What is a personal information manager (PIM)?
A personal information manager (PIM) is a software for managing contacts, appointments, tasks, memos and other personal data.
The term "personal information manager" has no exact definition. It also can be ambiguous, because it can be used for both the computer software and the device, also known as "personal digital assistant" or PDA (remember PalmPilot?). In this guide we are going to discuss only the software aspect of PIMs.
Personal information manager apps are available in all forms and vary broadly in the scope of their features. They can be simple (offering only a single information management component) or complex (including most, if not all, possible PIM components).
PIM types: mobile vs desktop software
Depending on their target platform, we can divide PIM software solutions into two distinct groups.
Mobile personal information manager
Mobile devices are the modern equivalent of a PDA. Both Android and iOS devices offer integrated set of basic PIM functionality for managing phone numbers, checking emails, creating todo lists, managing appointments, and setting reminders.
Their simplicity is both their strength and weakness. They do simple things very well, but are not suited for more complex personal information activities. For the latter you need a computer with a full-fledged personal information management software.
Desktop personal information manager
All major computer platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux) have powerful PIM tools. In this guide we will delve into the details of these desktop apps and review what computer-based personal information managers are capable of.
Which are the essential personal information manager features?
According to Wikipedia a personal information manager includes one or more of the following features:
- Bookmark manager - for storing web site URLs
- Calendar - for managing appointments & daily agenda
- Contacts - optional, since smartphones normally handle that
- Email client - optional, since email clients are ubiquitous now
- Forms - for items that require predefined template
- Notes - for any kind of free-text information
- Outliner - for drafting ideas & organizing hierarchical data items
- Reminders - for appointments & to-dos
- Task manager - for managing tasks and todo lists
Why do you need a personal information manager app?
Each person has their own unique needs for managing personal information. Still, there are some common things that most of us want to organize:
- Anniversaries, events & important calendar dates
- Collections/database of all sorts (music, movies, books)
- Email and instant message archives
- Itineraries & checklists
- Legal documents
- Lists (places to go, foods to try)
- Medical information & documents
- Personal notes
- Project management materials
- Reference materials
- Web snippets & bookmarks
What makes the perfect personal information manager software?
Keeping in mind that we are talking about desktop-based personal information managers, these feature are most important for a quality PIM app:
- Friendly user-interface - the personal information manager is a tool that you use daily, so it needs a modern and clean user interface.
- Text editor - since we are going to write down all kinds of free-text information, we need a decent text editor with rich text formatting, support for pictures, tables, and file attachments.
- Search - finding your information is critical in a personal information manager app. You should have access to powerful searching functionality, including both simple searches and boolean expression queries.
- Strong linking - you should be able to interlink different data items in the application for better and faster navigation.
- Views - it should be possible to display and order your data by different criteria, suitable for various contexts.
- Encryption - if you store sensitive personal information, you should be able to password-protect it.
- Portability & synchronization - your work may require that you travel a lot and use different computers. Having your data on a USB thumb-drive can be a lifesaver. Alternatively, you may use some sort of synchronization service to keep the same data on different devices.
- Import & Export - probably you already have a vast amount of personal information stored in other applications, databases or as files & folders on your computer. You should be able to move it to your personal information manager, but also to be able to move it out, if the need arises.
- Tagging and metadata - another tool for making navigating and finding your stuff better is to be able to label the different data items with tags, categories and other attributes.
- Forms & Templates - required for managing collections.
- Web clipper - makes collecting web snippets and bookmarks much easier.
- Customization - a good PIM program is a place where you will spend a lot of time. You should be able to change its layout and appearance to match your style and preferences.
Best personal organizer tools
While there are many PIM apps out there, we've selected three that are the best for their respective platforms. Please note that we've reviewed only computer applications, so no mobile phone apps are in the list.
This is a desktop-based personal information manager for Windows. It offers powerful text editor with support for rich formatting, images, and tables. It offers an impressive full-text search (supporting also advanced search syntax), the files can be password-protected, and this organizer app can be installed on a portable drive. It has a great user interface for navigating between your items, has strong linking functions, and imports and exports many different file formats.
If you are using Mac rather than Windows, then we recommend you DevonThink. It allows you to organize files from different application and edit most of them directly in DevonThink, supports smart saved searches and you can assign reminders to the different data items. Just as MyInfo, it offers strong tagging feature.
Best personal information managers for 2022
In conclusion, if you are looking for personal information manager for Windows then definitely try MyInfo. It's fast, it's responsive, it's feature complete, and it's simple to use. If you are Mac person, on the other hand, then give DevonThink a try.