Search This Blog

Thursday, October 09, 2014

To the Top!

From the Tech Vault Dept.: I just ordered my 2015 day-planner pages and, yes, I’m still using the Franklin Institute’s (now Franklin-Covey’s) system. And so is the rest of my family. Do I spend my morning categorizing my goals? Do I slavishly record my appointments, my phone calls, my expenses? Next year I’ll do it. But here’s my ancient review of the company’s very first software offering.


THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE EXPECTS its time-management followers to be so fanatical about carrying their fat appointment calendars that a credit card caddy is provided in the back of the binder. You’d never, ever leave your book behind, the reasoning goes. And why should you? Within that leather or ultra-vinyl sheath is not only a record of every appointment, every phone call, every idea that’s ever struck you but also essays you’ve accumulated about your values and goals. Leaving such a collection behind would be inconvenient and even embarrassing.

A different version, but close enough.
Turn down the slavishness a notch, however, and you have an efficient, productive system flexible enough to accommodate a variety of work styles. As the Franklin seminar suggests, you’ll gain more than enough time through increased productivity to make up for the few minutes required for planning each day.

Ascend is the Windows-based counterpart, or companion, really, to the Franklin Time Management system. It’s perfectly suited for the Windows environment. When a phone call comes in, a user can mouse-click out of an application and over to Ascend’s “Daily Record of Events” feature and note appropriate details. Should the conversation require a follow-up meeting, that’s easily entered into the Appointment Schedule. And all of it can be printed onto forms that will fit in the Franklin binder.

Time management should be more than a few lines in an appointment book, and the Franklin system provides a way to make sure that projects are tracked and all related information is easily accessible. Open the Franklin book to today’s page and you’re faced with three categories: a prioritized daily task list and appointment schedule share one page; facing it is the daily events record. Farther along in the loose-leaf binder are an address and phone number list, forms for recording financial information, reference sheets, and “red tabs” that set off sections of blank paper for recording miscellaneous thoughts and information.

Open the Windows program and a baker’s dozen icons allow you to select the electronic equivalents. Each icon summons a module window, allowing you to tile or overlap as many as your eyes can stand. Each active module affects the menu bar, changing the context-sensitive help and available options.

And there are still more windows-within-windows to discover: the daily task list includes a “notes” field; click it and an electronically-linked window allows you to enter more explanation than the brief line provided by default.

A nice touch throughout the program is the formatting bar (they call it the Enhanced Multi-Line Edit Control) provided with most text windows, allowing easy-to-choose options for type appearance (bold, italic, etc.), justification, and light editing. Date and time also may be automatically entered by clicking appropriate icons. Almost any screen that allows note-taking sports the format bar, which proves its worth when the material is printed.

As long as you’ve made peace with Windows-based printing, you’ll be impressed with Ascend. What you’ve electronically entered prints out neatly in full- or half-page format, on Franklin-styled loose-leaf paper (a generous amount of the half-page blanks are provided in the full Ascend package) or onto your own pages, upon which it draws all necessary rules and boxes.

Continuous-form and laser stock is available through Franklin; if you go with your own paper, they’ll sell you the special punch needed to make the oddball arrangement of seven holes.

The Address Book module produces a nice-looking printed page of phone numbers, with as little or as much information as you wish. It also allows labels and envelopes to be printed.

If you already have a database of phone number information, you can import it into Ascend; save it as a line-delimited ASCII file and make sure you choose fields the program can accommodate. As of this version (3.14) you’re limited to an unchangeable configuration; version 4 will offer some user-definable fields. Entries are automatically indexed on both last name and company fields, although an override is manually available. Memo fields can’t be imported, but Ascend does let you add notes within the program.

Information from the address book module is available to be pasted into other parts of the program, and that’s where Ascend’s snappy search features come into play. Insert (or Find) Name is an edit-menu option within the Task List and Daily Record modules; it throws up an Address Book screen for a quick browse.

Global search is an option in all of the appointment-related modules; enter the information you need to find (which can be as arcane as part of the name of someone with whom you spoke many months ago) and a successful hit gives you an instant reference to the notes made at that time.

