Contact Management for Your Handheld

Following up on my earlier post on mastering your contact database:

You may wonder how you can gather all of the detailed information that you would ideally include in your contact database (spouse, children, political affiliation, etc.) You cannot meet someone at an event or online and say, “Hi? What’s your name? And your partner’s name? Children’s name? And by the way, would you mind telling me your social security number?”

The answer to this question: you will not and cannot obtain this detailed information upon first connecting with someone. Instead, you will gradually pick up this information as you spend time (online or face to face) with a person.

For example, you are working alongside Nancy at a large firm. The Human Resources department organizes a birthday party for Nancy on February 2. You make a note in your PDA, and next year you mention to Nancy, “Isn’t your birthday coming up?” We very strongly recommend that you update your contact manager every time you learn new information about someone you know.

Address-book update services such as Plaxo and GoodContacts can help you keep the information in your contact manager current. They allow people to maintain their own data, and your data is updated whenever your contacts update their information. They can also send out messages to people who are not users of the system asking them to update their information for you. However, we do not currently recommend using this feature. Sending out canned, impersonal messages asking people if they are still at the same address is a nuisance, not a relationship-building technique, and has caused a great deal of backlash . If you are inundated with business cards, you may want to consider buying an automated card scan device, such as CardScan.

If you want to be particularly diligent, subscribe to an online news-clipping service, like Ewatch.com. Google also offers a news-tracking service. Simply indicate to these firms the names of the people you most care about tracking, and the service will inform you when news comes out that covers those people. This provides you an excellent opportunity to write with congratulations when you learn about good news in the life of someone you know.

A portable contact manager (a personal digital assistant or a cell phone with a good contact manager built in) is an invaluable tool in managing your relationships. It makes it much easier to tell people, “You would really enjoy meeting my friend X”, and then immediately give the person X’s contact Information. It also makes it easy to update your contact database periodically as you learn more about people.

I personally use a Palm OS based PDA. I recently received a sample copy of Act for Palm OS, which I had the chance to review. (Disclosure: I was given it gratis.) This gives you most of the functionality of Act for the desktop, on your handheld.

The main advantage of the product: it really does give you most of the functionality of Act on your Palm. It is extremely convenient to be able to look up all of your past conversations, notes, and so on with all of your contacts. One of David Allen’s principles of workflow management is to centralize all of your tasks and information in one place. Act for Palm OS helps you to do that.

Some weaknesses of the product:
+ On my Palm Tungsten W, it runs slowly. It doesn’t have the high-speed response I’m used to from the standard Palm software. I suspect this is a hardware limitation, not a software limitation. The Tungsten W has long battery life but is a bit slower than some other Palm’s I have used.
+ The manual claims a limit of 1,000 contacts, although the help desk said that I could have unlimited contacts. I did an experiment and uploaded 6,000 of my contacts, and Act worked fine. However, I ended up reducing the number of contacts to about 1,000 of my current contacts in order to speed up the system.

If you use a Palm OS PDA and Act, I definitely recommend considering the purchase of Act for Palm OS.