How can I go from digital to analog?
January 14, 2011 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Going from digital to analog life management. Please help.

I got a PDA over 10 years ago and it changed my life. (Specifically with ADD/Anxiety.) I LOVE it. Here's a list of what I used it for:

After PDA:
- Keep notes for everything in PDA/sync with computer
- Keep all appointments in PDA/sync with computer (with time, room number, person's contact information)
- Alarm for going to appointments
- Use GPS for getting around (with smartphone)
- Music player, eliminating need to carry 2 things (and possibly lose stuff)
- During meetings, I'd prewrite what I wanted to say and be less likely to blurt things out
- During meetings when bored, I'd write things

And overall, all of this greatly reduced my anxiety about losing things, being late, not knowing something and not blurting things out. It has been over 10 years that I've been using a PDA or smartphone for this.

I also have arthritis in my hands and not only is my writing terrible, but writing is somewhat painful.

Before the PDA (which was my first year or 2 of undergrad), I'd carry a planner and try to keep all the information in it, but I'd be constantly checking it to get the room number/time of an appointment and it contributed to my anxiety greatly.

So fast forward to now, after becoming completely dependent on a PDA, I now find myself in a job track that DOES NOT ALLOW FOR PDAs/SMARTPHONES. I did not know this when applying and at this point, I am sort of stuck in this job. (The reason is because it is in intelligence and I work in a top secret clearance zone.) I lock my smartphone up in a little locker by the door every day. (And whimper.)

No one brings computers or PDAs/phones to meetings. Outsiders are reminded to lock up phones with signs and verbal warnings. I do have a computer at my desk that has Outlook with calendars (although no one uses them for inviting to meetings) and I can access a Google calendar/gmail (I promptly forwarded all my stuff to this format because it is allowed.) But when I am in meetings, taking notes by hand is painful both physically and emotionally. I don't remember how to do it. (In undergrad I took paper notes but would type them once I got home.) When I need to go to meetings, I write the room number and person's name on a post-it note and look at it over and over again. I set appointments on my Outlook calendar, but I am only in front of my computer ~15% of the day. I got a Moleskin but I don't really know how to use it.

Although the obvious answer would be to ask for an exception/accommodation based on disability (either ADD or arthritis), I don't see that happening. Everything needs to be cleared for security purposes and an electronic item just isn't going to cut it. Also I'd assume people would wonder why I had a device when they are clearly not allowed.

I should also mention that I've only been in this job for a month and it is a good fit for many other reasons. Quitting isn't an option.

What strategies can I use to:
- remind myself of appointments in an analog format without requiring me to open the planner (because I will do so all the time over and over again)?
- take notes/prewrite so I don't blurt things out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you get something like a netbook or other small computing device that doesn't pose the security risks that smartphones do, but that you could carry around at the office to use for the same purpose?
posted by decathecting at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2011

decathecting: No, if he works in the environment that I think he works in then he is allowed no outside electronics or storage devices.
posted by Loto at 8:57 AM on January 14, 2011

Do you have a white board in your office? We used to use them to update them every few days with upcoming appointments and task deadlines. We always seemed to have a small area of the whiteboard labeled "do not erase" and we kept frequently used phone numbers or job-related tips there.
posted by CathyG at 8:57 AM on January 14, 2011

This may or may not suit your anxiety, but I have found a good compromise between a traditional planner and going all-electronic (which doesn't work for me) to be the Levenger Circa system. You can get one of the ones with clear covers so that you can see the first page, or you can even just stick your "today's appointments" on a small sheet on the OUTSIDE of the cover -- I like these. That way you could see at a glance at the front of the planner what you need to do that day, while still keeping information inside. The pages can be removed and replaced without having to open and close binder rings, which makes it much easier for me to organize. Like, it makes a WORLD of difference.

I went ahead and got myself the hole punch for it so I can print out my google calendar (my version of "syncing" it ... I write new things in my calendar pages in green ink and then check the planner when I'm back at a computer so I can input the new things, then check them off so I remember I input them to the main calendar. That saves printing a new one EVERY time I add new appointments); you could also print out notes for meetings and put them in the notebook then.

Doesn't help with the "writing is painful" when IN meetings, but might help with some of the other things.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

When you take notes in meetings, put little symbols beside each line to remind yourself what they are. For example, I put a star next to things that are "to dos" for me, a dash next to things that are calendar items, etc. Then when you get out of the meeting, update your to-do list, your calendar, etc. with this information.

Hopefully someone's taking minutes of these meetings. If not, and if it's something you'd want to do and suitable for your position, offer to type up the minutes and send them around. This way you're typing up your notes and everyone else benefits and will appreciate it as well.
posted by hazyjane at 9:16 AM on January 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might be able to get an ADA accommodation for a transcriptionist for meetings. Court-reporter machines don't store data, or they could write everything out by hand for you.

As for remembering meetings, names, etc., I rely on color-coded post-its and Outlook's equivalent, Notes. Until my mom got her PDA she swore by Levinger's organizers, and I know a few executives whose lives depend on their Franklin/Covey planners. There's also one I know whose secretary prints out stuff from Outlook every day for him - all his meetings, contact pages for people he has to meet with, etc.

