In my original review of Backpack, I said that the only reason I thought I would move away from using Backpack would be if I set up my own server to configure however I wanted. After using Backpack for a few more months, I actually set up a (Leopard) server at home. I’m still using Backpack.
Part of my experiment with our home server had to do with sharing files across multiple computers in separate work locations. Though Backpack has good file sharing capabilities, it still relied on me remembering to download and upload the working file to Backpack. All too often, I’d forget to upload the working document, resulting in me going through a host of other assorted shenanigans that a mobile knowledgeworker learns to make sure he has the right version of his data. That feature wasn’t really value-added for my context and my home server stepped up there nicely.
Another reason I set up my home server was to address what I then saw as a weakness to Backpack’s calendaring option. I liked having limits specified on my calendar – if my meeting was to last an hour, I wanted that portion carved out of the day. I didn’t want to go back and try to figure out how long it would be. Even though I could subscribe to my Backpack calender via iCal, it didn’t present the information in a way I wanted.
It turns out that Backpack became the best solution despite not presenting calendars the way I like. I’ll explain why:
- I Never Missed a Meeting or Appointment
- SMS Integration with Reminders
- The Newsroom As Our Homepage
Even when I was dutifully using my calender in iCal, it required some overhead to make sure that I was still where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. If I woke up in the morning and forgot to look at my calendar, there was a possibility that I’d get off track. That possibility turned into actuality more often than I’d like to admit.
This problem was solved with Backpack’s calendar feature. I set up a calendar appointment, tell it to remind me via SMS and email thirty minutes prior, and forget it. Since I always have my phone on me during the times I might conceivably need to be somewhere, I get the message with enough time to react. It’s fluid with very little overhead.
What really made Backpack work for us was the SMS integration with Reminders. Before we got our iPhones, neither Angela nor I thought we’d really use it very much. Little did we know that it would so drastically change our workflow.
We used the SMS feature for a few months before I got our server set up. After adopting SMS and Backpack, Angela made it very clear to me that the only way she would switch back to using the server was if I could get iCal Server to do what Backpack did with text messages.
I’ll explain: Angela – the more detail-oriented of the two of us – started using the Backpack reminder feature as her running ToDo list. She’d schedule what she needed to do in the Reminders and then would get a series of text messages in the morning that told her everything she needed to do. As soon as she completed one of those items, she would delete the text message – the unread text message presentation on the iPhone made it very clear which items she’d completed and which she hadn’t.
This practice made her day planner obsolete – she went from religiously using a dayplanner to dropping it completely in a couple of weeks. And she made it very clear that she wasn’t going back.
After investing hours in researching a way to get iCal Server to do what Backpack was doing, I gave up. Even when I could get it to do it, it was a bit janky and still not quite as flexible and useful as Backpack was. It came to a point where it wasn’t worth my time, and the monthly service fee for Backpack more than pays for itself for the convenience and peace of mind it gives us.
After seeing the information that the Backpack’s Newsroom provided, we both set up our browser start pages to be the Newsroom. This solved that nagging problem that we had with our server – telling each other when changes to our schedule or information changed.
Because we spent so much time either in Backpack itself or opening and closing our browsers, we’d routinely see what the other one was doing. We didn’t have to tell each other what we were doing because we both developed good habits when it came to taking information and making it actionable.
For example, since we became very good at immediately placing actionable items either as a reminder or a scheduled event and we each were updating our schedules and information on Backpack, there was very little coordination lag between the two of us. We found that we actually didn’t need to subscribe to the RSS feed to keep up with each other, which was good because that was just another source of information that we could cut out with no loss.
If It Ain’t (Really) Broke, Don’t Fix It!
Backpack still doesn’t present calendars in a way that I find ideal, but what I learned was that it keeps me from fiddling with calendars. So, though I can’t look at my calendar and see how every 15 minute chunk is optimized for productivity (:p), I can look at it and see what the hard landscape for the day looks like without monkeying around with a schedule that changes frequently. And the fact that I haven’t missed an appointment since implementing Backpack is worth the transition itself.
To keep from having multiple sources of information to keep, I learned to put the time window of the meeting within the appointment itself. In iCal, the block of time displayed itself for me – a one hour meeting is one hour large; I didn’t need to keep the information after I scheduled an event. Likewise for longer or shorter meetings. In Backpack, I’ll have, for example, “Meeting with Joe (3:30pm – 5pm)” and that lets me know how long it’s scheduled to be. Given that Backpack does sequence the appointments by time, I can still see that I don’t need to schedule something during that same block of time. It’s just as functional but not as pretty as iCal.
If you find yourself hopping from one piece of software or webware to keep your life having some semblance of a structure and haven’t tried Backpack, I suggest you give it a shot – they have a free trial to let you have the full service. Since adopting it, I haven’t had the urge to hop elsewhere, and that’s saying a lot coming from a guy who has tried and owns a lot of software and webware to do exactly what Backpack does.
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