So Happy Together

New gadgets and old-school tools work in perfect harmony to keep you on the ball.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the October 2007 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

No one could ever accuse 9ci founder and CEO Joshua Burnett of being a luddite. His notebook computer, PDA and cell phone are never far from reach when he's on the road, sometimes hitting five cities in as many days to hawk his $10 million company's cash-flow management software application. He has even been known to frequent McDonald's and Panera restaurants on the West Coast just for the wireless communication access.

But no matter where he's working, when it comes to staying on his toes, the 35-year-old high-tech executive swears by his sheaf of simple paper index cards. Burnett's philosophy is that mobile gadgets are wasted on those who haven't taken the time to get themselves organized.

So Burnett starts simple, taking a cue from consultant David Allen's book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and jotting down his ideas and to-do items on five or six cards, which he sorts by "context" and shoves into any available pocket.

There's a card for things to take care of in his Chicago office, one for calls to make, one for emergency actions he must handle immediately, one for research ideas and other random brainstorms, and one for things he needs to do at home. These cards are always within reach--even during downtime on airplanes when electronic devices must be turned off.

Once a week, Burnett methodically transfers his handwritten notes into his electronic calendar and to-do list, breaking bigger projects down into smaller steps so they're more manageable and eliminating items that, upon further reflection, don't make sense for Burnett to worry about.

"I made a mental decision to combine my personal life and work life in this way," Burnett says. "I gave up on the whole work-life balance thing. To me, it's an almost insane idea. You give up the opportunity to have a work-life balance when you become an entrepreneur. But you can control it."

Like Burnett, media entrepreneur Kim Hahn, 41, swears by a combination of mobile technology and more old-fashioned methods as a way to stay organized on the go. She's addicted to her handheld PDA for phone calls, e-mail communications and its calendar, but prefers to let someone else--her personal assistant--call the shots about what is changed and when. That way, she can focus on being creative or finding new business, and someone she trusts can bring her up-to-date on meetings and other developments back at the office. "I think it's important to be able to speak with a live person," Hahn says.

In addition to working on her flagship magazine, Conceive, Hahn handles two live radio shows per week. Her Orlando, Florida, company, which generates annual sales of $2 million, is expanding into books and fertility clinics, so she's constantly on the move. Hahn keeps all her ideas and notes in a simple spiral notebook, jotting down outlines in pencil and counting on her team to organize these doodles later and translate them into presentations, articles and business plans. For that, she outfits her team with whatever they request. "I would rather my staff have the latest and greatest," Hahn says. "Just give me my phone, my PDA and a paper notebook."

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