The Resurgence of Paper


The Personal Digital Assistant

I live a busy life. These days, who doesn’t? A lot of people misconstrue working in a home-office setting as being lazy and unproductive. To the contrary, though, working at home can sometimes even be more stressful because of (1) domestic distractions that may come along, and (2) the temptation to keep working in excess of what’s required (no time wasted travelling, after all).

And then of course, there are the occassional meetings (which may also double as drinking sessions-cum-EBs with online buddies).

So the ever busy guy needs something to manage his time with. And I’ve always been fascinated with personal/time management tools practically since they were invented. For instance, back in my high school days, I used to rely on paper-based, leather-bound organizers which were then popular. Of course there were also the gigantic three-hole binder type notebooks popularized by Mead. My organizer/notebook used to contain everything from my address book, my calendar, class schedule, some notes, and yes, even the occassional Post-it ™ note stuck all over.

But this was all paper-based. And the geek in me wanted more.

So when those small keypad-based flash-memory electronic organizers became available, I was an early adopter. I was overflowing with pride with my organizer’s 64 kilobyte memory! Wow! During my unversity days, I then eventually graduated to using the more conventional handheld, touchscreen PDAs that had become the preferred form factor. I had used all sorts and brands running various OSes, from Palm, Casio and Microsoft.

Then I eventually got tired of carrying around separate devices and started using my mobile phone’s internal calendar to manage my life. In fact, my mobile right now is a smartphone that runs on Windows (how smart!), and could actually sync with Outlook automatically everytime I plug it in via USB.

Looking back, though, I realized that my electronic time management tools rarely helped in efficiently managing my life for a variety of reasons. For one, I’m not really a fan of alarm rings or beeps, vibrates (or hollers, as in some cases). There’s always the snooze button I find conveniently-positioned enough to hit whenever I’m still enjoying my ZZZs–that is, if I get to wake up at all. Or maybe when an event or appointment is coming up, alarms are usually conveniently ignored (or sometimes serve as signals to wake up or else be late for the appointment coming up in ten minutes). And then ToDo lists stayed that way–task lists, but with most “tasks” ending up being unticked–and sometimes also undone–for months on end.

So my fascination for the time management tools was directed back towards the least high-tech of things, with the resurgence of paper-based “PDAs” as the device of choice. And this, of course, was the “hipster PDA”. Then there are the other alternatives popular among geeks, like the Moleskine (pronounced MO-le-SKI-ne).

For my part, however, I still rarely got things right, even with this paper-based approach. I still forgot events (or remembered them five minutes into the appointment). I still failed to use the ToDo list effectively.

A techie frend of mine recently wrote about giving a Moleskine to a classmate who seemed to have a hard time with taking notes on loose leaves. I sort of envy those people who can effectively use whatever available technology in making things work.

I again realized (as I often do) that productivity tools are only as helpful to the extent that a person is able to effectively utilize them. As with any technology, it’s best to utilize technology as a tool for making life easier and getting things done. And it becomes bad when you rely too much on technology, as this would somehow only stupefy you.

Anyway, I have this string on my finger that tells me I should be doing something. If only I can remember what.

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