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.


Fractal Implementation, or, On the Dangers of David Allen's Finger

Again, this time with the chorus: it's about the work, not the meta-work.

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Because buying new running shoes is more fun than actually running

We’re fortunate right now to see so many great tools emerging to help people get their act together.

Products like 37 SignalsBackpack and TaDaList are beautifully constructed, entirely usable, and have an amazingly high sense of fit and finish. It doesn’t go without saying that these products are also very fun to use. At the same time, a clever little app like GTDTiddlyWiki comes along that’s lightweight, portable, and is also very fun to use. And, although I haven’t played with Trumba or Sproutliner much yet, I understand they’re both turning a lot of heads and are—you guessed it—very fun to use.

These are all Good Things, and I couldn’t be happier that the quality of tools we’re seeing is so consistently high. Kudos, tool persons. You have all done a good job.

Still, as attracted as all we users naturally are to adopting these new apps, I have a growing concern that I want to share. And while it’s not directly related to these particular products, I do think it goes to important attitudes we have about seeing tools as panaceas for our productivity and time-management problems.

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Anne Lamott: Put the puppy back on the paper

I’ve previously mentioned Bay-area writer Anne Lamott in the context of her fondness for index cards and her belief in the importance of capturing ideas at the moment they come to you (it’s something I also really believe in). It’s fun to hear her talk about this stuff, too. She has a discursive speaking style that’s, by turns, insightful, frustrating, and very funny.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading her book Bird by Bird a section or two at a time whenever I have a few minutes, and I have to say, it’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time.

As a guide for young or aspiring writers, I’d put it up there with On Writing Well and Writing Down the Bones in terms of practical, really useful advice. She strips away so much of the pretense and BS about the writing process and encourages you to just start writing—focusing on small assignments (all you need to do is fill a 1″x1″ picture frame with words) and what she calls “the shitty first draft.” Great stuff.

But I think some of the most amazing passages in the book have little to do with writing, per se. It’s all about how we choose to look at the world and ourselves.

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ETech Notes: Englishmen on the beach, attention deficit, and the 12-inch Life Hacks remix

Nick Sweeney says Damn You Merlin Mann
Originally uploaded by caterina.

I’m back from ETech and starting to recuperate a bit. It’s amazing how just a few days and nights can be so exhilarating and exhausting at the same time (esp. if one of those nights is spent on a fake beach with a lot of English people who drink like sailors). (Incidentally, if you have a pulse and a POP account, I probably owe you at least two email replies at this point, so accept this massive group apology until I can shovel my way toward the light.)

I reckon that if my technical prowess were more mature, I might not have to confess that all my favorite conference stuff inevitably happens outside the sessions—although in the case of ETech, the ones I caught were all very good. But there’s a weirdly “Disney World” quality to wandering around a hotel lobby bumping into, literally, dozens of clever, hilarious people whose work you’ve admired and enjoyed for years. Such a thrill for me. Like meeting Santa, Han Solo, and The Monkees all in the same friendly bar.

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A 'Getting Things Done' Valentine

Deez Steeles: Getting Things Done as Marriage Counciling

GTD 4U This is a wonderful post, and it illustrates something I hear from people all the time—how they feel more tuned-in to their personal life once they find a way to climb out from underneath their pile of ephemeral crap, and, frankly, how they are finally able to pull their head out of their ass long enough to pay attention to the really important people in their life.

In my case, my positive outcome is that my marriage is strong, and my wife knows and feels like she is the #1 priority in my life.  So then I can identify the next physical thing I need to do in order to accomplish those goals: it might be buying flowers, or taking an evening to cook dinner and spoil her, or booking a little weekend getaway.  Now, my wife doesn’t really like the idea of being treated like a “project,” against which tasks are assigned.  But, I would say that I’m just using GTD as a tool to make sure that I am constantly reminded to take actions to make her a priority.  That can’t be bad.

That’s pretty cool. Nice Valentine’s Day message for you GTD fans (and a savvy reminder never to let your loved one know they’re a project).

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Systems, ciphers, and the dirty little secret of self-improvement

My theory is that the secret code for most self-improvement systems—from Getting Things Done through Biofeedback and the Atkins diet—is not hard to break; any idea that helps you to become more self-aware can usually help you to reach a goal or affect a favorable solution. That’s pretty much the entire bag of doughnuts right there.

Self-improvement juju works not because of magic beans or the stones in your soup pot; it works because a smart “system” can become a satisfying cipher for framing a problem and making yourself think about solutions in an ordered way. Systems help you minimize certain kinds of feedback while amplifying others.

Also, when you’ve undertaken most any kind of program, there’s usually a built-in incentive to watch for change, monitor growth, and iterate small improvements (think: morning weigh-in). While I don’t doubt that some systems empirically work better than others, I suspect that success with any of them has much to do with how we each think, behave, and respond to our environment.

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How to be a product 43 Folders loves (and reviews)

(Pardon a largely administrative post.)

I’ve been pleased to receive so many inquiries from people who’d like me to look at their application or hardware device in order to mention it here on 43 Folders. This is good. I love looking at stuff. It’s what I do.

But to save us both time and misunderstanding going forward, here’s a rough idea of the factors that are more likely to get your stuff mentioned here (in more or less descending order of importance). Only #1 is really set in stone, but please do read all the way through before prodding me to talk about your product—especially if it costs anything at all to use.

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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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I Want a Pony: Snapshots of a Dream Productivity App

There’s an early episode of The Simpsons where Homer learns he has a long-lost half-brother named Herb who’s a major automobile mogul. Out of love for his newfound family, Herb lets Homer design and build his ultimate car. The result is a piece of pure American id, in which Homer’s most extravagant obsessions combine to create an unmanufacturable $82,000 boondoggle—complete with bubble windows and a place to put a really, really big fountain drink.

In that pioneering national spirit of favoring geegaws and fantastic chimeras over practicality, here are a few completely random ideas about a notional productivity application I’d like to see someday (as well as few bitches about the lame state of the ones we have now).

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A Year of Getting Things Done: Part 3, The Future of GTD?

This is the final installment of a three-part series looking back on a year of doing Getting Things Done. Part 1: The Good Stuff; Part 2: The Stuff I Wish I Were Better At.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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