Plan your ascent. (Ascend personal information manager) (Column) (Evaluation)
by Clifton Karnes
I've studied time management for years, and in my quest for organization, I've used or experimented with a number of computer tools, including SideKick, PC Tools Deluxe Desktop, Active Life, PackRat, and YourWay. all these programs have their strong points, but none of them really fit me like a glove. I has a strong feeling that I could be doing better at time control and that may tools could be more effective.
Then I found Ascend (NewQuest, 2550 South Decker Lake Boulevard, Salt Lake City, Utah 84119; 800-887-1814; $299). It's a PIM (Personal Information Manager), but it's different from the ones mentioned above Ascend was designed by a time-management company, not a software company. NewQuest is a division of the Franklin Institute, and Ascend is a computer program based on the Franklin system and the Franklin Day Planner. This has crucial implications for the way you use Ascend, and it accounts for the program's success as a tool.
First, some background: The Franklin Institute has been doing time-management consulting for years, with a client list any company would envy. Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Merrill Lynch, and Citi-Corp are just a few noteworthy Franklin graduates. Franklin developed the Day Planner (a paper-based system) to help the company's clients control their time and their lives. The important point here is that the Franklin Institute has a proven track record in teaching time management and in producing time-management tools.
The computer has obvious advantages as a time-management tool (and some disadvantages, too), so Franklin, in concert with NewQuest, developed Ascend, which is a Windows-based program.
You'll realize that this product is different as soon as you open the box. Included are the software; three manuals; a Franklin Day Planner, complete with a set of forms and a storage binder; a four-cassette training seminar with a workbook; a videocassette; and a Franklin catalog.
Although almost everyone will be tempted to install the software and start using it right away, you should take the time to listen to the four tapes and use the workbook. These tapes discuss in detail how to use the Franklin system and the Day Planner. If you don't listen to the tapes, you'll only scratch the surface of what Ascend can do for you.
The Franklin Institute's approach to time management requires discipline, but it's easy to describe. You begin by defining your most important values as a human being. From these values flow your long-range goals. From these long-range goals flow intermediate goals, and from these intermediate goals you construct your daily task list. This hierarchy of values, long-range goals, intermediate goals, and daily task list is called the Productivity Pyramid, and it's at the heart of the Franklin system. If you spend the time to develop your personal Productivity Pyramid, your daily tasks will be a significant part of your long-range goals and your human values. As a consequence, you'll feel a deep satisfaction with yourself.
After listening to the tapes and getting in the Franklin groove, you'll be ready to install the software. Instead of taking the usual 5MB-10MB of hard disk space, Ascend uses less than 1.5MB. But don't be fooled by this program's modest size.
Ascend boasts an MDI-compatible interface with a toolbar sporting buttons for each of the program's modules. Most of these modules mirror elements in the Franklin Day Planner. Included are Appointment Schedule, Prioritized Daily Task List (an energized to-do list), Daily Record of Events, Telephone Book, Red Tabs (important files), Productivity Pyramid, Master Task List, Focus (which blocks the clutter on your screen and gives you all the information on your highest-priority uncompleted task), Calendar (a week-at-a-glance view), TurboFile (a free-form index), Daily Journal (for your thoughts), Quotes (for your file of inspirational quotes), and Network (for viewing other Ascend user's schedules on a network).
You can print the contents of these modules on letter-sized paper or on the special Day Planner paper provided.
The heart of the system is the Prioritized Daily Task List module, and most of the other modules are integrated with it or support it in one way or another. In the Daily Task List, you list each task you want to complete for the day. You then assign each a priority of A (vital tasks that must be done), B (important tasks that should be done), or C ( trivial tasks that could be done).
Next, you rank the tasks within each group with numbers and sort the entire list. Prioritizing, ranking, and sorting can be done by hand, or you can use special dialog boxes that make the process easy.
I've spent most of this page talking about the Franklin system rather than specifically about Ascend, but Ascend is more than just software. It's a powerful too specifically designed to implement a thoughtful, flexible, and elegant time-management system.