The right personal information manager (PIM) is an invaluable tool. The computerized datebooks, to-do lists, telephone directories and memo records can be great for tracking one's time. Or they can be a huge time waster. Because PIMs vary so much in look, fee, and operating philosophy, it's important to audition any PIM you might buy. With a candidate PIM in hand, consider the following checklist:

* Decide whether you want a program that defines how information will be organized or one that lets you set up the structure you want. If you plan to use the PIM for long-range planning and strategic overviews, look for programs with as little built-in structure as possible.

* Choose a PIM that requires you to enter, say, name-and-address information only once. It should automatically link addresses and phone numbers to appointments in the schedule book and to your E-mail.

* Test the PIM's data recovery system, and lean toward models that provide ways to extract data from corrupted files. The more you enjoy working with a program, the sooner it will become the repository of your most important business information. And if you travel with it, you don't want to be stuck on the road with a data failure.

* Check how hard or easy it is to move data from online sources into the PIM. Clumsy cut-and-paste protocols or limitations on file length turn your PIM into a big disappointment.