Getting more from your PDA

June 1, 2001
Beau Chatham

Pharmaceutical Representative

Personal digital assistants are only as good as their operators.

Personal digital assistants are incredible tools that help busy professionals get more done. But like all tools, they are only as good as their operators. I have often been asked, "How can reps be more productive with a PDA?" Well, if you're wondering how this electronic gizmo can help you in the world of pharmaceutical sales, consider this scenario:

It's Monday morning, and you've started the day behind the power curve. You haven't checked your voice mail yet, but decide to do that on your cell phone on the way to your first appointment, which is … you don't remember right now. Anyway, you make a mental note to check your computer after you load your samples. A couple of chores need to be completed for your personal life as well, and you recall that those reminders are on a sticky note on your dashboard. You've also got a lunch today in the biggest medical clinic in your territory. Another mental note to yourself: Call the caterers and increase the head count by 10. You've been waiting your turn at this clinic for six months. If your memory serves you correctly, your competitor was in there last month. Another mental note: You need to call your co-promotion partners to plan a dinner program next month. That's when it hits you: Your first appointment this morning is with your boss. He is riding with you today and is expecting to meet you in 10 minutes. You're 30 minutes from the pre-determined meeting place. Where's his cell phone number? If you only had a way of keeping all this information close at hand. Yes, right in the palm of your hand.

Does this sound familiar? Hopefully, this is a bit of an extreme, but suffice it to say the environment of the pharmaceutical sales rep is more complex these days than it has ever been. The demands on your time have dramatically increased. As a professional on the go, you cannot possibly remember every detail that you are responsible for. For that reason alone, the PDA is the perfect productivity tool for you to consider. To demonstrate the functionality of these devices, let's take the previous scenario and see how a PDA could be helpful.

Practical application

Although the scene I painted of a rep getting off to a bad start is a bit dramatic, the number of tasks and thoughts and appointments and contacts that were depicted are indicative of an average day for any pharmaceutical rep. If you are wondering whether a paper-based time management system could help in this scenario, I would have to say "maybe." Paper-based planners are excellent tools for capturing data and ideas, but not all paper organizers are the same. If your current system lacks a calendar, a list of contacts, a to-do list and a place to take notes, then make a note to yourself to get a new organizer. You need all four components of an effective time management system to maximize your productivity. That's why I recommend a personal digital assistant. Just look at the face of any hand-held computer using the Palm operating system. There are four buttons along the bottom of the organizer, each button representing one of the four components that are vital to the demands placed on a busy rep in the field. I realize there are a lot of different organizers to choose from today, so for simplicity, let's focus in on the functions of the industry's leading operating system made by Palm Inc. The current devices that use this operating system are manufactured by Sony, Handspring and, of course, Palm.

Master calendar

When was the last time your paper planning system's alarm went off to remind you of an important event? My guess is not recently. The calendar function of the Palm has a feature that allows you to set alarms for exactly these occasions. Given my example, it would have been helpful to have a reminder for:

1. The fact that your boss was riding with you.

2. Your big lunch meeting.

3. Ensuring you didn't double book yourself when you talked to your co-promotion partners to schedule a meeting.

These alarms can be set to go off whenever you want them to. Combine this feature with the size of these devices, and it's easy to see why this should become your master calendar. Since you'll be able to carry your Palm anywhere, why not put your personal as well as your professional appointments all in one place?

This accomplishes three things:

1. You don't commit when you've already committed.

2. You maximize your "prime time."

3. You reduce the stress in your life.

Now for all the technical sellers reading this, I'm not saying that there is a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center trial showing stress reduction outcome data from using a Palm OS-based PDA. I am saying, however, that with a master calendar you shouldn't have to stress. Just look before you book. Then set the alarm and forget about it!

Contacts

Having easy access to phone numbers is a must for the busy rep. The contact manager of the Palm allows for one-handed access to your most important numbers. Physician contact information can be organized by routes, available days or zip codes with this hand-held tool. There are additional fields to record the names of key players within every office, as well as a means of recording notes and conversations that you have after calls and appointments. Imagine being able to quickly remind yourself of the name of the tough new gatekeeper of your most influential physician just before you walk into that office. Would that be helpful? Also, if you ever found yourself running late (remember the example above), it would be easy to access your manager's cell number with the touch of a button.

To-do list

Pharmaceutical reps have a great amount of flexibility in their days. The question has always been how to get it all done. Here's a quick dose of reality - you never get it all done! What's important is doing what benefits you the most. Top performers in this industry have always known this and found the best ways to work smarter, not harder. I'm not talking about doing less in a day. I'm actually talking about getting more done. The best way to accomplish the most important tasks is to have a prioritized list. The Palm (unlike any paper system I know) has a task list that allows you to judge not only the value, but the urgency of all your "to-dos." Whether they are professional or personal tasks, this is where the small steps toward big goals and projects should be recorded. The Palm even allows you to prioritize these tasks so that the most important tasks stay at the top of your list - until you check them off.

Wouldn't you agree that the to-do list would be a great place to put those "notes to self" from our nightmare scenario? As many of you know, there is never a bad time to have a good idea. You just need the chance to capture those ideas so they don't get away. Size and portability, again, make the Palm the best productivity tool available. One of the best features of the to-do function is realized when you assess your progress and begin planning for the next day. The tasks you haven't completed are automatically moved forward. With functions like that, the Palm makes working with paper look harder, not smarter.

Notes

Entering text into your Palm organizer can be accomplished in a number of ways. You can enter information into your computer, and then synchronize the information into your Palm. You can use an on-screen keyboard and "tap" information in. Portable keyboards that allow you to type directly into your Palm-OS organizer can be purchased separately, or you can learn the easy handwriting language called Graffiti (my personal recommendation). Notes can be inserted into appointments, contacts and the to-do list items. Most of the time, making notes with this device is pretty handy and simple. However, I would recommend using paper instead of your Palm when:

1. Eye contact and full attention are required.

2. Speed and accuracy are required.

A meeting with your boss or customers is a time when you want to have your full attention focused forward. This enhances your listening ability and allows you to read their body language and interest. With your head in your PDA, you're likely to miss some key components of the conversation. Likewise, if you're checking voice mail and need to accurately capture a phone number or address, there is no substitute for paper. Together they complement, as well as protect (a planner binder protects the PDA if dropped).

By bringing together the best aspects of both paper and a Palm, today's pharmaceutical representatives can arm themselves with the best productivity tools available. In the hands of skilled and trained operators, these electronic devices can give any representative a competitive edge. PR