Monday, August 6, 2007

Frustrated with Email Integration with Life

I've been sort of frustrated with my email. Or just generally with personal information management, I think.

I've been feeling this way for some time though, it's nothing new I guess. When will I find the holy grail of PIM?!

I am looking for something where you can:
* Tag entries
* Input easily via multiple methods, such as email
** So if someone sends me an event, I can forward it to my calendar and it will get entered in the right date, at the right time, with the location and also keep the email contents.
** If someone sends me new contact information, I can forward it to my calendar and my address book will get updated. Correctly.
** If someone corresponds with me, as in, we get coffee, discuss a project, I can forward it to my organizer and have the details of that attached. So the next time I see them I will remember what we discussed, etc.
** If someone forwards me information, if I get a cool article, I can email forward that into my notepad with tags, etc.
** If I see a cool web article, I can one-click/right click and enter it in with the date, tag it and also save the url
** If I have a random thought about something, I can email that into my organizer/notepad/thing. It will have the topic and date. I can tag it.
* Something that integrates multiple functions such as note-taking, email, tasks and calendars
* Is with a reputable vendor where I don't have to worry about someone hacking into the database and stealing all my private information. Or worry they will go bust or something

It is so frustrating!!

I have tried a lot of solutions. But, I am also annoyed that I have to have so many millions of websites. Why can't I just have it in one place? Am I just batty?

For example, in terms of note taking, I have been using a combination of:

  • Google notebook. I like Google notebook because there is a nice Firefox plugin. So whichever page I am on, I can click on the little notebook icon and then type in something or paste in something. However, it is hard to clip whole web pages. I cannot tag my posts, instead I can only search for them and it's super annoying because there might be a lot of posts with the word I'm searching for and non-matching words with similar meanings are not found. Also so far there is no integration with Google Gears and I cannot email in information I get into a note.

  • Tiddlyspot. I like Tiddlyspot since I can tag posts, I can do sliders, and I can easily work offline. I can download the TiddlyWiki onto my computer and then use it/update it even if my internet is not working. However, I cannot one-click save web pages into it. It will not save any of the photos. It is hard to search and since there is so much javascript sometimes it is slow. Also, it ends up being one giant file, which is okay if I don't have many notes but doesn't work as I clip more and more information. I do like how you can link all the different little notes together, group them, categorize them and sort them. Also I can't email in notes from my email!

  • Email. I have also been using my email for notes and just labelling them as notes. This is obviously not optimal.

  • OneNote. I like OneNote, but it's expensive, it's not portable. I can't access it from multiple computers. Since I only have it on my personal laptop, it's just not optimal. It does work with my tablet PC, which I like. And it obviously works offline.

  • Evernote. I used to like Evernote, but it just got so unwieldy. Is not easily printable (same with some of the above btw) and again not accessible from multiple computers.

  • Ask Sam. This seems to be popular free-form database. BUT, it's offline only. It's not portable. It is sort of unwieldy to move around. I can't clip stuff from the web easily, or maybe I can but I'm not UI-savvy and can't figure out how to do it. The main problem more is that it's not accessible from multiple computers.
  • Yahoo Notepad. Classic. Just like little text files. Obviously not emailable and not accessible offline.


  • Outlook Calendar. I use Outlook Calendar at work, because I get all my meeting invites there, I can see other's calendars and it's all sort of integrated. However, it is not easily accessed offline. Or when I am at another computer.

  • I use Google Calendar at school. It is nice that I can use natural language to input events.

  • But, none of these two solutions let me email events in. Since the starting point for almost all events is my email, it would be awesome if I could just email in my events. From any email since I have a zillion email accounts. Also, I want to tag events, based on what they are for - personal, work, etc.

  • I've found something called 30Boxes, but I am wary of signing up for yet another service which I will visit infrequently.

To Do List. Sigh. I've tried these solutions:

  • Backpack. Pretty interface, nice project manager but since I am looking for something free, I can only manage like 2 projects or something on there. Not going to work. You can email in to-do's I think though.

  • MonkeyGTD. This is an implementation of the popular Dave Allen Getting Things Done manifesto. It is nice that I can use it offline, I can use it online from multiple computers. I can tag tasks, I can sort things into different groups and projects. I can see what's next, what I can do where (at my computer, in my email, etc.) BUT, there is no email integration. I can't email tasks in. It's also sort of hard to prioritize, since I do have a million things that will take 2 minutes, but when you do 30 of them, suddenly an hour is gone. And nothing really takes just 2 minutes. So, whenever, I look at it, I get overwhelmed in which task I should do next. And unfortunately, it is a bit slow. And tasks don't disappear until 30 days later, so even they are done I still see them on my list!!! There is not an easy way to dump in unorganized tasks, although I have gotten around that by putting an "inbox" project in where I just name miscellaneous things.

  • Tada List. This is the simple to-do list from 37Signals. It is nice and simple and ajaxy. But, unfortunately too simple for someone who has a million to-do's in multiple dimensions of life. Oh well. It is pretty though.

  • Remember the Milk. I do like this one, you can email in tasks. You can set priorities. But, unfortunately it is not set up for GTD style workings. I think you can sort of modify to make it work, but it is frustrating to do. Also, I don't like having yet another website to log in for for yet another area. Why doesn't the calendar work well here??? I like how they've implemented Google Gears though. That is a nice touch.

Contacts. Multiple solutions are here:

  • Highrise. I like this one. The free account gives you up to 200 people and my favorite part is that you can email in correspondence. So you can just cc the dropbox and the dialogue will get associated with the right contact. I LOVE that feature. I also like how you can put to-do's with people and that you can also put separate notes in a journal-like fashion with each interaction. And the "about" section is nice for biographical details. Unfortunately, this is standalone. Does not integrate with to-do list, calendar, notes, etc. Sigh.

  • Plaxo. Good in theory. It is supposed to update automatically. But they send too many emails and annoy my contacts, so I don't even use this anymore. So sad.

  • Yahoo Address Book. A classic. Simple. Too many steps. Not easily integrated like Highrise. But, I do have a lot of contacts here.

  • Outlook. Of course. Cannot forget this one. But, not accessible online or on the go. Is pain in ass to go from emailed contact information into Outlook.
  • Excel spreadsheet. Not pretty. Difficult to read. Not accessible online except in Google Spreadsheet, but that solution is too slow. Cannot figure out what the next to-do is easily.

Sorry for the long, major complaint but why can't I find the perfect solution?!

Maybe the problem is that there is not enough money. These are all minor little problems that a good UI designer perhaps could figure out. But why put the effort into developing this with no payback? Who is going to pay for this solution?

But, I am getting distracted from work I need to do. I endlessly get distracted when I think about how inadequate my current solutions are. It is so depressing.