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


DEVONthink: An appreciation of "smart groups"

Using Smart Groups

DEVONthink Smart Groups

I've recently gotten way back into DEVONthink as a means to capture, wrangle, and analyze all the reference material in my world.

If you're new to this amazing application -- and at the risk of far exceeding my understanding of both the human brain and this particular piece of software -- DEVONthink learns the neural pathways between the stuff you know or say is related. But, more importantly, it prompts you on the relationships you probably don't know exist (yet). This is awfully useful and wildly stimulating to the busy front parts of my own brain, such as it is.

I'd seen the power of the app before and have been way inspired by how the heroic Steven Johnson is using it, but the learning and experience curves always seemed just a bit steep for me, given the returns that it yielded in my too-brief usage. Still, I was quite smitten with the concept.

Flash forward a year and a half. I've now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files. Thus far, this includes stuff like:

  • most of the more interesting contents of my hard drive (transparently "synced" with DT every week or so)
  • all the text files in which I "live" (over 300 -- also synced)
  • all my Safari bookmarks (over 3000)
  • all my del.icio.us links (also over 3000)
  • full text of all my 43 Folders posts (over 400)
  • full PDFs and excerpts from a ton of books, manuals, and slide shows
  • RTFDs or full web archives of over 100 interesting wikipedia pages (this is definitely the fastest growing sector)
  • any interesting quotes, quips, snarks, canards, nuggets, scraps, emails, web pages, or random ephemera that cross my transom

My focus over this time has been strictly on capture, rather than trying to make anything particularly useful of it all just yet. But I've recently started grouping and classifying occasional clusters of content using the app's killer feature: really smart AI that finds associations between items based on a concordance of common words and similar previous relationships you've established.

So, I have the start of a potential post underway that will re-introduce DT in more detail (which I've been building right in DT, natch), but I was moved today to share the insane usefulness of DEVONthink's "Smart Groups."

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Tool Updates: D*I*Y Planner; GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus

There's been some interesting activity lately on two of the productivity tools that a lot of our readers like to follow.

D*I*Y Planner 3.0

D*I*Y Planner 3.0 (Classic/A5 Edition) | D*I*Y Planner

Douglas Johnston has recently released v 3.0 of his Classic/A5 D*I*Y Planner. If you haven't seen this before, Douglas has put together a Creative Commons-licensed version of the plain-paper templates usually associated with Costly Paper Planners. But he's added some lovely design touches as well as some creative templates that are meant to support GTD and other popular productivity systems. Douglas says, of this version:

Way more professional and extensive, covering not only time/project management but also lifestyle, health, creativity and more (e.g., life balance, storyboards, diet tracker, finances, exercise log, story submissions, etc.). Nearly 200 pages of templates are included.

While, in my opinion, the recent 'net obsession with "things you can print at home" has gotten out of hand -- y'know they have graph paper in stores now? -- Douglas has added a lot more than blue quadrille lines here. This is thoughtful stuff, and if you love the immediacy of paper but don't want to spend a fortune on a big folio from Staples, this may be right up your alley.

N.B. Fans of a tricked-out Hipster PDA can look forward to an index card edition late next month. Until then, the 2.0 HPDA edition is still available on his site.

GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus

GTDTiddlyWiki Plus - your simple client side wiki

Although I'm a little confused over exactly who's doing what to which version (why does my brain freeze up whenever I see words like "wiki" and "plus"?), it appears that GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus is a project to revive the popular (but stalled?) GTD Tiddly Wiki. According to Ted Pavlic, on the 43F wiki:

GTD TiddlyWiki Plus is much better than GTD TiddlyWiki because it is not a derivative of TiddlyWiki; it actually is TiddlyWiki. This means that plugins and macros can be added and the system can be upgraded as new versions of TiddlyWiki come out.

I haven't spent much time with this new release, but I'm intrigued by the idea of "plug-ins" as well as the idea that Ted plans to afford a "kGTD-like usage" for the GTDTWP.

I played with the last release of GTD Tiddly Wiki last summer, and I think it's a fascinating chunk of functionality. It's not really my particular cup of tea for everyday usage, but I really recommend you have a look for yourself. I get so much mail about the best way to "live" on two or more computers, and -- at least from a "GTD system" standpoint -- this seems like one novel solution.

