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

Action Based

Foo for Bar: Kicking Ass with Outcome-Based Thinking

The other day, I was talking with someone who is trying to encourage a Getting Things Done-like work approach amongst the people on his team. We started talking about which parts of David Allen's GTD system appear to have the greatest long-term impact on the people who have adopted it and who ultimately stick with it for years.

When asked to distill everything down to its most powerful concepts, I came up with three, and here's how I'd summarize each:

  1. Outcome-Based Thinking. Articulating in the most specific terms possible what a successful outcome looks like for any given use of your time. Or as I like to put it, "How will I know when I'm done with this?"
  2. The Next Action. Knowing that you don't need to track everything you could conceivably do about a Project; you just need to know the next physical action that would get you closer to completion.
  3. The Review. Accepting that the heart of the Trusted System that lets you move through a day with a high tolerance for ambiguity is the knowledge that eventually everything you're doing gets looked at once a week without fail.

While I think stuff like ubiquitous capture, the Natural Planning Model, the Two-Minute Rule, and many other bits are arguably as important, these are the three things that I feel have the biggest impact on how people's results change over time.

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Getting Sandy in my Face

For quite a while now, Tasks Jr has been my task management tool of choice. I switched to it from my own Tinderbox-based system after I decided that having access to my list from any 'net-connected system was important to me. But now I've switched again.

Over time, the aesthetics of Tasks Jr's design, its limitations (which are resolved by the more advanced versions, I must admit), and the fact that a recent MySQL/PHP update at my web host caused problems made me think about finding another solution.

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Sciral Consistency update: Remember flexible tasks

Sometimes surprises come from unexpected places. (Um, I guess that’s part of why they’re surprising.) Case in point, yesterday I opened Sciral Consistency as I’ve done several times a day for the last five years. This time, however, something happened that hasn't occurred since sometime in 2005. A notification window announced that a new version of the application was available for downloading.

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Clippings intelligently convert "stuff" into OmniFocus tasks

[Disclosure: I'm a volunteer contributor on the development of the OmniFocus app]

You could be forgiven for being exhausted by my harangues about the importance of putting actions into their own special place outside of email, web sites, or other action-bearing media ("Email is just a series of tubes," Senator Ted Stevens, might one day say).

In fact, liberating actions from the email in which they arrived and putting them into a system that you trust is arguably the most important tenet of Inbox Zero. But it's also advice that leaves a lot of people scratching their heads: "OK, big shot, so where do I put this new task, and how exactly is it supposed to get there?"

Well, I'm happy to say that recent sneaky peaks of OmniFocus now have a pretty neat way to help with this problem. It's called "Clippings," and if you're familiar with the similar feature in OmniOutliner, you can imagine how it might work in the context of a task-tracking app and the complementary apps whose contents you want to direct to it.

Alongside the recently-added Perspectives, this is a feature that is making me very happy right now.

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Dear Me: Get to work

The Problem

GTD is all about rapid, intuitive selection of what you need to be working on now. Whip out your context list appropriate for the time-place-opportunity-space you are in now. Scan through it, then do.

For the longest time I was having a problem with this. I'd scan through my context lists and I'd see things like:

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How to use a single Mail.app Archive (without losing your mind)

For some time now, I've encouraged people to consider abandoning the byzantine folder structure that most of us used to employ to "organize" our email. In fact, this kind of functional simplicity is something I've started to think of as a pillar of Inbox Zero.

In addition to helping explode the myth that most email messages have any life once their actions have been liberated, it's a healthy habit to actively remove any unnecessary systematic fiddling that doesn't handsomely pay back the effort that habitually goes into it.

And, as ever: yes, some of you -- because of the incredibly unique nature of your work in an office -- will need to have 500 taxonomic mailboxes, a monthly archives by project, a person-by-person collection going back to 1983, and a multiply-copied CC'd team archives, coded by color and identified with helpful icons you found on Gopher in 1992. Sure, why not. If that's working for you, by all means, keep fiddling and filing.

