2007.04.29: April 29, 2007: Headlines: Staff: Computers: IT: Table PC: Michael Linenberge led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps

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Michael Linenberge led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps

Michael Linenberge led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps

Michael Linenberger has been a management and technology professional for over twenty years, most recently as Vice President of Technology for Connection to eBay, an Accenture Service. And as a management and technology consultant with Accenture, he has been advising and managing projects in the San Francisco Bay Area for clients such as: eBay, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Applied Materials, UPS, Adecco, and others. Before Accenture, Michael led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps.

Michael Linenberge led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Michael Linenberger, author of Seize the Work Day: Using the Tablet PC to Take Control of Your Work and Meeting Day. Seize the Work Day describes using the Tablet PC with Outlook, FranklinCovey PlanPlus and TabletPlanner, Microsoft OneNote, and other productivity tools, to help the average office work-manager get control of his/her work day and become more productive. It shows how to automate seven key work management tasks on the Tablet PC. It emphasizes the value of using the Tablet PC while in meetings, to gain back productivity lost to time spent in those meetings. It tells how to select and configure the Tablet PC for optimal work usage. The book was based on the author's experience as a VP using the Tablet PC in an executive setting. It paints a compelling picture of the Tablet PC as a very practical business tool, and assists the user in succeeding with the Tablet PC in such a setting.

Michael Linenberger has been a management and technology professional for over twenty years, most recently as Vice President of Technology for Connection to eBay, an Accenture Service. And as a management and technology consultant with Accenture, he has been advising and managing projects in the San Francisco Bay Area for clients such as: eBay, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Applied Materials, UPS, Adecco, and others. Before Accenture, Michael led the technology department at U.S. Peace Corps.

Adam Feinberg
Community Manager

TabletPCTalk.com Exclusive

TabletPCTalk.com: Have you been published before?

Michael Linenberger: This is my first book. I wrote it because I was so inspired by the boost in productivity the Tablet PC afforded me in my management job. I felt like other work managers (including people that manage their own work) needed to hear about this. I feel compassion for the average knowledge worker; they have so few tools to help them succeed. This book shows how using the Tablet PC they can get ahead.

TabletPCTalk.com: What is your background?

Linenberger: I started out in computer programming and quickly ended up on the management side of computer technology organizations. I ran the IT Department for US Peace Corps, moved on to consulting with Accenture (one of the "big-four" consulting firms) and then was VP of Technology for an Accenture spin-off called Connection to eBay, which I helped start. This mixture of technology and business interest is why this book is as much a business book as a technology book.

TabletPCTalk.com: So you a technologist.

Linenberger: Absolutely. That's why I was looking for a technology solution to the inefficient business day. As you will see in Chapter 1 of the book, one key is harnessing the power of meetings effectively. Meetings can be incredibly valuable, but most are an incredibly wasteful use of time. The Tablet PC forcefully changes that by allowing the work-manager to seize the moment when, in meetings, tasks are identified, access to information is demanded, or business situations change. With the Tablet PC, configured according to the book, you have your "command-post" with you so you can react immediately, not hours or days later when you finally get back to your desk. Your reaction is more accurate and powerful when done at the moment; and more consistent. It makes you a better business person.

TabletPCTalk.com: Are you an early adopter of technology?

Linenberger: Yes, I am an eager early adopter of new technology, primarily because of my desire to see opportunities for increased productivity, not just for the sake of new technology. But I know when to cut and run when a new technology doesn't "take" for me; I have a box in my office littered with tried and failed new hardware and software. The test is "Does this thing really help me get my work done." The Tablet PC stuck, this thing is for real. It may take a new user a few tweaks to get it configured so it works smoothly into the work day (see book chapter called "Configure the Tablet PC for Success"), but once there, it really does boost work effectiveness dramatically.

TabletPCTalk.com: How long have you been using the Tablet PC?

Linenberger: Since a few months after its introduction. It's funny because when I first tried out a Tablet PC at a booth that Microsoft set up at an airport, I got sidetracked by the moderately weak handwriting recognition, and decided NOT to get one. Then later I got one anyway, and self-trained myself on how to make it productive (thus the book, which captures those discoveries). I also had an edge because I was running an IT department and got my staff to help me try different approaches. It's too bad that a number of magazine reviewers don't get past the imperfect handwriting recognition. That common criticism inspired me to write a chapter in the book called Strategies for Using Digital Ink (Chapter 5) where I cover best situations to convert handwriting and best times to leave it in digital ink. I too look forward to increased recognition accuracy with the new OS releases, but expecting perfect recognition is missing the point of the Tablet PC, and really a relic of older approaches to PDAs and pen computing. The Tablet PC is a new tool with new best-uses.

TabletPCTalk.com: Who do you think will benefit the most from reading the book?

Linenberger: On one hand anyone who uses the Tablet PC can benefit, because the book covers usage tips that aren't in any of the other books, and they apply to all use cases. But my main target audiences are people that either manage their own work, or manage others; and people who find that much of their work day is spent in meetings. The Tablet PC is a killer app for such people. The trouble is out-of-the-box the Tablet PC is not configured quite right, and doesn't have quite the right software (at least for my uses). It's not far off, just some simple things you can do and software you can add. The book shows you those things.

