Time Management 101: The Calendar

Time management is one of those areas in life where there are as many different answers as there are people asking the questions. Instead of telling you exactly how to manage your time, I’ll tell you how I manage my time. With any luck, you might find some hints useful to you. Following on from my introductory post, I want to demonstrate how I manage my time.

A sample day in my calendar.
A sample day in my calendar.

The most important tool I use is Google Calendar, although I could substitute most cloud-based calendars without issue (I used Exchange for years). The key feature is that it synchronises to my phone. It’s also important that I only have one calendar. If I had a separate calendar for work and home, things would get lost in the cracks. I also have a very important rule – as soon as I have an appointment, it goes in my phone and into the master calendar. Not even an hour must pass before I put it in. This reduces the chances of me being double booked. I never trust my mind.

I’ve divided my work-week into periods, like high school. Unlike high school, not all “classes” are the same length, because not all work takes the same time to do. I might spend two hours programming, then take a break and spend ninety minutes doing administration work and responding to emails. I also specialise my days: Tuesdays and Fridays are for meetings. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday are for sitting down and cracking on with things. Splitting my week up like this allows me to concentrate on something for an entire day if I need to, and also reduces my need for ironed shirts.

I also have a second calendar which does not hold any of my own events (they always go on the master calendar) but instead holds events that I hear about my friends doing – it contains notes like “Matt playing RPGs” or “Dad in Melbourne”. This ensures that I never forget about important events in my friends’ lives, and comes especially in handy for remembering where my house mate is, so I don’t have to worry when he’s not home in the morning.

Finally, I’m a big fan of weekly planning. At some point on the weekend (generally on Sunday afternoon) I’ll sit down for half an hour and plan out all my activities for the week – errands that need to be run, tasks that need specific times devoted to them (a big one for me is scheduling server upgrades and restarts), that sort of thing. I also schedule time to relax: every evening sometime between 5 and 6 I take the dog for a half-hour walk. This doesn’t mean I can’t change my plans on a whim (such as getting invited out to party on short notice) – just that I have some structure to fall back on.

There’s still a lot to discuss – my routines, task management, project management, automation, and more. But that’s for another day.

30 Days of Geek #7: Preferred smartphone platform. And which do you use?

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

My preferred smartphone platform is Windows Mobile (now renamed Windows Phone to avoid the whole ‘Cell phone’ / ‘Mobile phone’ naming debacle). There are a few reasons for my choice (mostly illogical):

  • It’s an open platform. What I mean for this is that anybody can develop an application for the phone without having to prostrate themselves before Steve Jobs. Note that just because you can write an application, doesn’t mean that anybody does, which is slightly disappointing.
  • The operating system doesn’t treat you as if you’re 6. Every setting imaginable is open for the tinkering. Again, doesn’t mean you should.
  • It crashes occasionally, usually while trying to make a call. No computer would be complete without crashing or misbehaving at an inconvenient time.

My old phone was an HTC Touch Pro2, which I reviewed here. It was an awesome phone. At the time I bought it, it had the highest resolution of any mobile out there (as far as I’m aware), a QWERTY keyboard, 3G, WiFi, GPS, basically every feature under the sun. Unfortunately it cost a fair bit, and once I realised I never actually took advantage of all these features, I sold it and bought an entire high-end desktop computer. Which brings me to my current phone…

I currently use a Nokia C5. And what can I say about it? It’s a Nokia. It works, it makes calls and does text messaging, and I can check Facebook if I’m bored on the bus. And that’s what I’ve realised. A mobile phone is still, essentially, a phone. Maybe I’m getting old (I hope not), but maybe it just doesn’t matter so much any more.

Review: HTC Touch Pro2

I’ve been in need of a new mobile (cell) phone for a while. My old phone, an HTC Touch GSM (the original) was becoming a bit broken. I was loving it to bits.

The USB connector was broken, WiFi only worked half the time, I was starting to get jealous of the iPhone; a number of reasons contributed to the need for a new phone.

I did however love HTC. The phones seemed rock-solid and well designed, especially compared to some of the other manufacturers on the market. Other HTC owners I have met over the years agree; I am yet to hear an HTC owner complain about anything but the price.

I considered a few phones. The Apple iPhone was high on the list, as were a number of Nokia phones, most notably the N79. I will admit at this point to being a brand junkie; there was no way was buying a cheap iPhone clone.

What drew me in to buying the HTC Touch Pro2 was the full QWERTY keyboard and large 3.6″ WVGA screen. I know from owning a decent desktop computer that the most important parts from a productivity point of view are the monitor and the keyboard. They are the parts your body has to interact with, and they should be comfortable.

I bought my phone new in the retail box for $887 AUD from a shop in town. I have seen them as low as $650 on eBay, though I didn’t go this route because I wanted a solid warranty. It is a mobile phone with a hinge, after all.

