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The "Assistant"... In Personal Digital Assistant - Part 1 - Personal Information Manager PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mohd Nazley Mohd Fadhley   
Jul 16, 2002 at 05:38 PM
Part 1 - Personal Information Manager

In The Beginning

Scheduling my day has been a way of life for me ever since my college years, from using pen and paper then, to using a PDA presently. It started off with a small notebook where I entered my homework list, assignments, term papers, contact numbers of friends and “mates” from study groups. Having difficult time to keep the notebook tidy and organized, I invested in a paper organizer (a generic filofax) to organize my daily life, and has been using the paper organizer to schedule my work until a few years ago... When I started to use the digital version of the paper organizer... The PDA.

PDAs ... Personal Digital Assistants

That's what they really are - Assistants.

PDAs, albeit from Palm, Sony, Handspring or HandEra are designed to help its users to manage or handle day to day tasks and activities effectively and efficiently. Just like a human assistant, the PDA (also called a handheld computer by quite a few) can only assist you if you tell it how and what to help you with. As an example, if you ask a “human” assistant, " Hey, assist me ok!" , most probably he or she would just stand there not knowing what to do ... Help to do "what"? (and might also think you are very rude). The same goes to a PDA, if you do not enter anything, i.e. not telling the PDA what to do, it won't be of too much help. My point here ... You have the tool ... Your PDA ... Your Palm PDA ... Use it to your benefit.

Out of the box, a Palm PDA has four basic "tools" that is essential (well, at least I would think so) to a well managed life; the datebook, address book, to do list and memopad... The basic Personal Information Manager (PIM) applications.

I am involved in the motor trade industry, importing cars and MPVs from Japan and selling them to Malaysian consumers. Here, I will relate my experiences using the PDA "tools" in assisting me in my daily routine.


About four years ago, in 1998, I started going digital and bought myself the Palm IIIe (later, upgraded to a TRGpro and currently a HandEra). Immediately, I found out the advantage of using a digital datebook … Scheduling a meeting or an appointment is easy and rescheduling is a breeze, just by changing the meeting date in the Palm datebook application. The best part of a Palm datebook, is the alarm function to remind me of an appointment, it is just like a friend reminding me "Hey Dude, it's time to go meet Dudette for lunch". My paper organizer just cannot do that. I also use the Palm built-in datebook to jot down meeting notes and whatever I did during that day. I will always do this at the end of a meeting/appointment or at the end of the day, just to record the happenings of the day. I make it a point to do this since I find this is the best way for me to refer to what I did, when I did it, whom I met and where …

During the “paper days” searching past events is a little tedious but it helps as a reference or homework before another meeting with someone. Now, on my Palm, when I click the “Find” icon and enter “Yamato San”, for instance, I have a listing of all meetings and phone calls with him (given I have not deleted them) and prepare any negotiations to be made with him in the coming meeting, for example, to counter offer on his previous price quotation.

After using the built-in datebook for some time, I decided to explore third party applications that enhances the functionality of the datebook … the “exploration” brought me to “Action Names Datebook” by Iambic Softwares. Action Names integrates datebook with another basic PDA function, the Addressbook.


The human brain is a very powerful computer but unfortunately, homo-sapiens still have a long way to learn how to use it to the fullest potential … Using only 10% the brain potential (from what I gather from a few readings), it is no surprise that remembering numbers, names and addresses is really a difficult thing to do except for a select few. Hence, telephone company came out with the phone directory, and people start jotting down numbers and address. During my paper organizer days, the address and phone listing occupies almost half of the organizer’s thickness. And after a while, it gets messy with updates of address and phone numbers. Electronically, an address list is easier to maintain, update and search.

As I noted before, when I was talking about datebook, most of the time I take notes of meetings and phone calls. In the built-in addressbook, I can add a note to every contact, a supplier or a customer, describing what was discussed and the outcome of the of the discussion. It is somewhat of a “mini” CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or SRM (Supplier Relationship Management). This is the easiest form of CRM and SRM, I can implement on my PDA. I am no expert in CRM/SRM, but this works for me.

Coming back to Action Names, the third party datebook/addressbook/to do application, it integrates very well with the built-in addressbook by linking a contact to a meeting or a phone call. Action Names simplifies my note taking by letting me keep a log of events relating to a specific customer or supplier ... Just by tapping on a command on the screen. This saves me a lot of time entering the "chain of events" again in the contact notes.

As an illustration, the moment I close a deal, a few things need to be done. I will immediately schedule the tasks, like submitting the customer's Hire-purchase loan application, arrange for the car to be inspected by Jabatan Pengangkutan Jalan (Road Transport Department), calling the insurance agent for the insurance cover note, a few days later follow up on the customer's loan approval .... and so on. By keeping a log of these tasks, I can easily check the level of progress of each sale, and at the same time call the customer and inform him/her the status of vehicle. Customers usually like it when I give them a call, for instance, informing them that I have arranged the insurance for his/her car and I am just waiting for the loan approval before the car is sent for registration. If I were the customer, I would be glad to receive that phone call, it gives me (the customer) the sense of importance, that I am not neglected after the deal has been closed.

To me, each sale is a project, and I have tasks to complete within a specific time frame, that is the promised delivery date of the car to the customer. The to do list is a practical way to organize these tasks.

To Do List

I always prefer keeping a list of things need to be done to accomplish a specific objective. Palm has this function built into its array of PDAs ... which is great.

In my case, referring to the example I introduced earlier, I will list all the tasks in the to do list and mark them off one by one as they are completed. Once completed, I will keep a log of the completed tasks as reference to how long to complete a specific task and explain to the customer why it takes a little longer or better still, inform the customer that he can take delivery of the car a week earlier. I believe that once a customer paid a deposit for a car, he/she should be informed of what the status of the transaction is. (I hope I don't sound too much like a Marketing 101 lecturer)

It is “self satisfying” to see the tasks marked completed ... on one hand, it marks my accomplishment, I think. However, on the other hand, having nothing in my to do list also worries me. No task to complete, means no sale, and no sale and would lead to the impression that I am not working hard enough or my sales staff is slacking. A lot I think can be interpreted form looking and studying a task list.


Actually this is Palm built-in application that I use the least. I only keep a list of personal information in the built in memopad, sometimes store directions to a customers place (in words of course) or jot quick notes which is not related to the contacts.

Memopad has a 4K size limitation making it not very suitable to use as a text editor. Because of this limitation I decided to use a third party appliation as a word processor... my favourite... Wordsmith, by Blue Nomad.

I will delve more on third party applications next time, talking about how I use my PDA as a word processor, like typing this blurp, maintain a database and keep a spreadsheet for those tricky calculations.

Until next time ... happy tapping.

Mohd Nazley Fadhley
Last Updated ( Oct 29, 2005 at 05:14 PM )