Archive for February, 2007

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Getting Things Done

February 15, 2007

I recently stumbled upon a few websites on a this methodology to enhance personal productivity called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. The moment I read through the concept (without actually reading the book), I knew that this methodology was perfect for me! I used to use a To Do List for the longest time, either on Outlook (during my pre-Mac days), on my BlackBerry or PDA, and a bit on my Mac. Problem was, while the To Do List was supposed to get my life organized, I had no way of getting my To Do List organized, and in the end, stopped using the list altogether.

GTD for me is is a good way to organize my deliverables because it organizes them into Projects (which is basically any activity that requires more than one task to complete) and Contexts (which is a place or method where the task is done, ie, Email, Office, Errands). There are also a bunch of other concepts that are introduced such as daily review and processing, weekly reviews, etc., to make sure the list is never stale, and I am constantly reminded of what I need to do.

So since I started getting into GTD, the next natural progression was to look for the best GTD app for my Mac. I tried a bunch of applications, from Kinkless GTD, to Midnight Inbox, Life Balance, and a bunch of other things. As usual, my search criteria for the app of choice was one that had all the necessary GTD features in a good looking package. While the methodology was generally the same, the various apps implemented them in various ways, as varied as the way different users adapt GTD to their own use. After trying a bunch of them, I realized that my use of the app, and therefore the GTD methodology, started to decline.

It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally determined that the reason was that I placed the extensiveness of functionality of the app above the function the app was intented to do in the first place, which is get me organized. The apps I thought were good were really just too complex and time consuming to work with. In the end, I spent more time looking around for, installing, and configuring various apps instead of being more productive!

In my search for the best GTD app, I came across a dedicated GTD app called “Ghost Action”. I think its a relatively new app, but I immediately dismissed it without even trying because it just had a simple one window interface and very few menu buttons. As opposed, for example, to Midnight Inbox, which had a full GTD workflow built in, with automatic collections (from applications I dont use) and a very structured methodology. I thought having the most feature rich application was the key to getting things done, but in the end, the richness of the application just got me even more distracted than before I started using the app itself.

So my latest, and hopefully last GTD app (since I paid 20 bucks for it) is Ghost Action. It doesnt try to shoehorn me into a very structured process, but at the same time places just enough structure to organize the stuff I’m supposed to do. Moral of the story: KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!

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72 Hours with the BlackBerry Pearl

February 12, 2007

I finally upgraded from my trusty BlackBerry 7130 to the hot new BlackBerry Pearl. I’ve been waiting for this upgrade for a few months now, since I first saw the real unit with a RIM representative. Must say, the website and pictures dont do it justice at all.

I’m beyond first impressions by now, because I have seen the unit before. However, the first impression that came to mind was really its size and finish when I first saw it. The piano black finish is pretty magnificent by any standards, much better than a Nokia, similar to the new LG and Samsung phones. Compared to the 7130, the Pearl is much more compact and light. I felt that the 7130 was quite large and heavy to put in a pants pocket, but the Pearl is the perfect size and weight.

Setup was pretty straightforward as usual. Since the handset wasnt new, I first wiped the handset by going into Options / Security. The Pearl then rebooted completely empty, and proceeded to register itself with the network. A simple entry of my email address and Enterprise Activation password (since I am a BES user) and all my data started to come into the device over the air. I was pretty disappointed that some old pictures from the 7130 didnt get through as well as my pretty extensive custom wordlist consisting of SMS shortcuts, slang, and Filipino words. This didnt turn out to be much of an issue, however, as most of these words still typed correctly on SureType.

Usability of the handset was no big deal. After all, its a BlackBerry, and all BlackBerries work the same way, since my 7230, the first one I used. The most noteable change, which I guess is pretty major in BlackBerry terms, is the absence of the scroll wheel on the right hand side of the Pearl and it being replaced with a trackball in the center of the unit. It didnt really take that much of an adjustment to get used to the new primary interface. It only took a couple of hours to get used to the sensitivity of the wheel (which is much more sensitive than the old trackwheel) and I was good to go.

Other than that, using the Pearl was a standard BlackBerry affair.