Now onto the device itself.

It’s far and away the largest and heaviest mobile phone I’ve ever had, or ever seen, or even heard of (apart from the old analogue brick phones). It’s 17mm thick, 116mm long, and 59mm wide. Looking at it another way though, it’s the smallest laptop computer I’ve ever seen. It has a 480×800 pixel screen, as well as a 5-row QWERTY keyboard. Although it is on the small side (naturally) the keyboard is very nice to type with, using both thumbs with the hands wrapped around the back of the device. The screen is also nice, not suffering from glare problems as much as other phones I’ve used (older Nokia phones were particularly bad). If you look closely you can see the individual pixels, but you have to look very closely. It is a very high quality screen.

The screen is a touchscreen, and this is one area where they might have done better. The level of touch required to activate a ‘click’ is in my opinion excessive. It’s far more than on my old phone, or the Apple iPhone. It’s still usable however.

Battery life, as expected for a smart phone with all the bells and whistles, is miserable. I have to charge mine every day, otherwise the battery does run flat. However, being human, I have to sleep sometime, and it’s convenient to charge it every night.

In the box comes a screen protector (very useful, it’s a large otherwise unprotected screen waiting to be scratched), a spare stylus, a USB cable, a wall adapter for charging without a computer, a pair of earphones, and a very nice leather case. The headphones that come with the device serve a dual purpose. The first is as a headset for using the phone, and for listening to music. The second is an antenna for the device’s FM radio. I have to say here that the shape of the headphones is abysmal. They do not fit in my ear at all, and the cable is far too short. If it wasn’t for the fact that they are required for FM radio, I would have just chucked them away.

Inside the device is a Qualcomm MSM7200A chipset running at 528MHz. It’s fast. There’s 512MB of storage onboard, of which around half is available to the user to store settings, documents, and optional applications. Program memory (RAM) is 288MB. More would have been nice, but I’m yet to run out of it.

HTC has gone to great lengths to ensure every piece of software you could desire is on the device, and they’ve managed well, with a few exceptions.

The operating system is Windows Mobile 6.1, upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5 some time in the future depending on which carrier you are with. It’s nice, though I notice no huge usability or performance increases compared to Windows Mobile 6.0.

HTC also put their custom TouchFlo 3D software on the device as an alternative user interface. If you’re not used to the Windows Mobile interface, you’ll probably find it nice. I just turned it off and used Windows Mobile as Microsoft designed it. The alternative interface does have a few cool features, mostly related to quickly turning communications on and off as well as turning emails into phone calls near instantly. I get the feeling it’s designed for the jetset business executive. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of them.

The device is also jammed with other software. A YouTube player is there, as is a choice of two browsers (Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile), Google Maps (with support for the GPS built into the device), and Microsoft Office Mobile. As well as a lot more. I loved the fact that Google Maps and YouTube were installed by default, saving me some download time. One application that is missing is Facebook, although given two browsers and a huge screen, it’s not so much of a problem. Opera Mobile even supports tabs, though having more than 2 or 3 tabs open at one time does slow down the device quite a lot, especially when multitasking with other applications as well. I would have liked a few more games installed by default, although I guess I can’t complain – this is a business phone.

Overall, I love this phone, and I’m very glad I bought it. Assuming you have the the money to spare, I would definitely recommend it.


  • Huge 3.6″ screen.
  • QWERTY keyboard.
  • WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth, HSPA, it’s all there.


  • Opera slows down when multitasking.
  • Battery life is short.
  • Included headphones are awful, and using your own requires an adaptor.

Overall: 4.5 stars.

I Rolled Over

In follow up to my post about the different mobile phone providers in Australia, I’d like to share with you what I ended up doing about my overpriced phone account. To sum up the previous post, I wanted a new post-paid phone plan that cost less than my existing Telstra pre-paid plan (about $30-$50 AUD a month).

I ended up deciding to go with Virgin Mobile, since they seemed to offer the best deal overall. I chose the $25/mo Rollover Caps Plus, which includes $60 worth of calls and 300MB of Internet data.

Although I was originally planning to get a phone with the plan (probably a Nokia 6220 or N79), I ended up not doing this for three reasons. The first is that I get $10 extra call credit a month if I don’t get a phone. The second is that the phone I really want (an HTC Touch Pro2) isn’t available through Virgin Mobile, and I really like this phone. Looking at it causes drooling. The third and final reason is that the plan then has no contract length, I can leave at any time, instead of being locked in for 24 months. This does however mean I don’t get to take advantage of the 4000 bonus Velocity points offer.

I’ll reserve judgement on Virgin until I’ve used them more, but so far I have nothing major to report. The order process was moderately painless, as was the activation process (though they could improve it by marking which of the fields on the form where optional or not). I also transferred across my old mobile phone number to the new plan. This was supposed to take ‘up to three hours’. It actually took longer.