Helpy page; Writing apps on the web; Collaboration everywhere?

I want to - a page of utilities that help you do stuff you want to

Man, I have a warm spot for old-school pages like this. Just a bunch of links to tools and apps, organized by what you want to do. Feels like 1995 again. snif

All of the topics and most of the sites will be familiar to you as they were to me (sharing photos, sending large files, creating to-do lists), but it was worth the visit just to be reminded of This to That -- the canonical place to to learn how to glue anything to anything.

[ via del.icio.us/popular ]

Looking at that page, I'm reminded of a couple apps I've been meaning to mention that both do an impressive job of putting collaborative word processing on the web.

Firefox users: do check out Writely. Feels surprisingly like -- well -- a web version of MS Word, to be honest. Haven't used it in battlefield conditions, but it is a feature-rich, intuitive app, given the medium.

If you like this kinda thing but want something a bit lighter (and Safari-friendly), definitely have a look at Writeboard, a beautiful, stripped down chunk of func from the less is good geniuses at 37 Signals.

I would also, at this juncture, like to renew my annual request to the gods that somebody on the OS X team please (Please!) steal the collaborative editing functionality of SubEthaEdit and put it into any app that supports text editing. That functionality should be like printing; a baked-in service that's ubiquitous and configurable once from the System Preferences, then portable anywhere that the router has the correct holes punched. I'd so kill for that.

On the culture of distraction; one pipe for all interruptions?

Driven to distraction by technology | CNET News.com

Really good article on the problems and implications of the interruption-driven lifestyle. Full of great bits, including this:

Businesses could benefit from introducing a collective effort to switch off, Honore said. He points to the marketing department at Veritas Software, which last year instituted “E-mail-free Fridays” for its marketing department. The move came at the behest of Jeremy Burton, an executive vice president who was finding his in-box stuffed with 400 messages a day, many from his own department.

In Burton’s department, employees can’t e-mail one another on Friday, but they are allowed to e-mail customers or other parts of the storage company if they have to. The result? Workers spend more time connecting face to face, and Burton finds his in-box is only half as full.

And when it comes to finishing up a big project, many workers are unplugging altogether—something that Microsoft’s [Chris] Capossela says should not have to be the answer.

Well-written software could offer a better solution, he said. It should help employees stay connected but enable them to receive only messages they want to get—from a boss or family member, say.

Also, Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness (Amazon.com: US | UK | CA | FR | DE | JP) offers great tips like this, among others:

Before using any time-saving technology, ask yourself if you could perform the task…more efficiently using an old-fashioned method such as walking across the office and talking face to face.

I really do encourage you to read the whole article, because it gets to the heart of a problem that’s contributing to most everyone’s stress and feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. And you might want to follow it up with seeing how Billy G. reportedly carves out a “Think Week” each year.

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Mail Act-On: Invoke Mail.app rules with custom commands

Mail Act-On 1.3 - Key Stroke Plugin for Apple Mail.App

If you’re using Tiger and Mail.app, you need to have a look at Mail Act-On, a free plugin developed by Scott Morrison and Jonathan Paisley that lets you assign keyboard commands that are bound to custom “Rules” you set in your Preferences. This is (very cleverly) accomplished by naming the rule according to the CTRL key you want to assign to it.

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DEVONthink: Integrated Information Manager

Version 1.9 of DEVONthink is scratching my information where it itches. Or something. Anyway, it's a cool app for managing lots of stuff. Read on...

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Quicksilver: Setup & Troubleshooting

[n.b.: this post has been updated to reflect the release of version B32r2. --2004-11-06 15:35 PST]

Since there's new folks moving to Quicksilver all the time, I thought I'd post some more starter tips if you're following along here. If you have questions about stuff not working as described, doublecheck your setup and the tips below.

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Quicksilver: Grab a copy and play along at home

If you’re kind enough to revisit here in the future, you’ll be hearing about a program called Quicksilver that’s become an important part of how I work with my Mac. I figure since I’ll be talking about it so much, it’s probably beneficial to give you a little lead time in case you’re interested in following along. So here’s a quickish introduction as well as some information and links on getting you started with the home version.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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