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Editorial: The Pen is Mightier than the Stylus?

Shaun over at Palm 24/7 has posted an article that he has given up on using a PDA to manage his schedule and tasks and has reverted to using a pen and paper instead. This issue is actually why I recently purchased a Thinkpad X41 Tablet PC.

Some excerpts from Shaun's article:

A while back I wrote an article called Analogue about a notebook I have been using for a long time now. It has served a purpose and constantly been scribbled on day after day but ultimately is no real use for finding information because the notes are random and half the time make little sense 10 minutes after they have been written.

Last weekend I was in a book shop with my daughter and spotted a Moleskine day-to-a-page diary and bought it ... As an experiment I have been using the modified notebook as a diary instead of the Nokia E61 calendar for the past few days and ... I have not forgotten one appointment, meeting or conference call... I have completed every task on the day it was noted... [the] pages make for a lot of real space to work with when amending and adding new entries... I find using a notebook and diary quite refreshing and I can now remember how I managed everything before my first Psion took over my life. At the moment the E61 is purely a mobile phone and contacts database...

Editor Notes

This is an interesting article and I know that most of the general public feels this way, as they don't use PDA's at all and instead use their cell phone for contact management. However, this coming from the owner of a very successful PDA/Smartphone site, is something to make you think.

I do understand some of Shaun's points about how writing notes on paper is so much easier than trying to write them on a PDA. I'm very fast at writing on a PDA, but its still infinitely slower and than hand-writing notes on a notepad. When you use a notepad, though, you are generating huge volumes of paper and can't easily search for the information you need later.

This is exactly why I recently purchased a ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC. I had tried a slate-style tablet PC long ago and was very intrigued by it, but ultimately found it inefficient as a laptop replacement because of the detached keyboard. I must say that it would have been suitable for a desktop replacement becuase it had a nice stand with CD-ROM drive and using the keyboard on a desk worked just fine. I need a true portable, though, that I can use on my lap.

Prior to my X41 Tablet PC I had a standard X41 laptop and I loved it. It was so small and light, but with a 12.1" screen, and was the envy of everyone that saw me using it. Of course it didn't solve the problem of daily handwritten notes, especially when trying to take notes during a meeting.

Enter the X41 Tablet PC. This is one of the thinnest, lightest Tablet PC's on the market that has a keyboard and a 12.1" swivel screen. It truly is the best of all worlds. It is still small and light and fully functional as a laptop, but also quite usable as a Tablet PC for taking handwritten notes. These notes are also searchable because the Tablet PC converts portions of the handwriting into text in the background and builds an index on it. Its a pen-and-paper solution, but with full digital storage and easy information retrieval.

You can check out the ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC at the ThinkPad website.

Coming from a PDA background, one thing that you may not realize about a Tablet PC screen is that it does not work like a traditional PDA touch screen where it responds to anything that touches the screen. It only responds to a special stylus. While that may sound strange, it is great in three respects. First, it allows you to rest your hand directly on the screen and write your notes, just like you would on a piece of paper. Hovering your hand over a traditional-style PDA touchscreen that is that large would just not comfortable. Secondly, it allows you to select objects simply by hovering the stylus over the object. You don't have to actually touch it at all. Lastly, there is a button the stylus that acts as a right mouse button to avoid having to "press-and-hold" in a lot of situations.

There are also some other very cool features of it being a Tablet PC. For example, I can sign documents directly on the screen and email or fax them without ever printing them. I can hand-write annotations on just about anything from Word, Excel, the web, etc. I can fill out crosswords in handwriting, rather than typing. As these type of devices become more popular, more and more software will be released that is specifically designed for them.

One thing that I personally have been struggling with in managing my activities with a PDA that perhaps is also an issue for Shaun, is related to prioritization and work flow. Before the days of PDA's, I used the Franklin planner system. It has a calendar and task list and a notes section to write down daily notes, just like modern PDA systems, but one thing was different. The Franklin system helped you focus on the most important activities in your life, whether they are personal or business related. It talked about activities and tasks being in one of four quadrants, defined by the urgency of the task and its importance. Most of us constantly confuse those two aspects of things. Its far too easy to allow your day to be consumed with urgent, but unimportant tasks and let the imporant (but not necessarily urgent) things fall by the wayside.