So far I’m liking Virgin. I’ll let you know if anything bad happens.

On Phone Plans & Wireless Data

Recently I’ve been looking into my mobile phone account, since I’m sure I’m not getting the best deal. Currently I’m with Telstra on a prepaid plan. There’s nothing wrong with it, except that it’s generally expensive.

I’m only a light caller (we’re talking a couple of sub-minute calls a week, tops), and only a couple of SMS’ a day. On the other hand, I use a significant amount of data. Every month I use at least 100MiB, and sometimes I go up to a gigabyte. For various personal reasons, I’m expecting to use even more than this over the Australian summer.

So I went through the options, with the goal of paying less (a good thing) or getting more for my money (also a good thing). I currently pay somewhere between $30 and $50 AUD a month.

Telstra – I like Telstra a lot. Signal can be found pretty much everywhere in Australia, and a 3G signal can be found in all the major towns and cities. Call quality is very good also. However, they are very expensive. The Telstra plans I looked at (in particular the Mobile Member Plan) confirmed this, being even worse value for me than my prepaid plan. Data usage (most important for me) is charged at $59 for 1GB, then 25c/MB after that (more info). This is HUGELY expensive. Even with a low-cost $20 plan though, I do get a new phone (but no data).

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve also had a Telstra Prepaid Wireless Broadband dongle in the past. I liked it a lot and found it very functional, but the prices were very high. This is still the case, and the prices are about the same as they were 6 months to a year ago. I’d prefer not to have to have a seperate plan for data, but it is an option.

TPGTPG have one of the cheapest post-paid plans on the market. It’s $9.99, includes $150 of cap value, with call charges being very reasonable rates. However, at this cheap price, data suffers. Data usage is $5/MB, which is much more expensive than Optus, Virgin, or even Telstra!

TPG’s more expensive plans ($49.99 and $79.99) do include data (500MB and 2GB respectively) as well as free calls to other TPG users in off-peak hours. However, at this price, other providers are cheaper anyway. In addition, none of TPG’s plans include a new phone (although for that price, you can’t blame them).

3 After a friend’s experience with their accounts department, I’ll never go to them in my life. I haven’t even looked what the prices are, let alone care.

Virgin – Virgin Movile was one of the providers I looked at very closely. For $25 on their Rollover Caps Plus plan, I get more calls and texts than I’ll ever use in a month, as well as 300MB data, which is more than I use in an average month. Also included is a new phone, free voicemail, and free calls and texts to other Virgin Mobile customers (though this is nobody I know, making it a dud offer). It goes straight on the shortlist. If I do use over the 300MB in a month, I can buy a data pack which gives me 1GB (up to a total of 1300MB) for an extra $15 a month. There’s also the Velocity points I earn, but they amount to two parts of nothing.

Also worth consideration is the Beancounter prepaid plan. This has the benefit of really cheap calls and texts to everybody (10c SMS’ to anybody in Australia is very tempting), but falls down in the data department; I have to buy a seperate data pack ($10 for 300MB) seperately.

OptusThe ‘yes’ Cap plans have similar value to Virgin’s post-paid offerings, but without the possible bonus of free calls to other customers of the same telco. With regards to data, Optus is slightly more expensive than Virgin at $19.95 for 1GB. Virgin uses the Optus network (in fact, Virgin is owned fully by Optus, not by the Virgin Group as you would expect) so reception and signal quality should be very similar, at about 96% of the continent’s population at the present date.

Vodafone – Last but not least is Vodafone. They have two series of plans. The first is the SIM Only Contract Caps, starting at $20. This has quite reasonable value at $150, but my research indicates it comes with no data. A data pack can be added, $9.95 for 200MB. This would cover my needs most months, but leave me high and dry in a few.

Their other line of plans is the Contract Caps, starting at $29. These include a new mobile, and for the more expensive plans, some data as well (quite a lot of it, in fact). However, for the cheaper plans it’s the same $9.95 for 200MB as the SIM Only plans.

Another thing to be mentioned about Vodafone is that their network in Tasmania, from experience, sucks. It’s getting better all the time, and in other states is probably quite fine, but is still lagging behind the other networks in Tasmania.


So which one to choose? It’s a hard choice to make. Most of my friends are with Telstra, and would either kill me or not message me anymore if I moved away to another provider. On the other hand, being with Telstra is definitely the most expensive option for me (except for possibly TPG). I won’t go Optus, since I may as well go Virgin. I also won’t go Vodafone, since I like my phone to work around the places I live. 3 is ruled out for being incompetent. That leaves staying with Telstra or moving to TPG or Virgin.

I have no idea what I’ll do yet. I’ll let you know when I decide.