To-Do or Not To-Do? Try Using Phone Instead!

Not satisfied with the Appointment Book's To-Do list function? See how this user created a versatile, easy-to-use to-do list using Phone Book.

[Although this article was written for the 95LX, the tips given should be useful to users of the new HP 100LX Palmtop PC -- Editor.]

By Glenn C. Etelson

The HP 95LX's built-in applications, DOS capability, versatility and portability make it one of the most significant products recently produced for personal management. The only function that does not meet my needs is APPT's built-in "To-do" list ((F10) from the main Appointment Book screen).

What To Do with To-Do?

The built-in to-do function has several problems which make it impractical for me to use as a comprehensive task-oriented reminder system. I have a substantial number of to-dos and find scrolling through the list item by item cumbersome. I also find doing searches difficult. I could use the Find ((F7)) function, but only if I already know what the to-do is. Finally, the built-in to-do list has internally separated priorities, but the software does not provide a way to go directly to a given priority without scrolling through every item listed in every previous priority.

In addition to the above, deleting a single to-do within a long list of to-dos was incredibly inefficient. Lets say you have a list of 60 to-dos and decide one morning to clean out the list. Each time you press (F3) (Cut) to delete a to-do, the curser jumps back toward the beginning of the to-do list. This forces you to scroll through the entire list to get back to the same spot. This makes it difficult to delete numerous items from a long list of to-dos without spending a lot of time scrolling and scrolling ....

I unsuccessfully tried creating macros (User Keys) to cure each one of these problems. I also tried titling each of the priorities (e.g. WORK, PERSONAL, CALLS, etc.) and setting up macros to take me to those titles. This approach took up to many macro keys and valuable screen space.

I tried using the built-in MEMO function as a to-do list by setting up a MEMO file called TODO.TXT and having each to-do listed as a sentence within a text file. I found the task of inserting, modifying and deleting to-do items cumbersome with this approach. Further, there was no way to attach and hide additional information to the to-do item, like you can from within APPT by pressing (F6) (Note). Finally, MEMO did not provide me an easy way to prioritize my to-do items.

Flexible Phone Book

Many articles in this publication have demonstrated the flexibility of the built-in Phone Book application. PHONE has been used for many tasks other than tracking phone numbers and addresses. It has excellent search features, the ability to display all or part of an entry, and automatic alphabetization of its entries. With a little experimentation, PHONE turned out to be the solution to my to-do list problems.

Phone Book Basics

PHONE looks like an electronic "Rolodex." It's a simple, "flat- file" database program with three fields: Name, Number, and Address. Open PHONE and press (F8) to insert a new "card" into PHONE. Press (F8) (Insert) to enter another card. Press (F10) (Done) to go back to the Index screen.

When first opened, PHONE displays an "index" view to give you a summary of the information stored on each card. You see a single line for each card. Each line has the first 19 characters in the Name field followed by the first 18 characters in the Number field.

Move your cursor to any line and press (ENTER) or (F10) (Card) and you see the Card view, a complete display of all the information on the card. While in Card view, you can edit any information on the card using the arrow keys. (More on the basics of PHONE can be found on page 6-1 of the HP 95LX Quick Start Guide. There have been many articles on using PHONE in past issues of The HP Palmtop Paper.)

Phone Book To-Do List

I created a separate .PBK file for my to-do list (TODO.PBK (ON DISK)) and set up a macro (User Key) to take me to this file from within PHONE (see "User Keys" in the HP 95LX User's Guide). I have another macro to take me to my regular phone book (PHONE.PBK). I keep TODO.PBK as the default file so that every time I press (PHONE), the to-do list comes up.

The macro to switch from TODO .PBK to my regular phone book is as follows (assumes that both files are in C:\_DAT).

{MENU}fs{ENTER}y{MENU}fo phone.pbk{ENTER}

PHONE has three fields for information: Name, Number, and Address. Even though HP chiseled those field names into ROM, you can put any information you want into them. (The current version of 95Buddy (ON DISK) lets you change field names.)

In my PHONE to-do list, I enter the task in Name, a reference in Number, and any other information about the to-do item in Address.

PhoneBook Used as ToDo List:  Graphic

 The index view only shows the first 19 characters of the Name and Number fields in PHONE, although each field allows 30 characters to be entered. The additional information in these fields and the information in the Address field is hidden, much like a Note is in the Appointment Book.

To see the hidden information in my PHONE to-do list, I highlight the desired item in the index view and hit (ENTER).

List View of ToDo's in PhoneBook:  Graphic

 Structuring a Phone Book To-Do Entry

Go into any Phone Book file and press a letter and you immediately go to the first entry beginning with that letter (in the Name field). This ability lets me set up categories and priorities in my Phone Book to-do list.

I begin all of my task entries in the Name field with a "group letter," either P or W, followed by a blank space and a description of the task. P indicates my personal to-dos and W my work-related to-dos. PHONE automatically sorts its entries alphabetically. Every time I call up my PHONE to-do list, all of my personal to-dos are grouped together at the beginning of the list and all of the work to-dos at the end. Furthermore, if I want to go to one specific group, for example, my work to-dos, all I need to do is press w and I automatically jump down to the first entry with a W at the beginning. Note that I am not using the Find (F7) function. Though I only have two groups, you can have as many as you want and use any symbol.

