Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 141 / JUNE 1992 / PAGE 76

Strictly personal. (personal information managers)(includes product listing) (Buyers Guide)
by Rosalind Resnick

you bought a computer because you thought it would help you organize your life. But now you're so busy that you scribble notes on scraps of paper and then forget where you put them. When a client calls to respond to the letter you sent him last month, you can't remember who he is or what you told him. You miss deadlines because you can't squeeze everything onto your calendar.

If these experiences sound familiar, you're not alone. Information anxiety is the scourge of the 1990s, but it's nothing that a trip to the software doctor can't cure. The prescription isn't pills; it's PIMs--Personal Information Managers.

Steve Garfein, an Irvine, California, consultant who works at home and uses a Windows-based PIM from Polaris Software, got hooked on PIMs three years ago.

"For years, I had an office manager to perform many of the functions that PackRat does," Garfein says. "I no longer have an office manager. I wouldn't know what to do with one."

Software that tracks appointments, files away addresses, and organizes the clutter that tends to pile up on every desk has come a long way since Borland International introduced Sidekick in 1984. Today, there are some 40 PIMs on the market, ranging from relatively simple programs that track birthdays and Boy Scout troop meetings to sophisticated project managers capable of handling million-dollar projects. Fully featured programs with capabilities for note taking, schedule tracking, contact management, and planning now start at under $100.

"Word processing was the application for the 1980s," says Michael Jimmerson, a Tucson lawyer who uses PackRat. "I think that PIMs are going to be the software for the 1990s."

Here's why PIMs are so popular:

1. A PIM means never missing an appointment. PIMs can be programmed to sound an alarm or flash a message to alert you to a meeting you have to attend or a phone call you're scheduled to make. Karri Riedel, a secretarial temp in Perrysburg, Ohio, says she uses Chronologic's Instant Recall on her home computer to keep tabs on birthdays, doctor's appointments, and even her daughter's Brownie meetings.

2. A PIM means never losing a phone number. PIMs let you create an electronic database that stores a person's name, address, phone number, fax number, nickname, birthday, favorite restaurant, and other helpful tidbits. If you have a modem, you can even command the PIM to dial the phone number for you at the touch of a key.

3. A PIM means nver letting a deadline sneak up on you. PIMs that double as project managers not only tell you when a project is due but generate detailed graphs and charts that show what you (and your colleagues) should be doing every day i order to get the job done on time. SureTrak Project Scheduler helps you see how a project is going, pinpoint trouble, and get yourself back on track. For novice project managers, On Target has a scheduling assistant that guides you through the planning process.

4. A PIM means never losing an important file, or even an umimportant one. PIMs excel at sifting through electronic data to find the itm you're looking for. Most word processors lack such powerful search features, forcing you to hack your way through a thicket of DOS filenames. Info Select, for example, lets you retrieve files by simply typing the letter G (for get) plus the first two or three letters of the topic you're searching for. PIMs can also keep tabs on papers stashed in your filing cabinet. Garfein says he logs all his paper files by keyword so he won't have to search for them manually.

5. A PIM means never retyping anything. Most PIMs let you export data to word processors, spreadsheets, and other programs. PackRat, for example, offers a dynamic data exchange (DDE) macro that lets you effortlessly plug information into Microsoft Word for Windows, Excel, and Ami Pro. Garfein says he uses PackRat before meeting with a client to ferret out pertinent information. Then he dumps the data into his word processor, prints it out, and files it in his Day-Timer. "PackRat helps me focus on that client as if he were my only client," Garfein says.

6. A PIM means never looking like an amateur. PIMs not only help you get your own affairs in order, but many of them also have powerful report-generating features that show the world you're organized, too. That's important if you need to make business presentations or print out data in a form your colleagues can understand. Symantec's GrandView, for example, let you turn rough outlines into well-organized plans, proposals, reports, and even Harvard Graphics slides.

7. A PIM means never having to read between the lines. Unlike paper calendars and schedulers, PIMs give you lots of space to enter information about important events. Info Select, for example, can accommodate as many as 10 million characters per database. Instant Recall lets you type up to 30 pages per entry. "I can't see myself going back to a manual calendar," says Riedel, who uses Instant Recall.

8. A PIM means never having to make a list. Because PIMs let you build your own database of people, events, and topics, they're useful for market research and customer mailings. Lotus Agenda even has an information-sifting feature that lets you gather information from external sources such as CD-ROM, electronic mail, and only databases and sort it by company, topic, or publication.

