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Thursday
Oct052006

PDA 24/7's Shaun McGill Goes Back to Paper

It was nearly 5 months ago I gave up my Palm PDA for a custom Moleskine planner, and shared the experience and my approach on this blog.

shauns-moleskine.jpgSo, it was a nice surprise to hear from my friend Davy McDonald, that PDA 24/7 founder Shaun McGill just traded his PDA for a paper planner. Shaun embarked on a week-long experiment using only a paper calendar and a mobile phone, while intentionally avoiding his PDA.

It all began with he post The pen is mightier than the stylus, where Shaun shared his move from a Nokia E61 to a Moleskine planner for his calendar:

Over the past two years I have at times suffered from stress which is not due to work or family and it is still something I have not worked out but I am 100% convinced that my obsessive reliance on PDAs is a part of the problem. It is not the devices issue, it is mine but a longing to carry so much data and have every appointment and task noted and alarmed has not been healthy for me.

Shaun extended his experiment and began to see how things changed when using paper in The experiment (part one):

All bills continue to be paid on time, all tasks completed as needed and strangely no stresses with regard to remembering things. What has really surprised me is how much more time I have without using a PDA.

It has become apparent that I spend ages tweaking it and checking records when I don't need to, I play games on it if I am sat at home rather than just relaxing in front of the TV to watch a good film and I keep referring to it for no real reason.

The amount of time I have spent in the past freeing up memory and recovering from resets is just silly and took away any efficiencies the PDA gives. For a man who lives and dies by his PDA this is a truly strange experience but a good one.

In The experiment (part two), Shaun writes:

The experiment is going well and avoiding my PDA has become surprisingly easy. As the days have passed I am starting to realise just how much my life seems to revolve around my PDA rather than how it should be- my PDA should be helping me manage my life.

So well said! I always like to say you should choose the right tool for your needs, and this falls into place in Shaun's situation. He's found that the PDA had become his "hammer" and that every situation began to look like a nail.

In his third post, The experiment (part three) Shaun writes:

I was going to make this a series of five articles looking at life without a PDA but this will be the final part. I will revisit this subject at a later date but safe to say that at this time I am going to try living without the majority of PDA functions for a while to come.

Wow. I think it's safe to say Shaun has gone analog.

Shaun's conclusions after a week without his PDA:

• I do not miss it at all

• I have a lot more free time (due to not recovering from errors and tweaking it constantly)

• I appear to have more control- writing things down makes the information stay in my head and I remember what needs to be done. After so long just typing away and forgetting the entry until the alarm pops up I had lost that ability

• I am surprisingly a lot more relaxed about things. I do not try to do too much and just refer to my notebook on occasion to check some details

• Paper does as good a job for personal information management as a PDA

Excellent observations — I agree! After almost 5 months of using a paper planner for my personal schedule, I'm much more relaxed. I capture more of my ideas. Now my schedule lays on the desk before me, always on and ready for viewing or additions.

I don't feel compelled to "keep up" with the latest mobile technology. Emails for the "latest and greatest" software for the Palm doesn't entice me. In moving to paper I no longer need to maintain my PDA knowledge edge.

When my wife's Zire 72 battery konked out and I had to try and restore from backups, I was reminded just how much I DO NOT MISS fixing, restoring, tweaking, caring for and feeding a PDA.

I want to end on this final insightful comment by Shaun, which has had me thinking ever since:

The PDA made sure I forgot nothing and subsequently turned me into an organic version of itself. That may sound ridiculous but it is how I feel and for the moment at least I will do my best to avoid mine.

Oh how often we allow our tools, toys and gadgets to rule us. it's often subtle, but quite real. I felt the same way about the "care and feeding" needed to maintain a my PDA. When I was in the PDA "care and feeding" mode I didn't realize how much mental energy I expended just keeping up. But when I stepped away from maintaining a PDA, I immediately saw how much energy I was saving.

I hope that if anything is passed on from our switches from PDAs to analog tools, it would be to now and then, step away from your treasured tools and see what life is like without them.

You may switch away — or you may find that your treasured tool is treasured for good reason — because it really suits your needs better than anything else.

Related Links:
Another Analog Convert (satorimedia)
PDA 24/7's Shaun McGill Goes Back to Paper (Moleskinerie)

Reader Comments (15)

Another great paper vs pixels article. I'm fascinated by how many former pixel pushers are now turning (back) to paper.

I myself haven't quite completely. For work all scheduling is in Outlook/Exchange and my private life just isn't busy enough to need more than having a calendar I can refer to from home or work - for which I'm using Google Calendars. I then I have iCal sync with Google and iSync gets that data onto my K800i where I never refer to it!

My problem with paper is my appointments change so often it seems I hate the crossed out entries! Yes I know I need help...



October 5, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hughes
I recently gave up my Palm for a Nokia E61 and in doing so abandoned a whole slew of third-party software that I used to run but never really use. I have my Mac synchronising with my E61 but since the calendar software is so useless on the E61 I decided to try reverting to a paper diary and keeping only my contacts electronically. I have not only found the switch very liberating but I have become more efficient (seeing a whole week of appointments at once is great although it reminds me of how great the Psion Agenda application was). I have also realised that managing things such as my finances on my Mac is much more efficient and much easier than it was on my Palm and I no longer try to do things on my Palm just for the sake of it (keeping a simple written list of annual leave taken is actually much easier than using a spreadsheet!).
October 5, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Wolf
I'm another one who switched. I played with layouts for a couple weeks before I got what worked, then laid out a Miquelrius to fit the bill. It's been working out fine for about a month, I haven't missed a single appointment or task (except the ones I just don't want to do), and I haven't felt a single "did I charge?" or "Oh God, I hope that wasn't the screen" moment in weeks!
October 6, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterr.e.wolf
David, I too still have a foot in the digital side � I think it's very important to find where analog and digital tools are best and use them there. So, for sketching, notes and my personal calendar/tasks it's paper. For final art, web design, print design, work scheduling, it's digital. If digital works better for you, that's cool!

Simon, nice to hear your experience is working with paper! I use a nano for my addresses, and I think this is one area where an electronic device works better for me than paper, especially when my contact info is always changing.

r.e. good o hear your Miquelrius is working well. I love mine for sketching and can imagine it works well for scheduling too ��I just need something more pocket sized.

And yes, those moments not worrying about charging or if the screen is toast are nice, though the new worry is losing your one and only book, which is paper's biggest downside. :-)
October 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
I wonder about one thing: do people who are switching to paper need to synchronize their calendar with someone else? The reason I ask is that I could easily see myself using a paper based calendar (a large part of my meeting notes etc are taken on paper) but there is one thing that prevents me. I need to synchronize my calendar with my wifes, for example if I get asked to have an afternoon meeting I need to check if my wife can fetch the kids, can I go for one-night trip or is my wife busy that evening, etc, etc (and of course vice versa). Not to mention that we need to agree who takes the kids where when.

We tried to synchronize manually but it took such a long time and was so boring that we never did it, we tried to do it when needed ... which resulted in conflicting meetings, etc, etc. The only thing that have worked so far is a client-server calendaring solution (one that syncs with our Palms) this have been the only way we have been able to avoid mistakes/conflicts.

So by using "bits" we don't have to spend a lot of extra time trying to resolve conflicts, copying schedules, etc.





October 6, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjem
This digital vs. paper thing has been on my mind for a while. I've really enjoyed reading your take on it, Mike. I am very tech savvy, but I am an artist at heart, and prefer paper. I had been using a PDA for 5 years (really, not that long when you consider that I had started using a paper planner in the third grade).

Anyway, the thing that appealed to me re: PDA was the perfection aspect. No ugly cross-outs. But I also hated the "management" of my PDA. And of course, there were always glitches every once in a while.

For the past two years, I think I have been wanting to wean myself of my PDA, because I kept a paper planner that I used at home for tracking of life events, and then a PDA for work stuff & lists. This system was not optimal, because I felt compelled to enter data into two places, which made me nutty.

I bit the bullet and got a moleskine daily planner for next year, and shifted all my PDA info into my paper planner for the rest of 2006 ( a leather weekly planner made by a major bookstore chain). I have been blissfully managing my calendar, life tracking, work obligations, contacts, and lists in there without issue. And, quite frankly, I feel more normal. The PDA always attracted undue attention.

The daily moleskine will be perfect, as I will have room to write all my daily to-do lists, etc. I also figured out a way to deal with messy cross-outs: the dynamic duo of a Pilot Protege mechanical pencil and a Pentel Clic Eraser. Perfect. I'll look into getting a good quality pen-pencil combo later.

Keep up the awesome blog! I love to read about these things.
October 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDevika
Jan-Erik, thanks for your thoughts on syncing calendars. My wife and I use a common large claendar in our kitchen and we each update this weekly to keep our two calendars in sync. she is using a Zire 72 and I my Moleskine.

I could also see benefits of an electronic shared calendar system, whether that's online or between two Palm PDAs. ClearSync (http://www.clearsync.com/) was just released recently and that solves this issues for Palm users.

But yes, manual sync is a bit of a hassle but seems reasonable enough once per week. We'll also talk about events together and I've worked hard to add things immediately to my book when we do this, or shre events of my own with Gail. This helps in catching things that might not make the common calendar 'til later on.

Devika, thanks for sharing your experiences! Sounds like you are finding a workable system � I do hope it works well for you. I can relate to your PDA comments completely, and I still think for some the PDA is a better choice. It really depends on how you use a planner and what info you need with you.

Using a mechanical pencil is a great idea for changes � when I used a DayTimer system I also bought a tiny 0.5mm pencil and it worked well for this purpose. Nowadays I kind of like the pen and the more "frozen" state of writing with it, though maybe I could try a pencil next year.

Thanks for your kind words about my blog! I feel very good about sharing as I do, and it's natural, so it's good to hear you are enjoying my posts on the other end. :-)
October 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Nice article. It spawned my own reflections on my conversion to analog over at satorimedia.typepad.com . My biggest problem right now is that I'm done with the first book I used to replace the PDA--and the anxiety and stress over letting it go is, well, getting to me. I've been carrying it and the "new" book around together, and I have visions of myself ending up carrying piles of moleskines, just because one of them might have a piece of info or a sketch that I need to use...
October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterFameorFamine
I tend to use the pda for calender, contacts, tasks, time tracking, and formal notes that get synched directly into reports, and paper for running notes while working. At some times during my life, I went as far as indexing my paper notebooks as I filled them to make it easier to find some particular bit of information. Some of them I did go back to some time later, particularly those that I used for extended business travel. Mostly, though, they take up space on my office shelves, and I really haven't had the need to go back to a particular book more than a year after I've filled it.

Interesting topic.



October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNancie Ravenel
Great post and good comments, too. I am one of those people who have at times questioned keeping my Palm due to lost productivity fixing technical glitches. These days I find myself using the PDA less and less as a mini-PC and mainly as an address book and calendar (kine of what the V/M500 form factor was perfect for). With the latest batch of PDA's there is so much potential, but at the same time (like many of you have said) it takes so much energy to maintain it all.

I, too, would have a hard time switching due to frequent schedule changes, but I am sympathetic to the paper planner platform. It works wonderfully for my wife. And even though her planner is full of X's and revisions, she has never lost data like I have! Pen and ink not only has an aesthetic quality, but it has a permanence that electric charges could never come close to.
October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott
Great post and good comments, too. I am one of those people who have at times questioned keeping my Palm due to lost productivity fixing technical glitches. These days I find myself using the PDA less and less as a mini-PC and mainly as an address book and calendar (kind of what the V/M500 form factor was perfect for). With the latest batch of PDA's there is so much potential, but at the same time (like many of you have said) it takes so much energy to maintain it all.

I, too, would have a hard time switching due to frequent schedule changes, but I am sympathetic to the paper planner platform. It works wonderfully for my wife. And even though her planner is full of X's and revisions, she has never lost data like I have! Pen and ink not only has an aesthetic quality, but it has a permanence that electric charges could never come close to matching.
October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterScott
I Like the philosophical aspect of this article very much.Lets discuss on the pseudo-advantages of high tech ;-)All the best, Maria
October 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Tomeczek
Love the discussion, and the thoughts. It just proves that we are all different and find our own solutions. For what it's worth I dumped my PDA as I was barely using it. Now I use Outlook for diary and contacts (work and home blur together) and synch/ backup with the Raspberry. Fast backups, my wife can check my movements and plans, add what she needs to and changes are simple and mess free. I still can't put my "to do list" in there, it has to go in the notebook. So, I can't go anywhere without pen (Pilot retractable), pad....
October 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJulian van Geersdaele
I can identify with Scott, something about the ethereal feeling of electrons never made me feel quite secure about the data. It just didn't seem, well, permanent. Not to mention just the fun of writing. I was always living with this kind of low-grade anxiety because it all seemed so tenuous. I miss some things about my Palm, but not enough to go back. I'm very happy with my Moleskine.

Gordon
October 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGordon
very interesting aspect you all discuss here. My brain teaser is: what to do with the 270+ passwords I have. I would generally love to go back to ink, but what to do with the passwords? Anybody have a god hint. I would be compelled to use a mobile phone (Motorola PEBL) and a paper planner/organizer...
October 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCostein

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