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.

Action Based

Procrastination hack: '(10+2)*5'

Following on the idea of the procrastination dash and Jeff’s progressive dash, I’ve been experimenting with a squirelly new system to pound through my procrastinated to-do list. Brace yourself, because it is a bit more byzantine than is Merlin 2005’s newly stripped-down habit. It’s called (10+2)*5, and today it will save your ass.

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Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part I

Since new folks visit 43F each day, I thought it might be valuable to return to one of our most popular evergreen topics to review some "best practices" for keeping a good to-do list. While a lot of this might be old hat to some of you, it's a good chance to review the habits and patterns behind one of the most powerful tools in the shed. Part 2 appears tomorrow (Update: now available). (N.B.: links to previous posts related to these topics are provided inline)

Why bother?

In my own experience wrangling life's entropic challenges, some of my best gains have come from maintaining a smart, actionable, and updated accounting of all the things I've committed myself to doing. While the quality of that list may vary from day to day, it's the best place to train my focus whenever things are starting to feel out of control. In fact, the health of my to-do list usually mirrors the health of my productivity (as well as the barometric pressure of my stress). On the good days, my to-do list has a living quality that helps guide my decisions and steers me through unexpected changes in priority or velocity. And on the crummy days, it becomes the likely suspect when I need to quickly reassess the state of the union and make changes.

While you can argue for the flavor and approach to task management that best suits your style (and your personal suck), it's hard to disparage the benefits that come from getting task commitments out of your brain and into a consistent location. One list scribbled on one busy day is not necessarily the answer (although it can be a lifesaver). Try thinking of your to-do list as an evolving plan for responsibly focusing your effort and attention in the near future.

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To-Done: Scheduling tasks

This is an intriguing idea. Keith converts his important to-dos into scheduled blocks of work.

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Cringe-Busting your TODO list

As I’ve said before, items can sometimes linger on your TODO list a lot longer than you’d like, and it can be tricky to understand exactly why that is in each case. I’m convinced cringing is often a factor.

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Choosing a daily GTD action plan

Chris Murtland's "revolving workflow strategies" for GTD

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Mark Taw on GTD contexts and next actions

What context do I put my Next Actions in? :: MarkTAW.com

Mark Taw consistently provides some of the most lucid and realistic productivity advice I’ve come across. Today he eloquently addresses a common question of beginning Getting Things Done nerds.

If you have 15 lists, but they’re all full of things that you can do from the same starting point, you have 14 too many lists. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, email, or going to the printers to pick up your business cards, your lists should contain no more detail than that. And don’t complain to me that your list would be too long that way, breaking it up into more lists doesn’t give you any fewer Next Actions, it just lets you procrastinate some of them more by putting them on a list you’ll ignore entirely.

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What are _you_ 'waiting on?'

A confession. I’ve been reloading this page every 3 minutes for the last week. I’m totally fixated on obtaining a copy of TextMate and have already mentally ascribed it powers that include many of the miracles described by Saints Matthew and Mark. Setting my saliva and expectations aside for just a moment, this has me thinking a bit about my “waiting on” list and just how effectively (or not) I’m using it to get things done.

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Does this "next action" belong someplace else?

"Next actions" are the cornerstone of Getting Things Done. In the same way that you can't have a great band with a shitty drummer, you'll never master GTD until you get yout next actions straightened out.

I’ve noticed that there are often items on my “next actions” list that hang around a lot longer than they should. I scan and rescan and sort and add and delete, but there’s always a few stragglers who hang out there for a week or more. Eventually this starts to vex me, and I try to debug why things aren’t getting done.

For myself, I’ve discovered that most of the items are just in the wrong place, or, if you prefer, in the wrong time or context. It can be instructive to pull each straggler out of line and try to figure out whether he really belongs someplace else. Here’s my usual suspects, ordered by how often each is the culprit behind my unintentional slack.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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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. »

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This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »