So, among other productivity methods I’ve been trying this month, I also tried the Hipster PDA method, where essentially you use a small stack of index cards with a big clip to keep track of what you need to get done. (Optionally also with the Getting Things Done and 43 Folders philosophies.)
Most people react to this by saying something like, “Seriously? Index cards.” Yes, seriously. You should probably try it out. And I know several people for whom this PDA works very well!
But I’m not one of them.
Here’s the thing — after literally years trying to get myself to use paper calendars/planners/notebooks/etc., I finally discovered that if my calendar / organizer can’t beep at me, it effectively doesn’t exist.
While trying out the Hipster PDA, I thought I’d finally give it one more shot. See if that was still true. It is.
Sure, I can carefully put everything I want to do today into a planner. I can schedule that appointment for 12:00. And then life will happen, the dean will have a critical project he needs done by tomorrow, I get deep into the zone working on that, and don’t realize until 5:32 pm that we had an appointment at 12:00. That’s pretty much how my life and my brain work.
Furthermore, when you ask me to bring you a document tonight, I’m filing that away in my memory with 32 other things I’m supposed to remember to do by then. 1-17 more are guaranteed to come along before then. Odds are, I’m not bringing your document tonight. Yes, the hPDA is supposed to remind me — if I’m not so absorbed in thinking about the next problem to give it a few minutes. Throughout my test, I only rarely managed to consult my stack of cards effectively. I’m both an easily distract-able and highly focused individual. (Yes, you can be both.)
My solution, the one I’ve been working on for a few years now since I got my first PDA, is to put everything into my digital calendar(s). Events and appointments are obvious, but I also add everything I need to remember later but probably won’t, like “Start walking to class now or you’ll be late”, “Look over the document that Sarah just handed you”, “Respond to Dana’s email”, etc. For things like that, I take my best guess as to when would be a good time to address that matter. 50% of the time I’m wrong, but the reminder brings it back into my consciousness when it would otherwise be lost. Also, it’s easy to tell the reminders to try again later.
I have two calendars: a Google Calendar for more personal and school things, and an Exchange calendar for work-related things. The beauty here is that both calendars live in the cloud — meaning they’re not saved on something I can drop into the sink and destroy forever. And both my phone and computer connect to them, so I’ll always be reminded.
To make things even easier, this month I started using Easy Calendar for the iPhone. I find it much quicker than the default calendar app to add new items, and to see what’s coming up in the next week. Easy Calendar lets you set a default alert for every new item you add, which is good since I add an alert to every single one.
On my computer, I use the aptly named Remind Me Later app (free), which lets me type in natural language, like “Turn in that awesome assignment tonight at 6” The app is smart enough to know that by “tonight” I mean October 25th, and that “6” means 6 p.m., and it automatically puts it into my calendar with a reminder.
Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s enough only that the system bring an item back into my working memory after it’s been pushed out by any number of a dozen things.
Will this system work for you? Quite possibly. Is it the right one for you? Maybe. Hard to say. Could be that the Hipster PDA works better for you, for example. If my experiments with productivity techniques have done anything (besides give me some great ideas and tools), they’ve reminded me that I’m a cognitive bird of a somewhat different color. But then, aren’t we all in our own ways?