43 Folders

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

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

Modest Change: Cancel something

Our first modest change is to cancel something.

Think about all the things you've invited or allowed into your life in the past couple years (check all that apply):

  • RSS feeds (Oh Lord, RSS feeds)
  • net-based mailing lists
  • Broadband (or broader band) net access
  • Netflix
  • TiVo
  • Cable/Satellite TV
  • Magazine and newspaper subscriptions
  • Anything of the Month Club
  • those multi-person online games you kids like so damned much
  • always-on tech (like Blackberries)

Doubtless, many of these things bring you joy, relieve boredom, or even may be required for your work, but what do they all have in common? They are each ruthless at constantly replenishing the kanban of your attention with "stuff" that has to be dealt with. Having invited these things (and even paid for a few of them) you may feel obligated to consume them all to the point where acquiring, processing, and devouring them becomes like an inefficient part-time job. Maybe that's good. For me, it's become troubling.

Example: For a year we subscribed to my favorite magazine, The Atlantic. Where I used to love leafing through The Atlantic on the newsstand and then buying a copy to bring home, by the time the second home-delivered issue appeared, I was already jaded. "Feh. Another thing I have to read." And onto "The Pile" it would go. I'd taken something I occasionally did on purpose and for pure fun and turned it into an experience with all the anticipation and thrill of opening the gas bill.

I'm not suggesting you become a hermit or an ascetic or move into a mountaintop cave; just think about canceling one thing today. If you can't imagine life without TiVo (and I confess I cannot), try cutting a few shows off your subscription list. How about unsubscribing from a few RSS feeds? Maybe change your newspaper to weekends only. Switch to basic cable for a month. Take a two-week break from 43 Folders. It's cool; we'll be fine.

The important thing is to find at least one thing that's become a noise generator, time sink, or attention sieve, and be rid of it. The hack isn't how big a change it brings in your life -- remember these are modest changes -- it just matters that you mindfully elect to turn something off for a little while. That little scrap of time or attention you gain back is then well and truly your own.

Josh Rothman's picture

This is a great idea....

This is a great idea. I'll share my similar RSS hack: I've replaced my RSS reader with a simple list of sites I'd like to keep reading. No more subscriptions!

It used to be that I'd fire up NetNewsWire and poof!--thirty minutes or even an hour would slip away. Now I keep a big list of sites in a text file, and when I feel like catching up on the web, I look through the list, visit a site or two, and browse. I 'subscribe' to a site by appending it to the file with QuickSilver. It's just like your magazine subscription, Merlin: I now only read a site when the mood strikes, rather than when new content is posted, and instead of feeling like another pile to deal with the web is a little more under my own control. Much simpler, much faster, much smaller commitment of time and mental space.

I got the idea for this when, for some reason, NNW stopped downloading feeds and became just a list of bookmarks. I still haven't bothered troubleshooting it because I find this method so much more manageable!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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