Four Technologies to Gain Efficiency and Productivity

All of us struggle with increasing responsibilities in our lives and the vastly inadequate time available to do them. Downtime around the beginning of each new year inevitably provides the opportunity to reflect on this reality and to develop resolutions aimed at remedying the disparity. Indeed, the irony for many of us involved with technology is the way that some technologies actually seem to make the situation worse. The good news is that there are tools available that can help us become far more efficient and productive. I use and strongly recommend the following four technologies: they are easy to use and will make a difference.

Interactive whiteboards. Often called smart boards, these units essentially incorporate digital technology into traditional whiteboards and are excellent for individual or collaborative brainstorming and problem solving. Several companies make these tools, including one of the oldest and best, Smart Technologies They interface directly with your PC and can be used most simply to capture whiteboard work digitally. But they can also be used interactively by projecting files onto the smart board that can then be iteratively changed or annotated. Smart boards can even control the PC much as a mouse does. This technology is easy to use, saves time and is quite powerful.

Personal organization software. A number of software packages are available to help manage personal lists, goals and tasks. Microsoft Outlook/ Exchange is very good if it is available at your institution, and other excellent tools are engineered specifically for this purpose. For managing simple lists, ListPro is powerful, yet inexpensive. It comes with a number of starting templates that cover a range of needs. ListPro has the added advantage of porting lists directly to pocket PCs so you can use them wherever you go. For personal goal and task management, MyLife Organized, or MLO, is a powerful tool that allows you to easily organize and manage your ‘to do’ lists in ways that are meaningful and relevant to the way you think and work. MLO can share tasks with Outlook, and a pocket PC version is currently in beta test. Tired of losing information and having assignments fall through the cracks? These are great solutions.

Mind mapping software. (No, this isn’t a biomedical application.) Mind mapping packages allow you to quickly and efficiently capture your ideas and to visually represent connections and relationships. They are the digital equivalent of sketchpads or notepads, but allow iterative changes in the way elements and their relationships are represented. This type of software was no doubt named to reflect the way it helps link the creative ability of the human mind to the representation and modeling capabilities of the computer. Mind mapping software is extraordinarily powerful in the way it supports thinking, conceptualization and planning. Three of the more common titles in this category include SmartDraw, Inspiration and MindManager ( I have found MindManager to be invaluable. It is surprisingly intuitive and easy to use, considering its power and functionality. Systems diagrams, project plans, organizational charts and conceptual diagrams are all easily captured and modeled with this software. Mind mapping software will take you to a new level of creativity and productivity.

Pocket PCs and Smartphones. True handheld computers like today’s Dell Axim and HP iPAQ, powered by the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system, are light-years beyond earlier PIM-only (personal information manager) devices like the first Palm Pilots. Pocket PCs are true computers, capable of running a large number of powerful software packages. To a great extent, these devices make it possible to take your work with you anywhere. They can also support e-books, play audio and video files, provide global positioning information and numerous other functions. If you want to move toward fewer gadgets, smartphones, such as the new Palm Treo, running Windows Mobile, have the same capabilities as pocket PCs and run the same kind of software. They function like traditional cell phones but support Pocket PC applications, allow Web access and keep e-mail and calendars synchronized in real time. These devices can help reclaim a significant amount of time previously lost in commuting, waiting for appointments, etc.

Some technologies can become ‘time sinks,’ resulting in a net loss in productivity and efficiency. I use the technologies above and have found them excellent ways to simplify life while significantly increasingly personal productivity. E-mail me — from your pocket PC or smartphone — and share your experience with these tools.

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Resources and CIO at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He can be reached at 513/745-2985 or [email protected]

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or [email protected]