People, projects and places. Planning is a primary part of a professional’s paying pastime. Ponder this: pursuing prospects, picking paths and plotting time lines in the park or on a plane using a palmtop like U.S. Robotics’ Pilot. This period’s page of prose pontificates on packages that promote the planning process; in particular, packages for people, pink slips, projects and places.
People and pink slips
Pardon the plethora of p’s–but if keeping your p’s and q’s managed is a problem, here are some tools for you. They are designed to track random pieces of information (like the pink slips and Post-it notes cluttering up your desk) and more structured information (like your address book) together.
–Info Select 4.0–The idea of the original Info Select (from Micro Logic Corp.) was quietly brilliant: Let users type random notes on little electronic pieces of paper without worrying about organization, and then make finding a word on those notes lightning-fast. Info Select has grown to add contact tracking, outlining and much more. If you want to track a giant shoe box of disorganized information with tools to quickly find what you need, Info Select version 4.0 ($100) is unbeatable. Info Select files, finds and reports on notes, outlines, forms, data bases and calendars; offers Internet e-mail support; and can synchronize data between two computers.
Info Select lets you impose as much or little structure on your data as you want. Info Select uses an outliner as a foundation to organize a measure of control. Its interface is split into two windows: the outline on the left, and the content (various data types such as notes, calendars and data bases) on the right half of the screen, either full-screen or as little Post- it note equivalents. Info Select can then let you quickly find anything, anywhere. Info Select’s powerful search engine gives you feedback to how many documents will meet your search requirements as you type each letter, a productivity plus.
Info Select is great at giving you access to random information quickly, but is not as powerful as most personal information managers for scheduling, reporting, and integrating with Microsoft Word or other word processors. Security also is not a strong point, and the user interface is dated. But if you need to record fleeting thoughts (like a writer), capture information into forms you design yourself or just work randomly, Info Select may be the perfect solution. (Micro Logic Corp., Hackensack, N.J.; 800-342-5930, 201-342-6518; fax, 201- 342-0370; www.miclog.com.)
–ECCO Pro 4.0–NetManage’s ECCO Pro 4.0 also manages random information effectively. Like Info Select, ECCO ($100) offers an outlining approach to categorizing data. You organize facts into topics and subtopics, and collapse and expand these to view subtopics. ECCO Pro also offers a spreadsheet-style column view, as illustrated in the time sheet and expense forms it can generate for you out of the box. Although ECCO does not handle random information at the “sticky-note” level and its search engine does not provide feedback on the fly, ECCO’s user interface is much more highly refined than Info Select’s.
ECCO’s contact tracking and scheduling are far superior to Info Select. In addition, it works with external word processors and other Windows applications that support cut-and-paste: the innovative Shooter is a tiny arrow that appears at the top of each application when ECCO is active. You just click on the arrow to move selected information back and forth between applications.
For mobile workers, ECCO supports the increasingly popular U.S. Robotics’ PalmPilot, as well as the Timex Data Link watch. E-mail and Web linking also are strong. For example, you can print a map of a contact’s business with one mouse-click from the Internet. If you want to plan projects, events, people and facts together, look to ECCO Pro. (NetManage Inc., Cupertino, Calif.; 425- 885-4272; fax, 425-885-0297; www.netmanage.com.)
It is great to print out a map that shows you where your contacts are. How about finding out where you are? If you spend a lot of your time refolding maps on the side of the road, you may have wished you had your own GPS (global positioning satellite) system. Most cost $500 and up. If you have a Windows-based laptop with a CD-ROM, the DeLorme TripMate GPS will set you back less than $150. The bright yellow plastic box has a 6- foot serial cable to plug into your laptop and sits on the dashboard of your car. (Unlike more expensive units, this one must be within clear sight of the satellite system from which it draws its information. It also has no LCD, battery indicator or on-off switch, so the computer is necessary.)
Your location (within some 250 feet) is relayed to your computer and displayed on the maps from the CD-ROM Street Atlas USA 4.0 maps. It displays the longitude, latitude and elevation of the receiver, as well as the exact time. As you travel, your heading, speed and trail is maintained on the map.
In our tests, attaining the first reading took a few minutes, and a very clear view was necessary to maintain a good reading. We did not have the opportunity to test the new speech-recognition and synthesis system using Microsoft’s agent technology to make it easier and safer to drive and map. But at $149 for both the receiver and software, TripMate can let you know where you are and where you are going for a fraction of the traditional alternatives. (DeLorme, Yarmouth, Maine; 800-452-5931, 207-865-1234; fax, 207-865-9291; www.delorme.com)
You have planned your people and places. Now how about projects? Experience In Software Inc. are the “inspiration” people, and this author has been a longtime fan of another of the products they represent, the DOS-based ThoughtWare. Small and efficient as well is their new Windows-based Project KickStart version 2.0 ($100). Project KickStart can be used at least two ways.
First, it can be used as a brainstorming tool for quickly developing the skeleton of a project you can export to popular project-management programs, such as Time Line, Microsoft Project, SureTrak Project Manager, SuperProject and Project Scheduler 7. It also outputs information in Microsoft Word and Excel. Alternatively, it provides all the project management many people will need, including phases, goals, assignment of time and people, determination of obstacles, project calendars and GANTT charts–just do not look for budgeting.
Working with KickStart is simple. Answer the questions and fill out forms, led by the project wizard. A library of common phases, goals, resources and obstacles makes entry more efficient, and you can add to the library for future projects.
Project KickStart is small and fast– and nowhere near as overwhelming as a more powerful project scheduler. By answering a series of questions, you can structure projects, plan tasks and allocate resources. We were able to find numerous opportunities to utilize this package in developing proposals and planning projects. (Experience in Software Inc., Berkeley, Calif.; 800-678-7008, 510- 644-0694; fax, 510-644-3823; www.experienceware.com)
Info Select and ECCO track the past, DeLorme tracks where you are, Project KickStart lets you plan the future. Planning tools are perfect for productivity.
(Eric Cohen, a CPA, owns Cohen Computer Consulting, which helps growing businesses cope with and benefit from information technology. He is the author of the new book, “Accountant’s Guide to the Internet” (John Wiley & Sons Inc.). His home page is at www.computercpa.com.)