Prioritizing Group Entries

PHONE's automatic alphabetical sequencing of the list also allows you to both prioritize to-dos within any group and to create task oriented categories within any group or priority. Prioritize an entry by adding a "priority number" after the group letter. In my system, 1 is the highest priority and 9 the lowest. So my highest priority personal to-dos begin with a p1, my second priority personals with a p2, and so on. PHONE automatically alphabetizes and lists the p1 priorities first, p2 priorities second and so on. I do the same with my work-related to-dos (w1, w2, etc.). A to-do list displayed from PHONE's Index view might look something like this:

p1 Contact broker re: IRA Status

p1 Order tux for Jon's wedding

p2 Pick up gift for Ayleen

p3 Setup oil change Pauls Auto

p4 Make dinner reservations at Hyatt

w1 Go over Flander case with Schwartz

w1 File discovery motion, Chine case

w1 Write to Carson re Noland case

w2 Write to city re Bowes case

w3 Contact Sheriff re Johnson case

w4 Make 6/20 meeting with Johnson

Each group remains separated and priorities remain intact within each group. To go to a specific group/ priority, I press the group letter and the priority number (i.e. p3 for third level priority personal to-dos).

This PHONE to-do list system, as it stands, goes beyond the APPT's to-do function. It can organize many separate to-do groups by topic and prioritize within each of those topic groups. Note that you are not limited to nine priorities. You could easily have 100 priorities (01-99). Just make sure you list priorities 1-9 as 01-09 so that PHONE will alphabetize the list properly.

Creating Task-Oriented Categories

I create task-oriented sub-categories within both personal and work-related to-dos. For example, in to-dos where I need to call somebody, I always follow the group letter, priority number and space with the word CALL. The entry might look something like this:

p1 CALL Lunch, 12:45, Joyce

If I need to write a letter, I always begin with the word LETTER, meetings begin with MEET, etc. By adopting this convention, PHONE creates task categories within each group and priority. All personal CALLs with the same priority are listed together, all LETTERs with the same priority are listed together, etc.

The sample to-do list above would now look something like this displayed in the Index view:

p1 CALL, broker re: IRA Status

p1 CALL, order tux for Jon's wedding

p2 PICK UP, gift for Ayleen

p3 CALL, Paul's auto arrange oil change

p4 CALL, Hyatt dinner reservations

w1 FILE, discovery Chine case

w1 LETTER, Carson re Noland case

w1 MEETING, Schwartz re Flander case

w2 LETTER, to city re Bowes case

w3 CALL, Sheriff re Johnson case

w4 CALL, Johnson, arrange 6/20 meet

Note that the order in which some of the items appear has changed because PHONE is now alphabetizing the entry based on the task key word.

I mentioned earlier that only the first 19 characters each of the Name and Number fields are displayed in PHONE's Index view. You can put different information in each of those two fields or structure your entries in those fields so that they read as one continuous sentence when they are displayed. I use the former approach. In the Name field, I put the group letter (p or w), the priority (1-9 followed by a space) and the task category (CALL, MEET, etc.). In the Number field I would put a word or two to remind me about the purpose of the to-do. For instance, in the Name field I might have p4 CALL Mark Scardina. In the Number field I might have re: SWITCH!. I might then place specific questions for Mark in the Address field, which would be hidden in PHONE's Index view, but would appear by highlighting the entry and pressing (ENTER).

Displaying To-Dos

PHONE's (F6) (Only) function lets me display only those to-dos which contain a certain word. I use this to list subsets of my to- do list. For example, if I only want to see my w1 priorities, I press (F6), type in w1 and press (ENTER). If I want to see all of my phone calls, what ever the priority, I press (F6), type in call, and press (ENTER). I don't use key words (call, letter, etc.) anywhere else in the card entry because it can throw off the Only search.

If I want to list all to-dos relating to a specific person, for example Hal Goldstein, I press (F6), type in Hal Goldstein, and press (ENTER). PHONE lists all to-dos that have Hal's name in them. If I forget to put his name in the to-do, or misspell it, I'm out of luck. When the Hal Goldstein to-dos are displayed, they remain divided by group, priority and task. To go back to the complete to- do list, press (F6) (ENTER).

Finally, PHONE lets me tag to-do items. I highlight the desired item and press (F9) (Tag). I use it to emphasize immediate daily to-dos. Each morning I will tag items that must be done that day.

Other Features and Benefits of PHONE to-Do List

The phone book also eliminates the delete problem described earlier. Highlight the item to be deleted and press (F3) (Cut). The to-do is deleted, the cursor moves up to the previous entry and centers it on the screen.

The PHONE to-do list also lets you get more information on a given screen. APPT's to-do list takes up an entire line at the top for the date and an entire line for each priority title. At the extreme, if you have five priorities with only one entry per priority, the entire screen will be taken up by just five to-do items. By contrast, you will always be able to display 11 PHONE to- dos on a single screen.

Additionally, APPT's to-do screen only shows 27 characters per entry while the PHONE index display shows 38.

PHONE to-do lists are also easier to review. The Phone Book has the ability to scroll by page. This feature is lacking in APPT's to-do. Second, PHONE very quickly lets you know if it can't find a word you're looking for. (APPT will spend minutes looking years into the future for a word or phrase.)

PHONE Does it Better!

PHONE lets you create an effective, prioritized to-do list, divided into topics and tasks. You can display two fields of information and have more information hidden, and available in the card view. Deleting and scrolling are more efficient and the (F6) (Only) and (F9) (Tag) functions add flexibility to the system. Finally, you can move between specific priorities, groups, and tasks easily. Best of all, it's built-in. You don't have to go out and buy someone else's software. Its amazing, try it!