It may also be worthwhile for you to learn shorthand, for your prewriting-in-action needs.
posted by SMPA at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2011

decathecting: No, if he works in the environment that I think he works in then he is allowed no outside electronics or storage devices.

I would speak to your employer - if there is a real medical risk they might allow you to use a netbook/laptop to take notes, providing the device always stays at your work place (i.e. the opposite of your smartphone).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I take notes or preemptive contributions to a meeting, I just focus on the keywords. A short scribble to remember what was said, or what I want to say.

Besides, somebody at meetings should be taking minutes and distributing them later so that people don't have to take notes individually. The main items and actions should already be recorded. I've yet to see anybody in a ranking position object to this concept.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2011

Just thinking about the writing aspect of it. Do you use any kind of ergonomic pen for arthritis? (Wow, I just internet-searched for "pens for arthritis" and there are apparently a hundred different designs.)

Does it help to use something more like a felt-tipped pen/skinny marker rather than a scratchy thin ballpoint pen? Or even a rollerball/gel pen? My handwriting position is sort of unusual and my hand tires easily -- but the faster the pen goes, the more I can write quickly and feel free (and then I try not to care if my notes look completely incoherent).

Writing is also physically easier for me when there's sort of a cushion of paper underneath the top piece of paper -- so on top of a notebook or folder is easier than just on a conference table.

Could you keep a little section of preprinted stickers if there are words you'd frequently use when writing? So like tiny stickers that say "schedule" or "important meeting next _____" or "doublecheck this" or something. The cheapest/easiest way might be to buy large sticker paper and print with a small font, cut them up, have a little section included in your notebook/planner/etc.

I liked the idea above about symbols -- basically, shorthand so you don't have to write as much. Have a cheat sheet initially and train yourself: spiral = call this person. Box = thing to do. Seconding the idea of color-coding too.

Start with sort of a form for your note-taking? Like if at any given meeting, your notes will sort of fall into the categories of main objectives, subtasks, projects being assigned, you could type this up on the computer and design your own form (big boxes for each subject area).
posted by oldtimey at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2011

I have this once a year when I am computer-less during our annual conference and have 10+ meetings a day.

Basically, I throw everything possible into Outlook even though I don't usually use it that much: notes, to-dos, calendar, detailed appointment notes (even if no one uses it to invite, add your own information there)

I then print out everything possible (sorry trees) and keep a very detailed and up to date daily binder with each meeting's agenda, list of attendees, location, past minutes, meeting documents and so on. I also have a section to add business cards, contact details, post it notes etc.

The binder is clear in the front and I keep the day/week's meeting schedule, location and attendees printed at the front so I can see it at a glance.

If I am not the minute-taker, I take note of key discussions and any action items for me to follow up, slot it into the binder under the relevant meeting, then drop this back into outlook at the end of the week.

Most of it gets shredded after I put it back into Outlook, but you could just keep adding binders if you have space.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:04 AM on January 14, 2011

and on noting what to say: I have always done this too so I don't forget critical points especially on phone calls, and so I can very quickly move from meeting to meeting. I either head up a document with 'discussion points' so everyone else can see my points if I am tabling a longer document, put points on my personal copy of the meeting agenda, or at the start of the meeting jot down a couple of points in my notebook.
posted by wingless_angel at 11:09 AM on January 14, 2011

Just wondering - if you're working in a top secret area, can you take your notes/planner out of the top secret area?
posted by squorch at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2011

I find a wall planner by my desk (the sort where you see the whole year at a glance) is a good way to keep an eye on all appointments. I have a little red stick-on arrow that I move to the beginning of each week as it comes.

If you are allowed, you could also get a watch with an alarm or even calendar function, and set it to beep as a reminder just before each meeting.
posted by lollusc at 1:50 AM on January 15, 2011

Somewhat similar situation, but I've handled it by just killing more trees, as it were. I keep a detailed, every-little-thing todo list in Tasks, sorted by priority then date, and print it out every morning, and carry it around in a little pad. I add every task to that as it comes up. I also carry along with a small-format printout of the day's calls/meetings, and a couple blank pages for shorthand notes. Every evening, the last task before I go is to re-enter all of that back into the computer, ready for the next day - or if I have break during the day, I'll catch up then. It's more of getting into the routine than anything else.

Odd that they let you use gmail/google calendar in such a sensitive environment, though, especially since they would have no control over you (inadvertently or not) sharing those messages through google docs, a public RSS feed, a poorly chosen password you reuse on gawker, etc...
posted by bemis at 1:50 PM on January 15, 2011

In some cases, they allow for a PDA to be used in the secure area if it never leaves the secured area (aka secure transport between floors/areas if you have multiple). The downside is that you can't sync it up to any computer, but you could still at least have it for your accustomed workflow.

Talk to your security officer - they will be your best resource for alternatives and they will not judge you for having questions or think that you're a threat for doing so. Feel free to MeMail me for more details/ideas.
posted by bookdragoness at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2011

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