productive?
December 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Schutzsmith
Daniel, good that you reminded me about this post � I am actually now using 3x5 cards for general capture of information but not as a HipsterPDA in the structest sense.

I found that the stacking nature of the cards was problematic for me, in that things would get stacked down below others and lost for a time... probably more an issue of my not shuffling the cards enough I suppose.

Instead I've moved back to the Zire for managing appointments and tasks, using a GTD-like approach for categories. It works well for what I need, and I can keep 3x5 cards in the mix as a temporary capture tool, rather than the focus point.

So, as usual, these things seem to be in flux for me. Probably my many years of Palm device use just make that approach moe natural for me now, that and the idea that there is a backup somewhere (assuming I sync regularly).
December 13, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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