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.

Beginner's Mind, Metropolis, and all our unnecessary parts

a million monkeys typing » The Beginner’s Mind

Metropolitan Clock

Douglas’s post reminds me of that unintentionally hilarious scene in Metropolis where the Beleaguered Iconic Worker is pushed to exhaustion in the clearly meaningless work of moving the clock hands around on the Big Futuristic Machine he’s charged to attend. (God, I wish I had a screengrab to share; it’s a stitch to watch. Found one. Thanks, Douglas.)

There have definitely been times in the past couple years when I’ve felt the same way about maintaining “my system”—driven as if by a motor from one list to another, dashing to connect all the pieces into some theoretically unified field theory of my life. It’s nutty.

The irony is that I, like many of you, tarry in this productivity sweat shop in order to achieve what David Allen has called “mind like water,” or the ability to adapt to change and disruption in a relaxed manner. So often, of course, the result is the virtual opposite. You get so stressed out about moving the meaningless clock hands on your Big Futuristic Machine that you forget what they’re supposed to be attached to.

I acknowledge that a certain amount of Byzantine organizational work is what keeps many of us interested in this stuff, but there is something very compelling about working to adopt Beginner’s Mind—in this case, the idea that you can achieve the higher goals of systems like GTD not by fretting endlessly over the minutiae of your personal ontology, but by exerting the absolute minimum amount of effort needed to get things off your mind and parked in the right place. That’s the sweet spot.

Or, to quote Strunk and White, in talking about writing:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Maybe one good goal this week would be to remove the largest, most unnecessary part from each of our machines. It may not be pure “Beginner’s Mind,” but it’s an easy place to start.

Chris's picture

As a OCD programmer, I...

As a OCD programmer, I too was enamored by the GTD system. The Hipster PDA was great, but it was hard to carry a lot of info. I tried so many different programs and books, but I've come back to a simpler place. Two things helped me see the light:

  1. That David Allen only uses out-of-the-box Palm software (as noted above).
  2. Merlin's comment (somewhere) that "GTD is about action, not playing with lists". That comment was so important to me that I noted it on my Treo, though I reworded it: "GTD is about getting things done, not playing with lists."

Here are my simplifications:

  1. I just use the out-of-the-box Palm software: Calendar and Tasks.
  2. I reduced the number of my @contexts to just: @Work, @Home, @Weekend (a catch-all for random errands, weekend adventures, and free time, though it overlaps with @Home), @Laptop (which overlaps with @Home and @Weekend), and @Vacation. I would add @Phone, but I usually call people @Work, @Home, or @Weekend.
  3. I ensure ALL my tasks include an action verb. This is pedantic, but it helps me focus on ACTION!
  4. I don't keep a separate Someday/Maybe list. Everything must be in a @Context. For Someday/Maybes, I create a task without a Due Date.
  5. I don't keep a separate Waiting-For list. As Merlin has pointed out before, Waiting-For is just another action. I turn Waiting-Fors into actionable tasks such as "Ping Joe re trip report" (with or without Due Dates).
  6. I don't keep a separate Projects List. Everything is an action in a @Context. If the Palm allowed tasks to have multiple categories, I would tag tasks with @Context and +Project. Fortunately, this is not a big problem because each project action must be done SOMEWHERE, so I just dump actions into the appropriate @Contexts.

With my new Less Is More system, I hope to finally stop gazing at my navel and start getting things done <;)




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. »