Will a smartphone make me more or less organized?
December 4, 2007 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Procrastinators: Is your PDA/smartphone a net negative or a net positive from a productivity standpoint?

I'm trying to decide whether to get a Palm Centro or a standard flip phone. Both will fulfill my basic needs (standard cell phone stuff, plus being able to access the Internet to check LA traffic maps.)

I think the Centro could help me stay more organized--I have trouble remembering to carry my Hipster PDA or other organizer devices, but a cell phone will always be around. I could make lists and appointments on the spot, set timers, take down notes, and generally help combat my distractable and absent-minded nature.

On the other hand, I know that a vast variety of software is available for the Palm OS. Between fiddling with the settings and surfing the Web with the built-in browser, I'm concerned any time I save through being organized will just get frittered away again. The flip phone, with just enough Web capability to save me in a pinch and a presumably less-flexible OS, shouldn't present such a problem.

So, those of you who have a PDA/smartphone: has it led you down the green paths of higher productivity, or into the Pointless Forest of shiny distractions?
posted by fermion to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Palm, and have had one since the first Pilot came out in the 90's. I originally got it as part of a beta test of software at work, and figured it'd just be a lark, but I found it incredibly useful, and like I say it's been over a decade of carrying one around. I currently have a Tungsten T5. Some of the uses I have for it:

- Contacts of course
- Taking quick notes for later
- To do list
- I use a package called Punch Clock to keep track of hours on projects, just tap to start the timer on a given project, and tap off again and it automatically wants a note about it. Very useful
- Calendar with alarms keeps me organized
- Reading books on the train with it is always nice
- It has MP3 capability, as well as video through Core Media Player, which I use occasionally.
- I keep a few photographs on it
- Mapopolis is great for keeping a map of your city always at hand.
- I keep a chess and poker game on there as well for entertainment.

Overall, I'd say just for the notes, contacts, and calendar alone it's worth it, the rest is extra goodness. I definitely fall into the category of procrastinator and I find on balance it has definitely helped get me more organized. The one time I broke a Palm, I felt almost like a piece of me was missing until I could replace it. For my next upgrade in a year or two I think I might give the Centro a go myself, and merge the PDA and phone I currently carry.
posted by barc0001 at 2:13 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just for the ability to keep a calendar and to-do list, it becomes a solid plus for me. My settings-poking only lasted a couple of days; then i ran out of things to tweak.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

being once a user of a palm pilot, and now a windows mobile device, I know what im talking about here.

1) if you familiarize yourself with the main programs (calendar, tasks, email) quickly and can develop the habit of checking/using them daily.. it is a net-postive decision, end of story.

2) if you are a geeky type, who wants the best of all worlds and wants to take everything to the max (and has discovered the great website called ppcwarez [dot] org), the amount of time you can sync into researching programs, installing them, configuring them, and learning to use them, can EASILY outweigh productivity benefits. But not necessarily, if you are careful.

3) maintaince. Can sometimes be an issue.. same reason as #2.

4) BUT, the cool factor: (i have an htc hermes, aka cingular 8525) watching videos anywhere, internet radio on my bike, instant messengers, check email anywhere, remote desktop to windows machines .... etc

I can't live without mine anymore. But i still suffer from all those shiney new programs and updating to the latest software. Sometimes i find myself going days wihtout cehcking it though, and the new software actually helps that sometimes
posted by Ryaske at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2007

i've got an older treo (650) and i do not just 'surf the web'. it's slow and painful. i'm more likely to use the VNC client to connect to my machine at home to do anything other than a cursory google search so that at least i have a fully functional web-browser, albeit slow. all of this means i only use the internet when i really need to, i couldn't imagine using it on a flip-phone.

productivity-wise, i'm always able to take care of email stuff and i've got a calendar that i actually use.

maintaining it is only a problem when you're installing random applications you've downloaded. they'll work, but they're not always written well.

oh and drugwars is great when you're waiting for a bus.
posted by noloveforned at 2:46 PM on December 4, 2007

I am much, much more organized with a PDA because I can offload the work of remembering stuff to it.