TabletPCTalk.com: Are you by nature an organized person or do you think that the Tablet PC technology lends itself to making it happen?

Linenberger: You know, periodically, in the past, I would try out some new "improve my work day" approach. You've seen all the time management books out there, and software that promises to help make you more effective at work. The trouble is that the approaches usually do not stick. The term "time-tested" is relevant here. There are thousands of different approaches to doing just about anything, but some approaches pass the test of time, and end up sticking; they become "accepted methods" or even industry standards. I always wanted to be an organized person, but never found the combination of tools/approaches that got me there and that stayed with me over time; I usually dropped the new work approach, or software, or gadget, after a few weeks or so.

But the Tablet PC got it just right for me. This in terms of usable technology and applicability to usable workflows. Note that PDAs worked as an address book and appointment calendar, but their small screens and power always seemed just a little too limiting to take them much beyond that. Task management software never really stuck; my to-do lists got out of control. There are so many "you should do this to get organized" approaches out there. But they never stuck with me. The Tablet PC, once I got it tweaked right and added some software and workflows, really stuck. The combination of ease of use, ubiquitous at-hand availability, and a full-strength computer implementation (Windows XP) is what differentiates this tool and makes it work. It's like a PDA on steroids. After tweaking how I used it a bit, I really was able to leave work a little earlier each night because I really was ahead of my work when the end of the day rolled in. Read the book, it tells how you can do that too.

TabletPCTalk.com: Do you see a whole new area of consulting services sprouting up helping companies become more efficient or organized using Tablet PC technology?

Linenberger: Tablet PCs solve a number of ‘mobility’ problems. The one emphasized in the book is perhaps the one with the shortest travel distance: mobility between the office desk and the office conference room. Within this short distance, there are huge gains in productivity possible. However there are not great consulting efforts required to gain the benefits; the software on the market now is pretty good, probably good enough. Where the consulting opportunities lie are in the vertical industries with mobile components, where specific operational workflows can be improved using the Tablet PC as an “electronic clipboard” customized just for that industry. Someone needs to analyze the processes and then create the software to do that. Keep an eye on a company called Avenade (a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture); they are already doing this sort of consulting, and will be doing more. As are others.

TabletPCTalk.com: You mention that “out of the box”, Tablet PCs aren’t configured properly for productivity. In an ideal scenario, what should the Tablet PC Manufacturers or Microsoft do to make this happen?

Linenberger: Just a number of small things, which really you can do yourself. You just need to do them (chapter 4 shows how). The Tablet PC ships configured more like a standard laptop, which is not the best use of a Tablet (though I can see why it is shipped that way, it could be confusing at first otherwise). But in an ideal world here’s my top list of what could be preconfigured to save some configuration time and steps, for those that know they want to use it mainly in tablet mode:

1. Ship with the power button mapped to standby; this makes the Tablet PC act more like a PDA. And hibernate should be set to engage after a few hours of standby (already a default on many models, which is good).
2. Ship with a hardware button programmed to switch the video feed from an external monitor back to the tablet screen. This is to solve the following: if running to a meeting you disconnect a slate from an external monitor without first manually redirecting the video back to the tablet screen, you can end up with a blank screen and no way to manipulate the setting in the meeting other than rebooting. Not a good thing to discover at the start of a meeting. Or include auto-detecting hardware/software, like HP has included with their tablet and docking station combination.
3. Screen orientation: this is model specific, but some Tablet PC’s come with the hardware button mapped to all four screen choices. You need to step slowly through all four screens, one button push at a time. But really only two of those four are needed or practical, so might as well ship with only those two active.

TabletPCTalk.com: You devote many chapters on how to use great Tablet PC software such as Mindjet’s Mindmanager, Microsoft OneNote, FranklinCovery’s TabletPlanner and PlanPlus and more. How did you come upon the Power Documents idea?

Linenberger: The power documents idea (keeping key documents together in one common document format, like the eBinder approach FranklinCovey uses) was just a natural extension of what I was already doing with a physical three ring binder. Before getting a Tablet PC, I was trying to find ways to automate many of my work day management operations; this was one that fell into place once I got the tablet.

TabletPCTalk.com: How do you think your ideas will translate to the educational market? It seems ripe for Power Document management

Linenberger: It’s been a while since I personally thought about improving my experience as a student. I have heard good things about Agilix’s new GoBinder, it sounds like a good refocusing of the eBinder capability with the student in mind. In the business world where my focus is, while and electronic binder goes a long way, in the future there is going to be something beyond the simple binder, something more akin to traditional document management. The problem with current document management systems is that they are not very handy, not nimble enough to locate a document the moment you realize you need it, within seconds. The solution probably lies in the new user interfaces many are experimenting with, to better capture file and document organization needs. Now that business people are routinely carrying tablets into meetings, this need may become more apparent, and spur a more rapid solution in that space. For now though, a good electronic binder is a great step forward.

TabletPCTalk.com: What are you planning next?

Linenberger: Good question. One of the keys to success with new tools is modifying workflows to make best use of the tool. I may focus on those workflows more. For example the next book may be on project management. Everyone becomes a project manager to some extent in their work career. With the tools like the Tablet PC available, the current traditional project management approaches can use some tweaking. I specifically skipped it in the current book because it deserves a whole book in itself.

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