The best-laid plans . . .

Ah, the first week in January, the time of year when every executives thoughts turn to . . .

Getting organized.

I dont know about you, but this is going to be my year to get on top of things. Why? Because I went out over the holidays and bought a handheld personal computer (HPC). The HPC, I was told, will revolutionize my life -- allowing me not only to keep track of appointments, tasks, and contacts, but also to write documents, calculate spreadsheets, and send and receive e-mail. These features, according to various advertisements and computer salespeople, virtually guarantee that I will be more organized in 1998 -- that meetings wont be missed, that phone calls wont fall through the cracks, that a birthday or anniversary wont slip my mind until its too late for anything but an apology.

With a virtual guarantee like that, how could I not buy one?

Of course, there is a nagging feeling near the base of my brain that Ive been down this path before. In fact, I distinctly remember hearing the same promises two years ago, when I bought my previous electronic organizer, the one that was supposed to eliminate all paper from my business life. And come to think of it, some of the same promises (or rationalizations) were also operative back during my paper-planner days, as I made a pilgrims progress from pocket appointment book to Day-Timer to Filofax to Franklin Planner. Each time I changed systems, I invested not just money but also untold hours into transferring data from old system to new, all in the hope of making life simpler and more organized.

Alas, each change of system worked about as well as you might expect. That is, as long as I abided faithfully by the new systems rules, I did fine. But as soon as I reverted to my natural state -- which is, sad to say, cluttered and lazy -- my organization likewise once again reflected my temperament.

And so, each time, I needed a new system. Thinking about all this made me feel sort of hopeless about myself until I ran into a woman I know at a local stationery store. After hearing my confession, she explained her own more cheerful view of the need to change planners. She says that whenever she starts to feel overwhelmed by the projects on her desk -- about once a year -- she immediately invests in a new time-management system. "It doesnt actually make me any more organized," she says, "but it makes me feel like Ill be more organized. And thats enough to make the overwhelmed feeling go away."

All of which means that anybody in the time-management industry -- whether manufacturing Day-Timers or one of the new Windows CE-based HPCs -- is really in the same business as the cosmetics companies: They sell hope. Which means, in turn, that Ive already recorded my first electronic reminder for January 1999 in my new HPC: Buy new planner.

Send e-mail messages to John Brandt at [email protected]

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