43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Make #5 is out; "Smarter To-do" posts still available

Make Volume 05: Science

Make no. 5Another quarter, another sexy-ass issue of O'Reilly's Make Magazine. And that means another Life Hacks column from Danny and me. (Amazon.com link)

This time around, I laced-up for a knockdown, drag-out, one round intro to "Building a Smarter To-do List." The two posts from which it was inspired are still two of the most popular items on 43F.

While you can argue for the flavor and approach to task management that best suits your style, it's hard to disparage the benefits that come from getting task commitments out of your brain and captured in a consistent location. The Life Hacks research showed that most all of the alpha geeks had a "todo.txt" sitting in their home directory -- often comprising thousands of items covering every aspect of the geek's life, both past and future. In this case, we're focusing more on the to-do list as tactical game plan; until you get really good at this stuff, try thinking of your to-do list as the evolving strategy for focusing your effort and attention in the immediate future.

If you're saving your pennies, or liked the column and would like to learn more, you might want to cruise back through the original posts from last September. I still really like how they turned out --- and I actually do re-read them myself when I'm having trouble getting my stuff together. Yes, I'm actually that unproductive; I have to look to myself for advice. Pathetic, really.

Anyway, reintroduced here, "The Smarter To-do List":

Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part I | 43 Folders

The primary idea of a to-do is that it’s a task that can and should be done–a point that might seem obvious until you start uncovering how many of the items on your to-do list may not belong there (or, conversely, how many uncaptured items do). The best and most useful to-dos share common qualities:

  • it’s a physical action
  • it can be accomplished at a sitting
  • it supports valuable progress toward a recognized goal
  • it’s something for which you are the most appropriate person for the job

Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part II | 43 Folders

Look at each addition to your to-do list as a personal commitment to completing that action. Bear in mind that every minute you spend working on one task is necessarily a minute you cannot spend working on another. So ensure that your to-do list honors these reasonable limits and keeps you focused on the work that’s most valuable to you.

Buy Make 5 on Amazon.com

About Merlin

Merlin's picture


Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »