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.


These are the posts that a lot of people consider the best of 43 Folders. They’ve each received a lot of visits from readers like you, and most have been linked to by a bunch of other sites we like. We hope you enjoy them.

Writing sensible email messages

Writing sensible email messages

As we've seen before, getting your inbound email under control will give you a huge productivity boost, but what about all the emails you send? If you want to be a good email citizen and ensure the kind of results you're looking for, you'll need to craft messages that are concise and easy to deal with.

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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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Kick procrastination's ass: Run a dash

Procrastination can drive most of us into a spiral of shame that’s as mundane as it is painfully personal. We know what we should be doing, but some invisible hang-up keeps us on the line. Unfortunately, the guaranteed consequence of procrastination is growth in the scale of the task you’ve been putting off—as well as the anxiety that it creates. All the time you’re putting something off, your problem’s getting bigger—both in reality and in your head, where your colorful imagination is liable to turn even the most trivial item into an unsolvable juggernaut that threatens to overwhelm you. And that means extra stress, more procrastination, and the music goes round.

My favorite tonic for procrastination—which I have mentioned in passing previously—is what I call a dash, which is simply a short burst of focused activity during which you force yourself to do nothing but work on the procrastinated item for a very short period of time—perhaps as little as just one minute. By breaking a few tiny pebbles off of your perceived monolith, you end up psyching yourself out of your stupor, as well as making much-needed progress on your overdue project. Neat, huh?

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Harnessing your interstitial time

Sometimes, it's easy to feel like your work has degraded into a series of interruptions--that any block of time you've set aside to focus on a project is in constant danger of being minced to bits by phone calls, emails, and the weekend anecdotes of your co-workers. Worse still, we all suffer daily from innumerable waits, delays, and last-minute reschedulings, all of which can upend our plans and lead to a constant shifting of available time.

Rather than always seeing these changes as an intractable liability, try to look at them as opportunities to liberate unexpected pockets of time and focus. While literally non-stop interruptions are likely to make any of us nutty, a slight adjustment to your planning and outlook can lead to fast gains in productivity and a much-improved attitude about your working environment.

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Five fast email productivity tips

There’s been a lot of great discussions about email productivity going around on sites I enjoy, so I thought I’d throw in five no-brainers that I’ve seen help a lot of folks.

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Patching your personal suck

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work is a terrifically useful and very entertaining list of hacks, tricks, ciphers, and fake rules for helping yourself write. Or more specifically, it helps you get unstuck, unblocked, and out of that hated procrastinating mire. It’s actually a much better version of my “Hack Your Way out of Writer’s Block” that I somehow missed in putting my ideas together.

I have to say, I’m really pleased to have discovered this article today, because it comports with some stuff I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and with the approach that sums up my feeling about “43 Folders-esque” ideas: in order to find what works for you, it helps to understand why the old stuff doesn’t

By now, everybody knows that I swiped the basic idea for 43 Folders from my pal, hero, and personal muse, Danny O’Brien. His work on the original Life Hacks presentation was centered around research into why some people, especially those overachieving alpha geeks, seem to get so much more accomplished over the same 24 hours we mortals start with each day. Some of them, like Rael, just seem preternaturally organized and focused. Others, like Cory, are blessed with an ungodly gift for effective multi-tasking.

But many of the other productive nerds, as you soon realize, have just gotten really good at identifying their weaknesses and developing the compensatory psychic muscle needed to shore up their vulnerabilities. Forgetful? Write stuff down. Easily distracted? Set timers. Saddled with pointless interruptions? Leave the office. Find the bad code in your system and eliminate the bugs. Find the fastest, easiest, most elegant solution that could possibly work. Can it really be that simple?

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Five Mistakes Band & Label Sites Make

Admittedly, this is well off our usual fare, but please indulge me in a public service message on behalf of music fans across the Internets—five mistakes that band and label sites make (and a few tips on how to fix them). One data point from a fan.

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More Moleskine Hacks

A few novel uses and tips for using everybody's favorite Italian notebook.

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Hack your way out of writer's block

I recently had occasion to do some…errr…research on writer’s block. Yeah, research. That’s what I was doing. Like a scientist.

I found lots of great ideas to get unstuck and wrote the best ones on index cards to create an Oblique Strategies-like deck. Swipe, share, and add you own in comments.

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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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