Aug 042010

As I wrote previously, I bought the Apple iPad for two reasons: to compensate for brain injury-related issues and for my work as a writer. Today’s post is about the former.

A huge problem people with brain injuries face is, IMHO, the inability to organize, initiate, and to get things done from start to finish. Even if something gets us going, the silliest small thing can stop us in our tracks. Organizing is a cognitive activity, requiring mental energy, which people with brain injuries have little of. Fatigue is a constant whine to stop.

The culprit: a damaged prefrontal cortex. That area is responsible for turning chaos into organization, for initiating and motivating, for making choices, in short, executive functioning.

It sucks not to have it. It sucks less to have a partially healed one, but still sucks.

Many of us rely on handhelds and computers as our second brain, for the executive function and memory. And although the best help is human help, especially for large projects — like writing a novel! — the more computers can do for us, the more independent we can be because human help is often not available or in short supply.

After I switched from my Palm Tungsten e to the Apple iPod Touch, I bought Pocket Informant (PI), the closest calendaring app to Datebk for the Palm, the very best calendar and task app I’ve used. PI is the only app that has both event and task scheduling. Other apps are either events or tasks, not very useful in the real world of appointments and phone calls, coffee hookups and washing dishes. PI is easy to use immediately; it organizes tasks using the Franklin Covey, Toodledo, or Getting Things Done (GTD) method; and it has a robust and active help forum where the developers answer questions and respond to feedback quickly. It’s important to have quick access to help since most of these apps don’t come with extensive manuals and, if you’re like me, they’re too difficult to comprehend anyway.

PI syncs wirelessly with Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, and Toodledo. They are working on other sync arrangements, including the native Apple calendar in the next update. Syncing ensures your schedule is backed up elsewhere and allows you to check your schedule no matter where you are or if you’ve forgotten your handheld (assuming you’re close to a computer).

PI recently released its app for the iPad. And wow, has it ever made a difference to me being able to see and perceive my schedule.

I’d been working with a therapist on creating a task list of everything I had to do, similar to what David Allen of Getting Things Done fame advocates. The problem was that it made no sense to me. Visually the list was a jumble — even though we’d tagged all the tasks, put due dates on only the immediate ones, and made just the ones for the coming week “Next Action” items. Every time I saw my list of projects and tasks, it overwhelmed and paralyzed me. I couldn’t make a decision when it came time to setting priorities. Sure, I knew what the steps were to choose and schedule a task, but doing them…not happening. My prefrontal cortext balked. I thought it was all about the visuals. But when I saw my schedule on PI for the iPad, I immediately saw that the task and projects lists were too long. There was too much content. Plus all this content, all this information was in text, which is hard for me to distinguish anyway. I knew immediately what I had to do.

I’d read about Corkulous on Inkygirl’s iPad blog, and I downloaded it. Corkulous creates corkboards on which you can put photos, sticky notes, labels, task lists, and nested corkboards.

CorkulousJeejeebhoy.JPGI took all the tasks that I didn’t have to do in the foreseeable future out of PI and put them into Corkulous. For each task, I found a photo that represented that task. For example, I want to work on my CafePress items regularly, so I found a photo of one of my CafePress items and put that at the top of the corkboard I’d labelled “Goals Pending.” Underneath, I put a small label to explain it. I repeated that for all the tasks but ones I couldn’t think of a photo to represent it.

What a relief!

The task list in PI was suddenly manageable. I could see my current priorities easily — and only my current priorities. Decision making became easier. The options seem fewer even though they are really the same as before but are no longer cluttered up with all my other inbox tasks.

I then created a Current Goals corkboard. Again I used photos to represent each of my current goals: script, Lifeliner marketing, She, new novel. Then I made it my iPad’s Lock Screen. Corkulous allows you to quickly take a snapshot of your Corkboard; under Wallpaper in the iPad’s settings, you choose that snapshot under Saved Photos for your Lock Screen. That way you can see what your priorities are every time you turn on your iPad, but aren’t dunned over the head with it as you would be if you made it your Home Screen. You can also quickly change it every time you update the Current Goals corkboard. Once I complete a current goal, I can then move up a pending goal into the current goal corkboard, or at least that’s the idea. Deciding which pending goal to move up, well, that will be tough.

