BlackBerry or CrackBerry?

An exec’s guide to PDA use

Busy executives are always on the lookout for tools to help them work faster and smarter. When Research in Motion introduced the BlackBerry a few years ago, the personal digital assistant (PDA) was in the hands of only a few of the “technically hip.” Now, people everywhere are seen “thumbing” the day away. But does this slick new tool — sometimes referred to as the “CrackBerry” because of its addictiveness — really help the executive perform more effectively?

Phoebe Wright, president of Wright Methods Inc., recently held an executive roundtable session and asked just that. Using Peter Drucker’s eight practices for effective executives, participants analysed whether the BlackBerry helped or hindered their work habits. Overall, impressions were that it did both. The group concluded, however, that making their PDA work for them meant consciously adapting their work styles.

Here are the group’s top 10 tips to help executives maximize results and avoid pitfalls when using a PDA.

Leave yourself time to plan and reflect: Effective executives practise this religiously; less effective leaders often waste time using their PDAs to micromanage. Don’t let the PDA undermine your ability to delegate. Execs don’t need to be involved in all the details and don’t need to be copied on everything.

Speed up business operations: The PDA allows you to reach people directly and also enables you to make and communicate decisions quickly. Save time when off-site by accessing needed information instantly either on the Internet or by linking into a database connected to the office. Use downtime, while in transit or waiting for appointments, to catch up and stay in touch.

Don’t alienate a client: A face-to-face meeting is your chance to establish your reputation and win business. It should not be taken for granted. Avoid using your PDA in front of the client. If you are not paying attention, why should your client?

Use your PDA to strengthen business activities: Building inspectors in Nanaimo, B.C. provide an example of an innovative use of the PDA. The inspectors were issued PDAs and linked to an e-government service designed to track the status of building permit applications instantly. The net result has been reduced paperwork, cost and time, not to mention improved client satisfaction. Learn the full range of capabilities this tool offers your business.

Read your message before hitting send: Clear communication is crucial. Make sure your message says what you mean to say and, more importantly, how you mean to say it. Electronic communication can cause confusion and hurt feelings. Be sensitive to how a message sounds to the recipient. Also, check messages to ensure they don’t contain references that would be interpreted as insulting if forwarded to someone else.

Build a communication system where key people can reach you quickly: You may miss a crucial message if it gets buried in the plethora of mail you receive daily — be it electronic, voice or paper. Ask your team to use special symbols or code words to indicate when the matter must be looked at immediately.

Don’t drown in messages: Leave blocks of time at the beginning and end of each day to read and respond to e-mail and voice mail. Answering non-urgent messages throughout the day is a waste of valuable time.

Know when a face-to-face meeting is required: Not all situations can, or should, be handled electronically. If you are conveying news about a downsizing or restructuring, the information may produce a significant emotional response in the recipient. Know when the use of a PDA could hinder what you are trying to accomplish.

Don’t buy into the PDA’s around-the-clock availability myth: People are not always waiting to receive and respond to your message and not everyone carries a PDA. Remember this when, for example, you have to cancel a meeting 30 minutes prior to its intended start time. Make sure recipients got your message by asking them to acknowledge it immediately. Try other ways to reach those who did not respond.

Use etiquette: Don’t hide behind your PDA unless you want people to think you are not interested in them or what they have to say. Furthermore, using these devices at concerts, funerals, weddings or other gatherings where your role is to honour or listen is inappropriate and disrespectful.

This communication tool has the potential to improve your business operations regardless of what you do. But how you use your PDA will make the difference between whether this tool fixes things for you or becomes “your fix.”

Elisabeth Vaillancourt is an associate at Wright Methods Inc. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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