Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.
Merlin Mann | May 30 2006
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:
And on voicemail:read more »
Merlin Mann | May 22 2006
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:
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."read more »
Merlin Mann | May 21 2006
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).read more »
Merlin Mann | May 18 2006
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.
Merlin Mann | May 17 2006
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.read more »
Merlin Mann | May 9 2006
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.read more »
Merlin Mann | May 8 2006
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:read more »
Merlin Mann | May 5 2006
Merlin Mann | May 3 2006
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.read more »
Merlin Mann | May 3 2006
Merlin Mann | May 2 2006
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.read more »
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