9. A PIM means never having to throw anything away. Because PIMs store information electronically, there's never a need to clean out the file cabinet only to find out two days later that you threw out the one piece of information you really needed. Charles Olsen, a Dickinson, Texas, mainframe computer operator, says he's using Agenda to store notes for a science fiction novel he's working on. He uses one Agenda view (or category) to store several detailed items about helicopter specs.

10. A PIM means never losing those little pieces of paper. When PIMs like Instant Recall, Info Select, and Sidekick are run memory resident, you can pop up an electronic notepad, write a note, and retrieve the information later. PackRat offers the same convenience for Windows users. "I'd write things down on a little piece of paper; then, six months later, I'd find the piece of paper and have to call and apologize," Olsen says. "With Instant Recall, I can keep the promises I've made."

There's only one good reason not to get a PIM: if you find the idea of becoming efficient terrifying.

Organization Tools

Unlike software that helps you write letters and crunch numbers, personal information management software doesn't fall into one neat category.

Some programs, such as Micro Logic's Info Select 2.0 and Chronologic's Instant Recall 1.2, track everything from the names of contacts to birthdays. Others, like Symantec's On Target and Time Line 5.0 and Primavera Systems' Sure Trak 2.0, are actually specialized project managers capable of managing not only your own information and appointments but also those of your entire department or company.

General-purpose PIMs are ideal for lawyers, accountants, and other people who sell their time and bill by the hour. Some PIMs can time client phone calls to the nearest second. PIMs are also good for people who sell products or information and need fast facts at their fingertips. Project-management software, by contrast, is better suited to event planners, advertising executives, software developers, and other people who manage projects that take more than a couple of days and involve a team of people. Some examples of project-management software are Microsoft Project, Time Line, and Texim Project. They help a manager--or a team of managers--keep track of a project.

"A PIM tracks your time hour by hour by hour: Meet Bill, paper due--that kind of stuff," says Scott Davison, marketing manager for Symantec's project-management group. "Project-management software lets you build a fairly complex model to track your projects. Instead of just getting a snapshot of what's going on, you see that Task A can't start until Task B is finished."

If this makes project-management software sound a little daunting, in some respects it is. Time Line, a corporate favorite, has helped major defense contractors keep tabs on multimillion-dollar projects. Time Line also helps managers keep track of things like tasks split between two employees when one of them goes on vacation.

Even so, project-management software isn't just for Fortune 500 companies, Davison says. To target smaller businesses, Symantec recently introduced On Target, a simplified project-management program that runs in Microsoft's Windows environment.

"What we realized was that there was a large audience of middle managers and small-business people who could benefit from this technology but who thought it would be too complex to learn," Davison says. "Now general business people are recognizing this as a valuable tool, not just the professionals with calculators on their belts."


It's important to find a PIM that works the way you do.

If your organization or business is small and you don't have many appointments or names to keep track of, you'll probably be able to get by just fine with a paper calendar, a Rolodex, a spiral notebook, and Post-it notes.

But as your company gets bigger and more complex, you ought to consider an electronic organizer to manage your data and your time. Marketers, journalists, public relations people, event coordinators, and scout troop leaders can all benefit from PIMs. Lawyers can use PIMs to track filing dates; doctros can use PIMs to schedule patients.

Once you've decided to buy a PIM, figure out which aspect of your business is disorganized and buy a program to solve your specific problem. The PIM should let you take notes, manage customer contacts, track your schedule, and plan activities. Look for a program that can perform quick searches to isolate individual notes.

At the same time, it's a good idea to stay away from any program with so many bells and whistles that it will only confuse your organization efforts. And don't buy a program that takes more time to learn and to keep up than it now takes to paw through your clutter.

If you spend a lot of time on the phone and need rapid access to large stacks of notes and other text-based data, consider Info Sheet 2.0, Instant Recall 1.2, or Sidekick 2.0, all of which are TSRs that pop up at the touch of a key. For Windows users, PackRat 4.0 is a PIM created to take advantage of Windows' powerful linking features.

Agenda 2.0 is a powerful tool for people who need to organize and cross-reference large amounts of text-based data. Who-What-When 2.2 is ideal for tracking appointments. GrandView 2.0 is best if you prefer to manage your information by outlining. Also take a look at Ascend, a PIM created by the Franklin Institute (covered in the "Point & Click" column in this issue).

It's also important to remember that whichever PIM you buy, it's only as useful as the data you put into it.

"I think there's theis voodoo that's supposed to occur when you get organized electronically," Tarter says. "A disorganized person isn't going to get organized just by installing a PIM on his computer." But a little organizational effort goes a lot further when a PIM is involved.