Friday, June 09, 2006

Three Simple Ways to Prevent Your PDA from Becoming a Paperweight

So, you went and bought a PDA. You happily input all 212 of your business contacts, all 396 calendar events up to 2034AD, and several million To Do's. You're all set. Except for the fact your PDA's batteries just died and you never backed up your data. You and hundreds of people just like you feel as if you were suckered into buying a $300 paperweight. If you are a glutton for punishment this isn't the first time you spent that $300 either. Maybe you thought that Bluetooth was going to be the answer. Or perhaps WiFi accessibility seemed to be the perk you were sure was going to make the difference this time.Let's face it, though. Even if the next Palm or PocketPC plugged into your noodle and psychically communicated with your accountant, you'd still end up sticking the thing in the bottom drawer with the other PDAs.

So what's the problem? Is it all just an expensive scam?

I have a box filled with PDAs. Many were donated to me by friends who were tired of them collecting dust. Every single friend bought the PDA with good intentions and became frustrated after the umpteenth cycle of inputting all their data, finding the PDA dead, and cursing the Electronic Gods because they'd lost all their data. The thing about my box of PDAs, however, is each one of them has been used to death. By me. I even became quite proficient at Frankensteining different models together to extend their lives. What did I do different than my friends? I found some simple ways to make sure I was always happy with the Electronic Gods.

Many articles have been written about how to keep To Do lists, calendars, and alarms. I've done a few myself. What hasn't been discussed much is how to AD/HD-proof your PDA, especially since Palm in particular has done such a terrible job making these gizmos foolproof for their customers. Of course, you may not have AD/HD and are just finding yourself forgetting to tend to your PDA due to your busy schedule. Whether you want to organize your hectic life better, or move with aplomb into the inner circle of power users at your office, there are three simple things you can do to change your PDA's life. They're Palm specific there should be similar options available for PocketPCs.

  1. If your PDA uses AA or AAA batteries, buy an extra set today, make sure they are rechargeable, and have one set charging every night. This will cost you $15-19 at the most and is the #1 most important accessory you can purchase for your PDA - even more important than that 3-in-1 flashlight, red ballpoint, gold plated stylus you purchased. Now that PDAs come with built in rechargeable batteries I plug the silly thing into the wall by my bed every night. I never forget. How?
  2. You need a To Do List application that offers repeating tasks, preferably with annoying alarms. If you've ever grown exasperated with day planners and the tedious process of copying forward your important tasks over and over again then computers should make your life easier, not more difficult. For the Palm market you can do no better than purchase To Do Plus ($19.95). Each task can be set to repeat daily, weekly, every other Tuesday, you name it, complete with an alarm. Your first repeating task should be to charge your PDA every night and your second most important repeating task should be to make a backup with your computer. I do it about twice a week, but is it enough?
  3. Ever notice how lousy Palm's Hotsync is at restoring your PDA after it dies? That program you used once and deleted six months ago is now back from the dead, but the prefs you set for a third party app last week stayed in the afterlife? Buy BackupBuddy ($14.95). If there is ONE trick I have that keeps my PDA safe it is BackupBuddy. This program makes an exact and current mirror backup of all your data unlike Palm's Hotsync. If your PDA should ever die (for instance when it crashes with the light stuck on) BackupBuddy will restore your PDA completely.Now that I own PDAs with memory cards I use a version of BackupBuddy called BackupBuddyVFS that clones my PDA data onto the memory card every night - automatically. I even have an extra memory card to swap once a week. This way if my PDA gives up the binary ghost, or worse is stolen, I have several backups to make a complete restore to my new PDA within moments.

PDAs are wonderful tools to keep your mind organized, keep you on track, and help you remember that meeting you scheduled three months ago. Unfortunately, they aren't complete right out of the box. In addition, you need to maintain them in order for them to be useful. If you aren't prepared to invest in the extra utilities I've listed here, you are wasting your time and money in my opinion. Don't let that stop you from buying that snazzy new PocketPC. As soon as you give up on it you can mail it to me. I'm sure I'll find a use for it.