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.

Confessions of a Chronic Switcher

My name is Matt, and I'm a chronic system switcher. Read through some of my old forum posts and bear witness to my shame. You'll see me talking about using text files and Moleskines; Treos and Pocket PCs; index cards and Hipster PDAs; iCal, kGTD, Backpack, Gmail, and Mail.app. There have been stretches when I made so many wholesale changes in how I Got my Things Done, shifting from digital to paper and vice versa, that I never needed to do a weekly review because I was picking through every scrap on my plate so often.

This is highly ill-advised behavior, I know. You're not the one who has to look the Staples clerk in the eye every other week when I pay for that armload of binder clips and gold star stickers ("They're for metadata," I say). And yet while I've tried every combination of bits and black ink known to man, I've never once felt like I was letting things slip through the cracks.

Before I read Getting Things Done, I used to manage my life out of a Palm Pilot. I kept my to-do list in the built-in app, occasionally breaking things out into separate "Business" and "Personal" categories or assigning due dates if things got hairy. It fit my lifestyle; it was portable, low maintenance, and comfortable like sweatpants on Thanksgiving.

I was happy with this system. It helped me through three different jobs, feeling relatively organized and productive. So I read GTD as a curiosity more than anything else, to see what all those nerds were talking about and doubting that I would make any major changes to my tried and true system. By the time I finished the book though, I rolled my eyes at my passe little to-do list and clucked, "Oh no, this will never do." I embarked on a search for the perfect system that continues to this day.

I've escaped major catastrophe though, because while I fixated on the fun stuff, the fetishistic notebooks and the whiz-bang programs, I also managed to internalize that collect, process, organize, and review process. I'm religious about the Sunday evening review. I'm never more than five feet away from pen and paper to capture ideas. I'm downright aggressive about decluttering. And I kept a clean inbox when clean inboxes weren't cool. It's these habits that keep the ball rolling, not the various pieces of paper and software where I outsource my short-term memory.

Let's be clear: I absolutely, 100 percent do not recommend swapping out your set of tools as often as I do. You need to live with a system and put it through its paces to really make it hum (or so I've heard). Minor tweaks and changes are perfectly acceptable, even necessary, but my version of productivity promiscuity is insane. I think this self-awareness has saved me, really; I know I'm being ridiculous when I delete those iCal groups yet again, but I also know that I've kept my ducks in a row well enough that I can indulge my inner Adrian Monk.

I make it sound like this is some dark secret from my past, but I actually fell off the wagon again last week, switching from a homegrown Moleskine system to OmniFocus, which I really know is just a stopgap until I shed my odious Sprint contract and buy an iPhone. I'm in denial, I know. But as long as I can still be a functioning switcher, I'm willing to live with it.

wood.tang's picture

Short answer: probably not

I'm going to follow up in a little bit with some of the reasons why I think I switch, and what pieces tend to stay the same even while other parts are moving. To be honest though, sometimes I switch just because I'm bored and want to try something new.

I don't know if there is an optimum though, and it might be unhealthy to keep hoping to find it. If you have something that works for you 90% of the time, you're miles ahead of most people.




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. »