Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ubiquitous capture

This post had originally started as a writing on paper versus electronic calendars, to-do lists and what not. I was inspired by some postings on Web Worker Daily, 5 Reasons to use a Paper to do list and 6 More Reasons to use a paper to Do List and how important it was to have a paper based solution.

Since then, I have acquired a Samsung BlackJack and my perspective has flip-flopped once again. But utimately, the point is this - you need to be able to get at your calendar, your notes, your to-do list anywhere the thought or fancy hits you. A Ubiquitous capture device is what you need.

Ubiqutous capture is a tenet of GTD - get the thought out of your head and put it on paper. This way you can focus on the task at hand with your full brain power, rather than having to keep track of everything else you need to do at any point in the future.

I think that the foundation should be electronic, but depending upon your preferences and pocketbook, paper or electronic will still fit the need.

I am a Google fanboy. I won't deny it. Google Calendar, Notebook, Documents and Spreadsheets, Personal Homepage... The list goes on and on. Online task management apps, such as Remember the Milk, work very well too. Web-based is excellent and they are some very good productivity tools. There is a certain productivity gain from having the data portable and nicely formatted. But an application that lives on your local PC is just as good. Outlook, the Mozilla suite of applications and Lotus (although I have no experience with it) can all work as well to track your commitments and to-dos.

Using an electronic tool gives you multiple ways to get things on your list. They allow adding by email, IM and SMS all depending upon the software.

I guess you could use a paper based planner, but this is the 21st century! It is the web enabled world.

But, we've got to face it. We aren't always sitting in front of our computers. When you are stuck on a plane or at your kids' event and you remember that you need to send a file to someone, you need to be able to add it to your to-do list. Of if you get invited to a social event, isn't it better to be able to say, "Yes, I can make it," rather than, "Uh, thank you for the kind invitation; I'll have to check my calendar and get back to you."

This is where personal preference, depth of pocketbook, technical aptitude all come in. An electronic tool doesn't necessaryily mean a CrackBerry - you can do a whole lot with text messages and a cell phone. A paper based tool doesn't mean writing everything by hand in a notebook.

I had a conversation with some friends a few months ago about the use of online calendars and what not. Someone asked, "Would you ever go back to a paper based calendar, now that you have everything online?" Collectively, we all said "No." There was too much of a challenge to make sure everything stayed in sync. I agreed.

That weekend, the power went out in our house for almost 72 hours. Cell phone towers had no power, so my Google and Razr enabled calendar didn't do me much good. I realized that I needed to have a way to adequately capture things when I was really offline.

A hipster PDA became the solution for me. I downloaded templates from DIY Planner and a few times a week, I would print out my Google Calendar on 3x5 cards. I was able to print out my RememberTheMilk tasks for today and every evening I would update my online tool with whatever I had come up with during the day. It was great, I always had my schedule at my fingertips and if an idea struck, I could capture it. Now, I was subject to many comments of disbelief that I, the geek I am, would turn to such a low-tech solution as 3x5 cards clipped together with a binder clip. But it worked. As a note, it worked in the past too. Before it was called a hipster PDA, this was the solution that was widely used by officers and NCOs in the Army.

Recently, I became eligible for a phone upgrade. I'm a big fan of Motorola phones and the Q, but I wasn't willing to go away from my mobile provider, Cingular. They had the BlackJack and I started doing comparisons between the Q and the BlackJack. As soon as I was eligible I got the BlackJack. Now, I've got web access in my pocket and my online tools are always available to me. Yeah, it checks my work email, but I've got that set to do it every two hours - I don't need to be at the beck and call of my email, especially my work mail.

I can get at my calendar and to-do lists using mobile versions of the web apps and notes (through the phone itself) anytime I want. Plus, it integrates with my Outlook contacts, so everything is always up to date.

I guess all of my observers will be happy that I've gone hi-tech, but lo-tech works too. The power might go out for longer than the 5 days I can get between the two batteries that come with the BlackJack. And if that day comes (or the Revolution), I'll be ready.

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