Looking for a name in your Address Book? Use one of two options: click on one of the initials tabbed along the screen (reminiscent of those old flip-top desk filers) or type in the first few letters of an indexed name.

At the heart of the program is that prioritized task list. Enter the day’s duties, then go back and rank it. It’s a two-part process: first designate job importance by letter (“A” is top-of-the-list), then particularize it into numerical rank.

Tough decisions, of course, but a seminar by Franklin chairman Hyrum Smith (enclosed on four hours of cassettes with a follow-along workbook) explains the recommended system for establishing and prioritizing that task list. A solicitous sub-menu in Ascend helps to automate the process for you.

To follow the seminar system, you need to discover your personal value system and extrapolate those values into goals. This is illustrated with a pyramid upon which those goals and values may be superimposed.

Again, Ascend provides the electronic equivalent (right down to the pyramid logo on the box and implicit in the program’s name). The Values and Goals module (pyramid icon) unfolds screen after screen of data entry forms that eventually settle into a hierarchy based on a foundation of “governing values.” Examples from Benjamin Franklin are provided to get you started. It’s amazing -- and impressive (and even a little intrusive) -- how much information this program seeks to draw out of you.

The Task List is the top of the pyramid; at the summit of that is Focus, a module that myopically isolates the tippy-top task and forces you into a guilt-inducing confrontation with it. Even worse: it tracks your accomplishments and displays them in annoyingly cheerful colors. You may find yourself impelled into productivity simply to please the computer.

Appointment Book schedules are divided into 15-minute blocks, a system that seems restrictive at first but only reinforces the fairly common fact that most of life is conducted in such-sized chunks. Recurring appointments can be scheduled with plenty of eccentric possibilities, and an alarm is available to sound in advance of a particular event. The program even allows a decorative or informative note to be added to a particular day, which then displays in its own small box at the top of the screen.

Similar to the Address Book is a Turbo File, a database template into which you’re invited to enter searchable information about anything, with a keyword index provided for later retrieval. It does not have import and export features, which would be a nice improvement for anyone who hoards information electronically.

A Favorite Quotes file not only stores the pithy sayings of Bartlett’s refugees (and comes with forty uplifting thoughts already entered) but also pops a randomly-chosen quote into the startup screen if you desire. This proved desirable for fewer than a dozen sessions.

Another twin-brother module is the Journal, which does everything the Daily Record does, attaching a text file to each day. It’s simply a separate (and separately-searchable) file. The Red Tabs module is day-independent: you give each red tab file a descriptive name of up to 30 characters. What’s needed for easier access is a scrollable window of accumulated names.

Network features were added to a version 3.14, giving the program functions on a par with good group-scheduling software. Meetings can be scheduled around a best-fit search that the program will make through the appointment lists of all users.

Proprietary backup and restore of Ascend information is performed through a stand-alone tools program.

One final, generous, touch is NewQuest’s permission to share Ascend with a friend. They allow a 60-day trial, after which the program fails to work until a valid serial number is provided.

Ascend is an excellent system that looks very endearing despite all its Franklin-based quirkiness. Most important is that it can be made to work for a variety of individuals with minimal customization and only the day-to-day upkeep that any appointment system requires. The many extra modules can be ignored or, more likely, pressed into service in some other manner. Don’t be surprised, though, if you get hooked on both program and book. Where you choose to keep your credit cards is up to you.

Ascend: A Windows-based personal information manager that brings the philosophy of Franklin Time Management to the PC. A good tool if you like the philosophy and live in front of Windows.

NewQuest Technologies, Inc.
2550 South Decker Lake Blvd.
Salt Lake City, Utah 84119
(801) xxx-xxxx

Suggested List Price: $299 with companion Franklin Day Planner binder and forms, $199 without.

System Requirements: IBM 80286 (or faster)-based PC-compatible computer with Windows-compatible video graphics, Microsoft Windows 3.0 or higher, hard disk with at least 2Mb free.

Computer Shopper, January 1992

No comments: