At the start of July I challenged myself to use a Nintendo DS as a PDA organizer. The DS has almost all the capabilities of a PDA for basic organizing. It seemed logical to me to combine two of my favorite things: games and organizing, and I honestly put forth effort, taking myDS to work and using it in meetings for note taking and such. Here’s the proof. Technically, it did work but there was too much overhead to make organizing as efficient and transparent as I would have liked (and needs to be).
The DS had a nice note taking application that let me scribble notes. It also had a calendar, file manager, and all that good stuff. But since the DS is intended for gaming, it’s not a multi-task device. You can only run one program at a time, whether it be a game or an app, and therein lies the snag to my challenge. Sure, I had it open, on, and ready to take notes in a meeting but if I needed a date quickly or other organizing utility, I had to turn off the power, turn it back on, load the program, work, and then reverse to get back to my scribble pad. Multitasking is obviously where dedicated PDAs excel, too bad they don’t play games well. And too bad for the DS because it’s the perfect size to fit in my back pocket and it’s (somewhat) durable to do so. Thus the DS PDA challenge ended in failure. It sucks, but I’m not too surprised. Of course, this doesn’t stop me from carrying it around all the time…because you never know when you’ll get/need a gaming break.
The DS failed to help keep organized but I still needed something to help stay organized. I’m somewhat of an organization nerd. I’m not saying I’m really all that good at organizing, at least I don’t think so, but I love reading/studying/seeing how people organize information. And the more I work the more I find myself unorganized and unable to communicate with others how projects are coming along when asked. Not to mention I’m somewhat easily distracted by my own projects so I can quickly lose sight of more important needs if they’re not right in front of me.
In my organization travels I’ve read many times over about the Getting Things Done philosophy (GTD), which I like to talk about and promote but really only half ass myself. In short, GTD is about getting all your thoughts out of your head and categorizing them. The thinking is the less info that’s sitting in your head without a home, the less stressed you’ll be. I’ve been practicing my own bastard forms of GTD for a while, actually, by using various methods, charts, forms, logs, web services…you name it and I’ve probably tried to fit it into my routine. The trick to GTD is that you need to have the ability to empty your brain at any moment, which means you need to have something with you to store that information all the time.
Logically this is where a PDA fits in. You have a thought…bang, PDA to the rescue. Calendar date…bang, PDA. But since I’ve tried many times with technology before and it has somehow always failed (even way before the DS), I thought I’d give an old GTD trick a try – the Hipster PDA (hPDA). The hPDA is nothing more than a stack of index cards, typically held together with a binder clip. Stupid simple and crazy cheap – two things I also really enjoy. I got together some index cards and started thinking about how to best organize information on the cards when a trip to Meijer found a (possibly) happier solution: spiral bound index cards. One lonely dollar put a book of index cards into my hand and ready for organizing. And the damn thing fits perfectly in my back pocket, and it has perforated pages for easy share & toss.
Of course, blank pages in a stack of index cards is just a little too simple, right? So I had to improve on the model a tad by using some “genuine” hPDA materials. I went over to DIY Planner, a site I have used in the past for organization tips and tricks, and printed out some of the 3″x5″ core GTD pages. Those plus a glue stick turned my plain index cards into slightly less boring index cards with handy prefab organization templates.
I’ve split the book into a work section and home section, although they’ll probably blend together as this evolves. I’m still trying to figure out the best organization for cards and sections with this book. One advantage the binder clip hPDA has over this book is the freedom to reorganize index cards as you see fit, just unclip and go. A spiral notebook I can’t do that, so you have to fit your organizing within a somewhat linear pattern.
The last piece of the puzzle is training myself to keep the hPDA in my back pocket wherever I go. So far I’m doing pretty well with it and if I keep it up for a few more weeks it’ll be as natural as keeping my wallet on me, I’m sure. I’ve only been at this for a little over a week and it’s already made a big difference in home organization. When we’re out and about shopping and something pops in on conversation I just jot it down. Overhear a snappy quote? Just write and go. Need to remember something for October 10th? Just flip the calendar page and circle it.
On the work front it’s been pretty handy too. I’m not invited to all that many meetings, but when I do, having this has been awesome because I seemingly never have a paper/pencil handy at meetings. I either forget or the meeting happens before I get back to my office. The blank cards combined with the printed templates makes things even more valuable when people ask about something. No longer do I have to say, “let me check my calendar, ” or “I’ll have to see what I still need.” It’s all right there, quick and easy.
Quick and easy is the key. Low mental overhead. No matter what technology happens, nothing will be as easy and practical as an analog solution like pencil and paper. Sure, I can’t check e-mail or call up YouTube with my index cards, but honestly, so what? I really have no need to be that connected.
Oh, and speaking of pencil and paper…that’s another problem I always had when trying these paper-based methods in the past – I never had a pen/pencil handy. Even if I could find a scrap of paper, I didn’t have anything to write with. After I found the index card book at Meijer, I sauntered over to the marker aisle and found myself some mini Sharpie markers with a built-in keychain ring! It’s short and fine-tipped, and since I rarely (can) go anywhere without my keys, my tools are always available.
I don’t know if this revisit down the “I need to get organized” highway will stick, but I’ll give it another go. So far, so good, however, and I haven’t really found any downsides to the process yet. This is a project that will certainly evolve. You can see more photos of the process over on the Flickr page.