A journey continued: my first hPDA

I've done it! I've come home to paper. In my first entry here at D*I*Y Planner, I wrote about my attempts to make a hPDA, and how - when that didn't run entirely smoothly - I turned back to using a PC, and then over a period of months moved more and more to paper. Well, I have now finally managed to do it - to make my very own hPDA. I backslid a little along the way, and dabbled with a few new digital tools, but I have finally come home to paper. The journey was eventful, but that was entirely to do with the way I work, and in the end it was pretty simple.

I'll start with confessing my backsliding. A while back, I posted a long piece on the forums over at the wonderful DonationCoder.com about my search for the perfect GTD software. GTD Wannabe cross-posted to that forum, and when I checked in to see if anyone had posted responses, I saw that GTD Wannabe had put up a new essay, telling of some new wiki-based GTD implementations. I resisted. Really, I did.

Two whole weeks passed before I read the essay and decided to check out D3 and MonkeyGTD. I downloaded both and set about trying to learn how to enter tasks. I don't seem to have the necessary gene for understanding wiki-text, and I find the whole matter of mixing English with other syntaxes all very confusing - no programmer, me. Nonetheless, I spent a few hours playing around with D3 and MonkeyGTD... Until I woke up from the sleep that is obsession. And then I thought to myself, 'You know, it might just be easier to write things down.' And lo, it was as if a light shone forth, and I saw that the sun had set, and much of Saturday night had passed me by; and I thought to myself, Dang!

So I decided it was time to do what I had promised, though I really didn't know how I would do it. I came back here to D*I*Y Planner and had another look at V3. Though I had problems last time I tried to print onto index cards, I knew that my old printer could print an A4 sheet without incident, so I downloaded the A5 templates (A5 is about the same as Classic, exactly half an A4 sheet), and printed out a few of those and sliced the pages with my schoolboy's finger-safe paper-cutter. Great: instantly organised on A5 pages.

I don't know what possessed me next, but I decided to dig out the last set of index cards I bought. They were still wrapped in cellophane - I had been planning to use a friend's printer to make myself a hPDA months back, but never got around to it. I downloaded the 1-up hPDA templates, chose a template I knew I would need - the GTD Quick Reference - slid a blank card into the printer, and clicked on print in Adobe Reader. Whirr, click, zhoop zhoop zhoop: and out came a perfectly printed Quick Reference. Okay, actually there was a bit missing right at the end. But the important thing was that my printer had not managed it - it had not folded, spindled or mutilated the index card!

But it had left about a centimetre missing off the bottom of the page. All I had to do was print the Frankenform from the Classic/A5 edition, which let me see where my printer's limits are - that is: how close it can print to the edge of a page. And then a happy hour or so followed, making my own MS Word hPDA template, using the Graphics Version of the official pages. I just opened up Word (and of course OpenOffice.org or another word processor could probably have done this just as well), where I made a custom page with the dimensions of an index card. Then I clicked 'Insert', then 'Picture', then 'From File...' and selected the graphic I wanted. The picture opens up real big, so I needed to double-click it, and then to adjust the image size - I found that if I set the height to 11.8cm and width to 7.81cm, this gets as much as possible on an index card, without my printer cutting off any edges. I then repeated for each page type I needed, and I soon had myself a Word file that's a personal template for my hPDA, which I can print from whenever I need more of any particular page.

So sitting right beside my laptop as I type this is my hPDA, all held together with a bright yellow clip. I also discovered that it fits very neatly into an inside pocket of the shoulder-bag I bought a while back, so that's doubly elegant and neat.

This is what I've got: some pages of ToDos (@emails/letters, @cleaning/care, @office, @computer), a Shopping List or two, some Agendas, a few pages of Notes, the GTD reference, and year-at-a-glance Calendars for this year and next. I started out by also including several weeks of calendar pages, but in the end I ditched these - after all, I've got another 7 months left in my Moleskine diary. Maybe next year I'll rely on my hPDA for calendaring also, but at the moment I want to stick with the Moleskine.

I'm finding that it takes some getting used to having each page on an unbound card. I sat in a meeting yesterday with three small stacks of index cards laid out on the table in front of me: ToDo, Agenda, and Notes. But that they are unbound also means that I can take in each of these separate areas of attention without needing to flip back-and-forth through pages, as I've had to do with my Moleskine notebook, so though it's a bit strange for now, I can see that it has benefits too.

On Saturday evening, when I finally awoke to the fact that I had just spent a few hours fiddling about with yet another digital organising system, I felt a little stupid. I guess, in my defence (and it's not much of a defence), that my last entry here was about realising the limitations of a digital PDA, and Saturday evening's realisation was about working with a computer. The fact is that all the many programs I've tried have eventually fallen short, for one reason or another, of writing it down on a piece of paper.

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