Yesterday we covered five paper organizers; today we'll add organizing software and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) into the mix of Lessons Learned.
#6: EccoPro Personal Information Manager (PIM), circa 1993
EccoPro by Arabesque was my first experience with organizing software. I researched all available options at the time and then finagled (is finagle a word?) a free copy from the manufacturer, as I was on a mission to get my workplace wired. This did not happen, but getting EccoPro was still the best thing that happened to me the entire time I worked there. EccoPro was an amazing product, easily one of the most powerful PIMs ever developed to this day, with full integration between all the various modules, so that a task checked off on a project "page" was automatically copied and saved in a "done" file as well. EccoPro used an outlining system to organize data, which made quick work of grouping projects according to steps of related actions.
As much as I liked EccoPro, its Windows-only application prevented me from really implementing it in my personal life, as I had a Mac at home. As it turns out, this turned out for the best. In a history-repeats-itself way reminiscent of the Geodex experience, Arabesque went under. The company that purchased it eventually released EccoPro for free download, but every new version of Windows' operating system creates a crisis in the user group forums that are still active. There are no updates, of course, and with no professional support, users are on their own if things go wrong (or pray that some kind soul will answer their questions on the forum).
I had quite a bit of data saved onto disks from my EccoPro days. Attempting to transfer it over via comma-separated-values into Excel was not a happy venture. I ended up losing all the data that I had put into it, which took months and months to piece back together, including a sizable inventory of addresses.
Grade: A+ when supported, D when offered as a free download.
Lesson Learned: When it comes to paperless organizing, lack of timely updates and no or limited service = no or limited usability.
#7: Enormous Desk Calendar/Blotter, circa 1995
When I started grad school , I needed somewhere to write appointments, jot down directions and numbers and addresses, and basically help acclimate myself to a new life in a new city. Back on a college budget, I opted for the super-low tech desk calendar/blotter, initially attracted by the mammoth size. I had great fun with it for the first month and enjoyed the way the minutiae of my new life took on a rather tactile life of its own, the page growing ever more densely illustrated until the month was over and then . . . I was supposed to turn the page? But what about all the numbers I had written down? And the addresses? And my class schedule? I never did end up turning the page, so that friends coming over would wonder why the calendar was still turned to September when it was January. I finally tore the September page off and continued to refer to it, but I ended up throwing the rest of the calendar away.
Lesson Learned: Without an easy, tidy way to archive and access past information, a system collapse is inevitable.
#8: Levenger Agenda, circa 1999
After grad school I was finally able to afford a quality organizer. I came across Levenger's catalog and instantly became entranced by their Agenda. The paper was thick and deliciously smooth. While the variety of inserts was somewhat basic, they offered a flexibility that was satisfying nonetheless. The best part was that Levenger uses a number of equi-distant plastic discs instead of the ring construction of most binders. This makes for easy arranging and re-arranging of the inserts (just press the pages in or gently pull them out) without all the noisy and annoying opening and closing of traditional binders.
I used the Agenda for over a year. The product itself was fine, but I found myself increasingly frustrated with the "classic" size, which had always been too small for my taste, even when I used Geodex. My writing seemed ever more untidy, hemmed in as it was by the small size of the paper. When a co-worker showed me her Palm Pilot a year or two later, I dropped my Agenda without a second thought. The eBay auction of my extant Levenger supplies caused a bidding war that amazed me, and I recouped a good amount of my investment.
Lesson Learned: Good things may come in small packages, but paper organizers aren't one of them.
#9: Visor (A PDA similar to Palm), circa 2000
What Geodex had been to paper organizers, and what EccoPro had been to organizing software, my little Visor was to PDAs, which is to say perfect, or nearly so. Tiny as it was, handwriting was no longer a problem with the easily-mastered Graffiti shorthand used to input information into the device. Suddenly I was spending the entire hour train commute busily inputting every name, number, address, and birthday I could find. I would take great heaps of Post-It notes and work my way through them daily, inputting and tossing and inputting and tossing away. I loved my Visor; it finally enabled me to truly get over the Geodex fiasco, once and for all.
Visor actually used Palm software, with the standard contacts/address book, task/to-do, memo/notepad, and date book/calendar modules. I used all four modules, but found the contacts/address book to be the star of the group. The "Find" feature was sublime: with each consecutive letter written, the displayed matches reduced to a manageable number. You could use any number of filters to sort the contacts (i.e. "Family" or "Emergency Numbers"), and the desktop version was attractive and synced perfectly with the hand-held.
The memo function was less than satisfactory, however; it lacked the auto-archivability of EccoPro. Still, I could live with that. What I couldn't live with is the way you would lose all data--and I mean all data--if you happened to let the two, AA batteries run dry. I don't entirely recall how one could change the batteries without this happening. In any case, the only way to recapture the data would be to re-sync it with the the desktop version, and God help you if you instructed the Hot Sync Manager to predicate the information on the Visor over that on the computer, because if you did and there was no data on the Visor, it would wipe out the information on your computer as well, and then you'd really be in a pickle. To forestall such a disaster, I made multiple copies of my Palm user file, but this made for confusion over time, and I eventually tired of all the drama. Then Visor went under; support was a thing of the past. I printed out all 353 of my contacts, punched them and put them in a traditional binder, and continued to refer to the desktop version to look up addresses, but pretty much stopped updating information--even in my address book--after that.
Grade: A+ for the Contacts/Address Book; D for the Memo/Notebook; and F for reliability, which I guess adds up to a C-
Lesson Learned: At the end of the day, if you can't be assured that your data is going to be safe, why bother?
#10: Franklin Covey Monarch Paper Planner, circa 2002
Thus burned from high-tech organizing experiences, I turned my attention back to the low-tech options. I'd enjoyed using Levenger's Agenda, after all. Perhaps if I got a larger size, my problems would be solved.
At my job, nobody had heard of Levenger; everyone used Franklin Covey, so I thought I'd give it a try. I vaguely remember dozens of dizzying options for binder color, material, and size, as well as insert type and theme. My boss had gone to several special seminars on how to use the system, and told me I could go, too, if I wanted. This should have thrilled me; instead, I thought of my father and his frustration with being forced to sit through a Geodex seminar. "What a waste of time!" he'd said. "What a bunch of junk!" he called the organizer and inserts themselves.
I felt the same way about the Franklin Covey products, even though they were perfectly fine in terms of quality and functional design. But the aesthetic was wrong; the more "feminine" themes I'd selected seemed somehow "off" artistically, exactly as if whoever designed them was used to providing clean, professional, manly designs and was a fish-out-of-water trying to come up with something sufficiently girly. The resulting look was akin to the illustrations on feminine hygiene packaging. And then there were those strange exhortations to "sharpen your saw" and to write "mission statements." I couldn't contain a mounting irritation over the whole thing. There was also the traditional binder concept again: loud noisy clipping open, loud noisy clipping shut, only this time with a full-sized binder whose bulk made constant opening and closing a thumb-numbing proposition.
I didn't last two weeks with Franklin Covey; truly, I couldn't stand it. Recalling that one person's junk is another person's treasure, I asked one of my co-workers whose position didn't allow for excessive organizer expenditures if she wanted it. Did she ever! Thus relieved from my guilt, I dumped the bounty on her desk and moved on.
Lesson Learned: There were so many things wrong with this one that it's hard to choose. Avoid thumb-numbing traditional binders? What about: the amount of money spent on an organizer is not commensurate with its usability? Or: no good can come from an ugly design? I think I'll hone in on that "sharpen the saw" business: if you're going to constantly be reminded of the ideas of a particular product's founder, you better make sure you're on board with his or her philosophy.
Tomorrow: Completely new technology is explored as the Search for the Perfect Organizer continues.