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

May, 2006

Evergreen advice on email and voicemail

Managing the Trend Toward Increasing Use of Electronic Messaging Tools

I've been Googling around for good advice on how people deal with "email overload," and I think this 1999 report from the CommCore Consulting Group may contain some of the more sound and evergreen advice out there for not contributing to the noise (cf: "Writing sensible email messages").

It covers etiquette and best practices for both voicemail and email. Some of the best tips on email:

  • Keep e-mail short and focused on one issue, and reflect this issue in the subject heading. Many people are inundated with e-mail. Focusing each e-mail on one issue allows time-crunched recipients to prioritize your e-mail and respond as necessary. Including a sharp, strong subject header can differentiate your e-mail and attract your reader to your message...
  • Don’t use the Reply to All function unless everyone needs to know the information. Copying people on messages unnecessarily can overload systems, annoy readers and waste everyone’s time...
  • Manage your e-mail. Try to keep the number of messages in your in-box at a minimum by cleaning out e-mail in-boxes and message logs frequently. Use the filing system in your e-mail program to save needed messages to the appropriate folder. This clears space in your in-box, but saves the e-mail for future reference...

And on voicemail:

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DEVONthink: An appreciation of "smart groups"

Using Smart Groups

DEVONthink Smart Groups

I've recently gotten way back into DEVONthink as a means to capture, wrangle, and analyze all the reference material in my world.

If you're new to this amazing application -- and at the risk of far exceeding my understanding of both the human brain and this particular piece of software -- DEVONthink learns the neural pathways between the stuff you know or say is related. But, more importantly, it prompts you on the relationships you probably don't know exist (yet). This is awfully useful and wildly stimulating to the busy front parts of my own brain, such as it is.

I'd seen the power of the app before and have been way inspired by how the heroic Steven Johnson is using it, but the learning and experience curves always seemed just a bit steep for me, given the returns that it yielded in my too-brief usage. Still, I was quite smitten with the concept.

Flash forward a year and a half. I've now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files. Thus far, this includes stuff like:

  • most of the more interesting contents of my hard drive (transparently "synced" with DT every week or so)
  • all the text files in which I "live" (over 300 -- also synced)
  • all my Safari bookmarks (over 3000)
  • all my del.icio.us links (also over 3000)
  • full text of all my 43 Folders posts (over 400)
  • full PDFs and excerpts from a ton of books, manuals, and slide shows
  • RTFDs or full web archives of over 100 interesting wikipedia pages (this is definitely the fastest growing sector)
  • any interesting quotes, quips, snarks, canards, nuggets, scraps, emails, web pages, or random ephemera that cross my transom

My focus over this time has been strictly on capture, rather than trying to make anything particularly useful of it all just yet. But I've recently started grouping and classifying occasional clusters of content using the app's killer feature: really smart AI that finds associations between items based on a concordance of common words and similar previous relationships you've established.

So, I have the start of a potential post underway that will re-introduce DT in more detail (which I've been building right in DT, natch), but I was moved today to share the insane usefulness of DEVONthink's "Smart Groups."

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Open thread: Favorite spam blocker service?

I've been relatively fortunate with filtering spam over the past couple years (knock on wood). But despite a kickass three-tiered system that includes the world-beating server-side Sieve, plus Mail.app's pretty good client filtering, it's inevitable that even my best-loved private email addresses would find their way into the wrong hands (it's why I recently created "ThanksNo.com" -- an experiment in social re-engineering that you are free to use as well).

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TOPICS: Email, Vox Populi

Matthieu Ricard symposium at UCSF tomorrow

UCSF - Calendar of Events [Symposium on Happiness with Matthieu Ricard]

I’m looking forward to attending this symposium with the Mrs. tomorrow night on the campus of UCSF. Open to the public and maybe worth checking out if you share my interest in mindfulness and exploring Dharma practice.

Join us for a revolutionary look at happiness from one of the world’s most compelling voices on the subject. As a trained scientist and Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, PhD is uniquely positioned in the dialogue between East and West. Drawing from works of fiction and poetry, contemporary western philosophy, Buddhist thought, current psychological and scientific research and personal experience, Ricard weaves an inspirational and forward looking account of how we can begin to rethink our realities in a fast-moving modern world.

[ More on Matthieu Ricard ]

Turning procrastination into your shitty first draft

Are you procrastinating? Or are you just thinking? | Gadgetopia

I think Deane's insights on procrastination and programming might actually be even more true of writer's block and for many of the same reasons. But perhaps unlike coding, the gestation period of a writing project almost always benefits from a series of very small starts.

While there are dozens of tricks for psyching yourself out of a perceived writing slump, you eventually learn that blocks are sometimes there for a theoretically plausible reason -- because you really haven't figured out what you're trying to say yet, but suffer crippling anxiety and dread about even committing the "shitty first draft." So, as with the programming example, your brain beats itself up for being such a laggard and you may stay locked in creativity-sapping inaction. But the truth is you're probably working on it already. The only way to find out is to start someplace. Anyplace.

As Neil Fiore wisely points out in his excellent book, The Now Habit, we usually have more than enough information to just start most any job. Don't begin by fussing about perfection or the "right" place to start, just start. You can get help midwifing the process through tools like outlines, mind maps, or talking to a duck.

But, if you've truly procrastinated even getting to the point where proper gestation and idea seeding can begin, you're understandably in a bit of trouble. Because now you have to go straight to producing the artifact (the code or the article or whatever) while your brain still craves that extra bit of time to turn it all over. Like they say, a pregnancy takes nine months, regardless of how many women you've put on the job. Don't slip on a deadline that makes you try to make an infant in one night.

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Richard Kuo: Getting Outlook to clam the heck up

Richard Kuo's Personal Blog : Optimize your life #3 - how to manage e-mail effectively (1/2)

Richard Kuo posts on email efficiency are quite good and cover a few of the best practices for managing your crazy email world (a few of which I covered as well in Inbox Zero). I bring it up here because one of his articles walks you through screengrabs explaining how to shut off noisome auto-check and notifications options in Outlook.

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The Fisher Space Pen: Arglebargle or Fufurah?

The Space Review: The billion-dollar space pen

Knowing I'm such a huge nerd for space pens (previously), it's not surprising that I get a couple emails a month from gloaty people pointing to the high-larious anecdote about how Paul Fisher's write-anywhere pen represents one of the 1960s' greatest boondoggles of government waste and gold-plating.

"Ha!" they note exclamation-pointedly, "these geniuses over at NASA spent [insert boondoggle-y dollar figure of at least $1,000,000] to develop a pen that could write in space. Know what the freakin' Russians used?!? A pencil, dude! A pencil!"

Like I say: hilarious.

Setting aside for a moment whether this disturbing cautionary tale from forty years hence has any bearing on how well the space pen works as advertised for consumers today, the story has its minor failings; it's kind of untrue and not a little misleading.

Apparently, pencils were once used by both sides in the Space Race, but they were reasoned a hazard based on the catastrophic possibilities of tiny broken leads whizzing around in zero gravity. So, as soon as the Space Pen became available and was tested for suitability, it seems the U.S. (as well as, evidently, the Russians) abandoned pencils for good from 1968 on. Anyhow, to my knowledge, any development money for the pen came straight out of Paul Fisher's pocket -- not from NASA nor any other government agency.

I'd known some of this for years, and, of course, have always relished tinkling in readers' bowls of smug by providing the debunking/clarifying Snopes link.

What I didn't know until today was the the whole story behind Paul Fisher's ambitious entry into the space age writing economy. It's a fascinating mix of engineering, marketing, and blatant self-promotion that tangentially involves baloney sandwiches, a diamond ring, and a brassiere:

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TOPICS: Links, Lofi

David Sedaris, and the stuff we do and don't buy ourselves

Another, as usual, hilarious New Yorker essay from David Sedaris. Mentioned here, first, because of his opening paragraph, which reveals David's personal method for "ubiquitous capture":

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Mindfulness, categories, and the 14 kinds of animals

List of animals (Borges) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I've been enjoying a wonderful book that a reader thoughtfully sent to me a couple weeks ago. It's called Mindfulness, and it presents some fascinating evidence on the ways that we process and parse our world, as well as the peculiarly human things that can happen when we unintentionally (natch) embrace mindlessness.

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Greg Knauss on personal "info-glut"

The Back-Logged Life

Daunted by the rising piles of "info-glut." Greg decides to pare down.

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TOPICS: Life Hacks, Links

FMP: Ruby script for text lists

For you plain text nerds, Nick Fagerlund has developed a nifty little Ruby script for managing your lists of tasks or what have you.

The basic idea is to capture anything you need into one text file, with one item per line. He (and I) recommend using a Quicksilver trigger to append to that file of your choice as you work. When adding an item, you use a "category" tag (as in "^category") which you type at the beginning of each line you.

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Kathy Sierra on "keeping up"

Kathy Sierra has a good post the other day about the problem of "keeping up," and, in particular, how so many of us feel compelled to take on unrealistic reading loads and then feel bad about not being able to deal with it.

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TOPICS: Life Hacks, Links

Posts, posts, posts.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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