Another thing that plagues many of us is being able to effectively plan and manage the flow of our activities and tasks throughout the day. Many of us have our PDA's crammed with hundreds of tasks. We may assign high, medium, and low priority to them, but we still end up with dozens of high-priority tasks. How do we go about tackling these tasks throughout the day? The Franklin system allows you to assign both a priority (ABC) and order (123...) to them. If you take 15 minutes each morning to plan out the flow of your day, you end up accomplishing so much more at the end of the day. Well, at least if you planned properly, you end up accomplishing more of your important tasks.

Currently I'm running a trial version of the FranklinCovey PlanPlus for Tablet PC. It synchronizes with Outlook, but lets you hand-write tasks and appointments and most importantly lets me use the A1, A2, B1 prioritization and ordering that I love. It lets you drag and drop master task list items onto your daily task list and drag and drop tasks to the calendar to schedule time to complete them. The goal of this software is a perfect fusion between the Franklin paper-based system and modern PIM management. It attempts to capture the benefits of both typing and hand-writing information. It also happens to come with special Palm PDA applications that mirror the desktop applications. So far I find the concept very cool, but the synchronization with Outlook, especially handwritten items, to be a bit problematic. I'll be happy to post an article about this software if anyone is interested.

You can check out the PlanPlus for Windows XP 5.0 software through our FranklinCovey affiliate program. A trial version is available that works with the Tablet PC or a regular Windows XP.

Now back to Shaun's article. I think that in his case, the switch to paper was more of philosophical thing. He had become so obsessed with the use of electronics to manage his life that he began to feel like the devices were controlling him. However, I still recommend that he try out a convertible Tablet PC and see if that meets his needs. It will allow him to hand-write his notes, and even his appointments and tasks with the FranklinCovey software, and be able to see it all visually and drag-and-drop things around as needed for planning out his life.

You can read the full article by Shaun at PDA 24/7.

Posted by tim_palmzone on Sat, Sep 30, 2006

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"The Pen is Mightier than the Stylus?" | Login/Create an Account | 2 comments | Search Discussion
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Re: The Pen is Mightier than the Stylus? (Score: 1)
by tim_palmzone (tim at palmzone dot net) on Wed, Oct 04, 2006
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I shared this article with PalmAddict and one of their editors wrote an article in response to it. Here is a brief excerpt from the article:

The PDA and the digital divide

Reflecting on the place the PDA (and other similar devices such as smart phones) occupy on the fringes of the global village and after reading the Palm Zone Editorial: The Pen is Mightier than the Stylus? I thought I would throw in my tuppence worth on the debate on whether to purchase or not to purchase a PDA.

The choice as to which PIM tool to employ can be simplified between notebook/diary, laptop or tablet pc or PDA. I tend to think of the PDA first as an extension to my PC/laptop and then ultimately as a replacement for it. This will not be possible until the PDA can do most if not all of the things that a laptop can while still offering the greater portability. If it were simply a matter of price, the notebook would win every time. The PC falls out of the race due to its lack of mobility.


Give me a PDA though that affordably allows the connection of the more basic peripherals such as a memory stick or USB floppy drive, allows me to do PowerPoint presentations with a direct interface to a projector and my laptop will go out the window. Add to this sufficient storage such as in Palm’s Life Drive (again :-) and ThinkOutside’s stowaway keyboard for ease of data entry and we can really begin to build the computer literacy that is the beginning of closing the digital divide.

Oct 02, 2006 in Simon Mutama Associate Writer, Kampala, Uganda. Read the full article here.

The experiment goes bang! (Score: 1)
by tim_palmzone (tim at palmzone dot net) on Mon, Oct 09, 2006
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Shaun over at Palm24/7 has now posted a follow-on editorial about how he came across a very busy week with tons of meetings, calls, and to-do's and his paper system fell apart. He's now back to thinking an electronic method is needed, but still dreads carrying his whole life in a single device. That's why I suggest using a Tablet PC (or even a regular laptop) along with a PDA and a phone (or a PDA/smartphone, of course).

Here is Shaun's latest editorial.

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