But, if you're ready to admit you might be turning a crank that's potentially not hooked-up to anything, here's my four favorite ways to leverage the intelligence of Mail.app for drop-dead simple archiving.

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TaskPaper: Simple, text-based task management


Jesse Grosjean from Hog Bay Software has just begun sharing the first releases of a new task-tracking app which adopts a refreshingly stripped-down approach to managing action on a Mac. TaskPaper starts with the simplicity of text files then adds just a bit of Mac magic to make it both smarter and prettier, but without giving up portability and ease of use. Jesse says:

TaskPaper makes it easy to create a list of your projects and their tasks so that you always know what needs to be done. It's simple to reorganize the list, create new items, mark items as done, and delete items that your finished with. You can also assign contexts (such as "home", "office", or "car") to your tasks so that you can later generate lists of all tasks assigned to a specific context.

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Vox Pop: Managing actions from list emails?

Inbox Zero Tech Talk

During the Q&A portion of my Inbox Zero presentation at Google the other day, an audience member stumped me with a question about how to manage action around mailing list distributions (the question starts at about 48:22).

He said he frequently receives email requests and questions that are also distributed to the other 20 people on his team. He describes a "waiting game" in which team members hang back to see if other people will respond first -- at least partly out of not wanting to duplicate effort or flood the sender. I thought it was a really intriguing question, although I said (and still believe) that distributed email would not personally be my first choice to handle this kind of communication.

Well, based on the reaction in the room that day, I gathered that this is a common dilemma for Googlers. Funny thing is that, since the video went up, I've received a lot of email from people outside the Googleplex who share the same problem -- a few of whom were aghast that I wasn't aware what a huge pain this is for knowledge workers. And to an extent, I'll admit those folks were mostly right.

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Vox Pop: Implementing GTD for Creative Work?

creativepro.com - Getting Design Done

Interesting article here by our old pal, Keith Robinson, introducing GTD to creative types. This is a fascinating topic for me, particularly since I sometimes find it difficult to "crank widgets" when it comes to anything creative.

Keith's an old hand with this stuff, so it's not surprising that he's developed his own tweaks for Getting Creativity Done. Here's a novel idea:

Create a creative time and space for yourself. Make sure it's free of distraction and get into the habit of going there as often as you can. When there, pull out your @creative lists and get to work. I find this is a great way to tackle smaller creative problems. It's how I come up with -- and get started on -- most of my writing. This article is a result of my @creative time.

That's an interesting way to think about contexts. Ordinarily, you'd think of contexts as representing access to a certain kind of tool or as a physical or temporal limitation, whereas Keith is using it almost like a project.

This is challenging stuff that my buddy, Ethan, and I end up talking about all the time. We both agree that you can use GTD to "clear the decks" for creative work -- to move aside all the mundane workaday tasks that might keep you from focusing on blocks of time for creative stuff. But we, like a lot of people, both struggle with how (or even whether) to put truly creative work into our GTD systems. What do you think?

How are you using GTD for creative work? What do projects and next actions look like for a painter, a screenwriter, or a dancer? What's your best trick for getting creative stuff done?

Neatorama on sustainable email fu

Rule the Web (and Rule Your Email Inbox!)

Alex from the always-swell Neatorama has written up the bullets on his preferred method for keeping an email inbox at zero.

4. Have a Simple Filing System
Don’t overthink this: a complex folder with subfolder system is not what you need to remain organized. Obviously, your particular needs will dictate how many folders you have … but in my experience, you rarely, if ever, need subfolders.

5. Have a Follow Up Folder There will be times that I need to research an answer to a particular email or do something before I can reply. I let these emails sit in my inbox for a maximum of 1 day (gasp!), then they get put into a Follow Up Folder if I haven’t gotten around to them - and then I add an entry in my to-do list.

Good tips, and my only (seemingly omnipresent) comment is to underscore that need to empty all your baskets regularly. Hence, one benefit of keeping your email storage and action structure light is that you won't have to dash around to multiple places to see what's on your plate.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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