I look at Corkulous for a quick visual reminder of my priorities before scheduling my week in PI. Scheduling is still not that easy — choosing which priority to focus on, being able to break it into actionable steps, figuring out how much time it will take and when I’ll be most mentally alert to spend that time — all that I still need help with. Sure, I can muddle through on my own, and these apps make it much more doable, but over the long term chaos slowly takes over my mind and without that short conversation, that comment that lights up my brain to see the solution, I go from being organized to reactive and less functional. And so I’m still looking for that computer replacement for decision making and initiation (or a way to use audiovisual entrainment to get it to work better).

One more tip: Most task and scheduling apps use the Getting Things Done method. They aren’t very good at replicating the Franklin Covey method. I finally bought the book by Allen. Understanding how he does things helps in understanding the task options in PI. And using colours to distinguish between kinds of tasks and events, e.g., pink for personal, blue for medical, helps you to visually understand your schedule better.

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  • RemofRenaissance

    Hey, great recommendations. Although not aware of any mental handicaps I may have officially, I am pretty poor at remembering things as well as staying organised. This life of confusion has not got in the way of in terms of progress im my working career as yet but lately I feel its taking it’s toll (recently becoming a manager at work a homeowner and soccer team coach means I have a greater emphasis on staying organised, completing goals / errands so that I have more free time to invest on hobbies / life in general). Anyway what I wanted to say is that along with Things (great task app), Corkulous is probably the best organisation focused app I’ve ever used… Amazing. It’s so cool to see your thoughts and notes on the cork board interface and actually feels like a workspace environment or a brainstorming dashboard. Increadible. Thanks for the tip and a great post too…

  • Though I wrote this from the point of view of having a brain injury, I figure if it helps me, it may help anyone! I so agree, Corkulous is versatile and really helps focus one’s thoughts. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and liked the tips. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • Katchristopher

    I am 10 years post-TBI and I just typed into google ‘organization apps for brain injury’ not honestly believing anything would come up. What a relief to have found you. Thank you a thousand times!

  • Awesome!!

    Thank you for telling me my post helped. 🙂

  • Hurrah! Thank you for reviewing both of these apps. I am grappling with a PhD and various other projects in my life. The way you described seeing unmanageable task lists is exactly how I feel with the PhD. I feel overwhelmed everytime I see my ‘to do’ list. So much of your post resonated and I don’t have a brain injury. Thank you once more for sharing your thoughts. I’m going to give both apps a try and see how I get on 🙂

  • Sarah: Cool! I’m so glad I could help. It’s interesting how different situations can lead to the same kind of issue or need. I hope you find the apps as useful as I do. Pocket Informant is upgrading to ver 2 next month. I’m hoping it’ll be even better and will have some features I miss from Datebk for Palm. Good luck!

  • Jim Wurster

    I noticed that you have alarms that can be set for tasks. Is there a way to set up tasks/events that you could see with either a countdown or countup clock?

  • Jim: Yes, you can set alarms for tasks at specific times or a specific day and time, but I haven’t seen a countdown or countup clock to the alarm. You could approximate this by setting more than one alarm, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes apart (every time you set an alarm, another alarm line pops up). Pocket Informant 2.0 will be coming out soonish. I don’t know if the alarms will work the same or have more features than in the current version.

  • Jim: Yes, you can set alarms for tasks at specific times or a specific day and time, but I haven’t seen a countdown or countup clock to the alarm. You could approximate this by setting more than one alarm, perhaps 10 to 15 minutes apart (every time you set an alarm, another alarm line pops up). Pocket Informant 2.0 will be coming out soonish. I don’t know if the alarms will work the same or have more features than in the current version.

  • Charming Nerd

     Try the Opus Domini app.  It is the best I’ve seen to date.

  • I think
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