A few things I noticed, though:

1. The newest version of the Dimension Today Plus theme, which is my theme of choice, is much better thought of than the old 7130 version. Aside from being able to scroll through the standard PIM functions on the today screen, scrolling down shows a pop up toolbar of the first five applications in the ribbon. Pretty useful stuff for frequently used apps. I have Address Book, Alarm Clock, Calculator, Media, and Push Weather as my list in the toolbar.

2. The BlackBerry menu (which was the old center button on the 7130) has been redesigned for two purposes. When in the Today screen, this button shows the full application menu. The icons in the menu are much smaller now than in previous BlackBerries, which allows more applications to be viewed. With a trackball that scrolls horizontally and vertically, choosing apps to launch is pretty easy.

3. Meanwhile, when the BlackBerry menu button is pressed while in an application, the full menu appears, similar to when the old trackwheel is pressed. In the Pearl, when the trackball is pressed, an abbreviated version of the menu comes out depending on the application that is used. For instance, when an SMS message is open, only Reply, Reply to all, Forward, and Delete come out when the trackball is pressed. This is generally pretty good, except that it would have been nice if I could customize this mini menu. I sometimes use other functions that are not in this mini menu so it took me a while to determine whether to press the BlackBerry menu button or the trackball to invoke the command I needed.

4. In the old trackwheel days, the wheel has a mechanical click sound when turning the wheel. There is also a bit of feel on your thumb when you turn the wheel. However, in the trackball, no such mechanical click or clicky feedback on your thumb exists anymore. Instead, RIM simulated the sound of the click through the speaker. I realize its not really important, but it still is pretty fun to play around with sometimes…

5. My biggest problem with the Pearl is the absence of the Next key. The Next key on the 7130 sits between the Alt key and the Space Bar. Basically, what it does is select the next word on the SureType menu. The Next key on the Pearl has been replaced with the Sym key. while it makes choosing symbols 1 less click away, I now have the problem of having a harder time typing Filipino SMS messages since the only way I know how to choose another word in the SureType menu is to horizontally scroll the trackball, which more often than not overshoots the word I want to use. This is my major problem with the Pearl.

6. The Pearl now supports voice commands. The commands are pretty minor, though, such as checking status and other minor system checks on the handset. The only major voice command available is the Call command, which is really cool. Basically, the user says the word Call and the name of the person he is calling, and the system responds with a list of three names based on the closest match recognized. It will then ask if the user wants to call the first match by reading the name of the first person in the list, and the user can either say Yes, to complete the call, No, to then prompt the system to read the next name, or to Cancel. I think its a novelty at this point although may be useful when driving using a Bluetooth headset, which I have yet to try out.

7. Multimedia is now becoming more developed in the Pearl, although going to the media application is still a bit of a departure from the standard BlackBerry look and feel. Icons are used, but i think it could have been implemented a bit better in particular to preserve the BlackBerry user experience. It would also be interesting how to get videos and music into the BlackBerry considering I do not use Desktop Manager at all and do all my syncing over the air. I use a Mac and have yet to check if file transfers over Bluetooth are now supported, a function traditionally not allowed on a BlackBerry

8. The camera, which is 1.2 MP seems ok, but I havent used it extensively yet.

9. The absence of 3G is not really a major concern as I mainly use the BlackBerry for SMS, Voice, Email, and Calendar. I hardly do any browsing.

10. The browser of the handset has finally been integrated. Previously, BlackBerries had three browsers, the WAP browser, the Internet Browser, and the BlackBerry Browser. The Pearl finally only has one browser which I can use regardless if I want to go to a WAP site, an Intranet site over MDS, or an Internet site.

Overall, I love the BlackBerry Pearl. As a side note, I saw the new BlackBerry 8800, which looks almost exactly like a Pearl but much wider with the qwerty keyboard and no camera. I am usually partial to phone type form factors but even then, the Pearl is really just the perfect size to make it a great handheld. Its actually been a long time since I was this attacted to a new phone (in my line of work) and even after three days I still find myself just staring at the device. Its a new, sophisticated twist on the reliable and easy to use BlackBerry interface. I think the Pearl is the perfect smartphone and would recommend it without question.