I’m going to tell you about my new recycled index card-based personal organizer, but first let me give you the back-story about me and my relationship to my old electronic personal digital assistant (PDA)—may it rest in peace.
Michelle complained that I loved my PDA more than her. Maybe even more than Isabella the two-year-old life guru (who thinks the best thing to do with a Treo 650 is drool on it) and Frankie the four-legged Zen master (who thinks the best thing to do when the Treo rings is keep sleeping). I got virtually to the point in my Treo obsession where Michelle was more likely to get my attention if she emailed me from her side of the bed so I would receive it on my side. Who knows how many times I opted to return a text message instead of…well, anyway.
Just at the time when I actually needed a PDA—when there was that big publicity explosion around the No Impact project (see here and here, for example)—I smashed my Treo 650. As I rode my bike along East 6th Street, I heard the aluminum crinkle of what I thought was a Coke can under my tire. A half a block later, when I felt my empty pocket, I knew it wasn’t a can I’d run over. I did a u-turn and rode back. I might as well have been looking at a dead body in the middle of the road. If I had had a brown paper bag with me, I would have hyperventilated in it.
As you know, there is no buying anything new during the No Impact Man project, though I could have bought a used replacement. I figured, first, if I’m so attached to a consumer product that I get heart palpitations when I lose it, having it breaks the spirit if not the rules of NIM. Second, getting a new PDA would not get all the information out of the old one and into the new, so what was the use? Third, techno-trash is a major, major problem for the environment. Fourth, people who talk on cell phones in public in NYC—including the former me—are a major pain in the butt, either walking into you on the sidewalk, forcing you to listen to their high-pitched romantic arguments, or veering perilously close—if not actually hitting you—in their cars.
So, when my friend and book editor Denise gave me a second-hand Treo in an attempt to soothe my withdrawal and shaking hands, I decided to nevertheless go cold turkey (not even under a doctor’s supervision). I would only carry the donated Treo occasionally as a cell phone, not as a calendar etc, and only then as a rare concession to potential emergencies (ask all the people who still haven’t realized and leave frustrated messages on it).
Now what? How would I deal with my email, my phone calls, my schedule? Did this decision mean that I’d left my new found media success on the road along with my crushed miniature electronics?
First off, I decided that I would have to be content with letting my calls go to voicemail and checking my email a couple of times a day. At first, I felt like the world continued on its orbit round the sun but that I had somehow spun off and was left alone in outer space. Then I noticed that I actually could get things done. I wouldn’t get interrupted. No rings, no beeps, no obsessively checking my email to see if anyone still liked me. I would return my calls and emails in batches when I had time and was by a phone or computer.
Suddenly, when I was with someone, I was really with them. When I was in a place, I was really there. Then I found out that lots of time management gurus believe that turning the cell phone and email off is a center-piece of productivity (see here, for example). I turns out that I’m not only green and cool, but I’m focused.
Next, I bought four recycled Muji notebooks and made my own calendar, phone book, journal and day book (for notes of all descriptions). Instead of fumbling with buttons and saying “Could you call me?” to get a person’s number to jump on my caller ID, I just, um, wrote it down. When we turned the electricity in the apartment off, instead of finding a way to charge my device, I just flipped a page.
Now, though, I’ve found an even cooler non-electronic way to organize my life, originally called the hipster’s PDA, but which I call the green hipster’s PDA. The hipster PDA, introduced to me by the popular productivity blog 43Folders.com, involves the use of a stack of index cards and a clip or a rubber band to hold them together (photo above courtesy 43Folders.Com). In my adaptation, I reserve one card for my most commonly used phone numbers, two cards for my next four-weeks calendar, one card for the day’s to-dos, another card for my long-term to-dos, and a whole lot of blank cards for notes and journaling. Instead of carrying three notebooks, I carry one little stack of cards, which can be conveniently filed in any order I choose. You can read about another writer’s system here.
And what makes my system “green?” I use, of course, recycled index cards, and that’s no easy feat. Go to Staples and there are big recycling symbols all over their cards, but dig a little into the facts and you discover the cards contain only 10 percent recycled paper. Finally, I found a source for 100 percent recycled paper cards here. Voila, you have a green hipster’s PDA.
The only problem? Karma. Around the time my PDA got smashed, Michelle’s work gave her one of her own. Lying in bed at night, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get my pile of index cards to send her an email to tell her to pay attention to me.
By the way, if you like this post and would like to support my work, you can do so financially by clicking here or in non-financial ways by clicking here. And thank you! [I have changed my mind about taking donations but thanks all the same. NIM 6/17/07]
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.