I personally find that being able to look at all my appointments and everything due in the next day/week/month reduces procrastination. There's a big difference between having this nebulous cloud of stuff that you have to do and being able to see everything in front of you.

My suggestion: get a smartphone with no data plan. That way whatever distractions it has will be finite rather than infinite.
posted by Asymptote at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I got my phone last year and for the first 9 months it was a solitaire machine. Then my employer turned on mobile device access on our exchange server and the whole ball game changed. I hate to admit it but this is one proprietary solution that, when used end-to-end, is unbelievably useful. I no longer sync to my home machine via usb because It's all done over the air. Push email, always-synced contacts, calendar and everything else comes in via my phone. I can call people from email, schedule meetings from under-construction machine rooms, etc - all the jetsons-type crap they promise in the commercials. If I ever move on to a workplace that doesn't run exchange I'll probably colo my own exchange server JUST to continue using this service.

Disclaimer: I hate exchange with a f**king passion. <20% of my personal computers run windows. This is the only Microsoft product I've ever been even mildly impressed with.
posted by datacenter refugee at 3:12 PM on December 4, 2007

I think the premise of your question is sort of misguided. The question of whether having a particular cell phone or pda will yield increased productivity or increased time wasting is not a characteristic of a particular device, it’s a question of what you decide to do with it. My past successes or failures with dealing with my procrastination/organization issues have not been correlated with buying new PDAs or cell phones. Rather, they mostly seem to do with how disciplined I was at any given time.

That being said, as a fellow procrastinator I do appreciate your predicament and I have one data point to contribute to your original question. I purchased an iPhone in June, and one of the things I like about having it is that it gives me enough of the internet that I can accomplish many tasks, but it’s uncomfortable enough to use that I’m not tempted start wasting time surfing the web. So having it helps in that sense.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 3:13 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

As a procrastinator having a PDA allows me to do things I would normally procrastinate with while I can't be productive, such as reading Metafilter on the train home. (which is how I am posting this now)

They are clunky enough still to not be terribly useful if there are any other options available, so I don't find it hampers my productivity at home. I would go with the centro.. I don't know what I did before I got my smartphone (and it was only three weeks ago!)
posted by everybody polka at 5:22 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

To paraphrase, PDA's don't organize, PEOPLE organize.

The David(Subtle GTD plug!) goes on at length about how fancy-pants high-tech solutions can quickly become an endless time sink, and the way to get organized is actually getting organized and developing the habits.

That having been said, I believe that he personally uses the ToDo function of some Palm PDA to maintain his list.

Personally, in my(Pre-OS 5) experience, what usually happens with a palm is somebody buys one, loads it down with poorly written shareware and geegaws, it becomes unstable, and they give up. Spend a month or two just rocking the basic apps before you start in with the games and shareware, and you'll have a better Palm Life.

I recently tried to transition from an antique Treo(270) to a modern better-than-average flip-phone (Motorola A1200), and I'm currently trying to return the A1200 - It's just too big of a hassle, and Moto's PDA suite is fiddly - Which means I write down less, less often, and then my organizational system starts falling apart.
posted by Orb2069 at 5:45 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I used to have a PDA, which I used religiously for a while, but eventually it just got really annoying and useless. I now use a combo of paper+Google Apps (I LOVE Google, what can I say)+Memory.

I'm a procrastinator too, but printing out calendars and stuff helps. I'm always on email so Google alerts are quite helpful.
posted by divabat at 6:57 PM on December 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I tried to go back to a two-device solution recently and gave up. What I could not do without were:

- Only one thing to carry around.
- Ability to have my whole address book in one place.
- Ability to sync with iCal.
- Ability to easily send myself SMS messages as email (handy ways to get stuff off my mind and into my Mail.app inbox, where I can easily convert it to a task.
posted by 4ster at 8:08 PM on December 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've never gotten much use out of PDAs, mainly because entering data in them remains a pain, but having a phone that syncs with my exchange account has made a big difference.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:24 PM on December 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

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