My PDA, Myself

By: Donna Schwartz Mills

I used to be one of those people who kept everything in
their head. I prided myself on my ability to memorize phone
numbers and birthdays, and knew my schedule without writing
anything in a calendar.

Then I became a mom.

I am now one of the most forgetful people on the planet. I
don't know if it's due to the fact that I am no longer
responsible for just myself (keeping track of my schedule,
my daughter's schedule, the school's schedule, the play
dates, the after school lessons and more)... or if I lost
brain cells during pregnancy ... but my short term memory has
turned to mush. These days, I need to write everything
down... more than ever, now that I have a business of my
own.

I made but one resolution last year: To do a better job of
tracking my family's schedule and recording my business
expenses. I started out great - I bought a spanking new
organizer with custom pages and pouches for receipts, stamps
and business cards. I kept a schedule for me and my family,
wrote down all my mileage (a must for tax purposes!) and
tracked my biz expenses...

...for about two months. The book was too big to fit in my
bag, it was heavy to carry - and I began leaving it at home
more often than not, which kind of defeated the purpose of
having an organizer at all. Then, I lost it and all the
information it contained.

So I bought another one. This time, I decided to go the
deluxe route. I headed to my local Franklin Covey store and
purchased a beautiful butternut leather book and pretty
organizer pages, which included Stephen Covey's system on
becoming more effective. The whole package cost me about
$100 - I figured if I invested this much into it, I would be
less apt to lose it.

I started writing down goals and tracking all of my business
tasks, and was feeling quite on top of things...

...for about two months. Once again, the biggest obstacle to
using the system was that it was too bulky and heavy to
carry with me everywhere.

I looked with envy at friends who
had invested in electronic PDA (Personal Digital Assistant)
organizers - small, light-weight devices that sync up with
your computer and fit easily into a purse. That, I thought,
would be a solution - if only they were not so expensive.

Well, PDA's are not so expensive any longer. With the
entry-level Palm model retailing at just $99, and Handspring
Visors available at similar cost, almost everyone can afford
to carry one now.

What to Look for in a PDA

There is a dizzying array of PDA models with various
features, so deciding which one you buy can be a confusing
process. Since a PDA is really just a small, hand-held
computer, your buying decision should be based on some of
the same considerations you make when purchasing a desktop
system:

1. RAM
2. Speed
3. Expandability
4. Price

There are two major competing operating systems in the PDA
world. The most popular uses the system developed by Palm -
these include the Handspring Visor, the Sony Clie and of
course, the Palm Pilot. The other major OS is called
PocketPC - this is a Windows-based environment developed by
Microsoft to compete with Palm. It is somewhat easier to
exchange information between PocketPC handhelds and Windows
based software - but at a price. PocketPC requires more
system resources - the popular Compaq iPaq H3650 features
a minimum of 32 MB of RAM, which makes these devices slightly
heavier and more expensive than the ones that run the Palm
OS.

The folks at ZDNet have created a guide to help you decide
which PDA models are best for you. While you're there, you
can view a list of the most popular models and user reviews
and even shop online for the best prices:

http://www.zdnet.com/products/stories/reviews/0,4161,2581305,00.html

Using Your New PDA

All PDA models come bundled with the two most important
organizing functions: Address book and Calendar. If you use
Microsoft Outlook on your desktop computer, you can import
all of your current entries with ease via your new
handheld's syncing function.

Creating new entries is also a cinch. You have the option of
tapping an on-screen keyboard with your stylus or "writing"
the text using your device's built-in handwriting function
(called "Graffiti" on Palm based systems). Graffiti takes a
little bit of getting used to, but it's pretty easy to
master. Most users tend to fluctuate between the two entry
systems.

There are thousands of third-party software programs that
you can download into your new PDA - many of them are free.
My personal favorite is AvantGo, which allows me to carry
the movie listings from every theater in my local area.
These update automatically whenever I sync my handheld to
my desktop.

Each of the major PDA manufacturers carries software links.
You'll also find much to choose from at these sites:

http://www.palmgear.com
http://www.handango.com/
http://www.pilotzone.com/
http://www.zdnet.com/downloads/
http://www.memoware.com/

Bear in mind that you are limited by the amount of RAM
included in your device. If you find yourself running out,
you should look into adding a new memory module.

Technology writer Mark Kellner offers the following advice
on getting along with your new PDA:

1. Synchronize and backup at least once per day.
2. Watch your batteries. The more inexpensive models tend to
use AAA-sized batteries - make sure you have a steady
supply.
3. Protect your device with a case. Chances are, your new
PDA came with a catalog of third party vendors offering a
wide variety of products. Check them out.
4. Get a screen protector. These are thin sheets of plastic
that use static to adhere to the screen.

I received my new Handspring Visor as a Christmas gift and I
love it. Because it fits right into my handbag without
adding much weight, it is as constant a companion as my
wallet and cellular phone. I'm trying out some expense
tracking and vehicle expense softwareArticle Submission, as well as a diet and
exercise log and feel good about my prospects of meeting
this year's resolutions... I'll let you know in a couple of
months!

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