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.


Everything I needed to know, I learned in the 1600s.

It's taken as a given that we now deal with more information than previous generations ever imagined, living lives in which "number of clicks" is a meaningful measure of time. As Spanish productivity guru Balthasar Gracian says:

There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.

Except he wrote that in the 17th century.

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Making friends with paper (again)

Information R/evolution

I really enjoyed this video presentation by Michael Wesch on how we make, find, and share information in a world where we've shed the idea of paper as our sole medium for storage and communication -- where ideas can munge and mix freely, thanks to digital collaboration.


Now, of course, as a fan of paper for certain kinds of work, I always feel like jumping in at this point to defend our pulpy little friend from what sometimes turns into a blanket party.

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Merlin at IDEO: "Know How" Talk with Scott Underwood

Scott Underwood from IDEO was kind enough to invite me down to their Palo Alto HQ for a tour of the renowned design group (they designed Apple’s first mouse!) and to participate with him in one of the company's internal "Know How" talks. It was very informal (and -- because this was during my recent "100-year sinus infection" -- I was completely high on cold medicine).

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Piano prodigy on focus and flow

TED | Talks | Jennifer Lin: Magical improv from 14-year-old pianist (video)

This video from the 2004 TED Conference is extraordinary for a few reasons. First, the prepared performances by then-14-year-old composer and pianist Jennifer Lin are lovely and technically very accomplished. And -- wow -- the improvisation she creates on the spot (16:45) is really something.

But, I also wanted to draw your attention to her thoughts on creativity and flow -- discussing how she tries to beat distraction and gain focus in both drawing and composition. Her discussion starts around 13:31, but do stick around after for her improv based upon randomly chosen notes.

[via Metafilter]

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?

Stefan Sagmeister on design and happiness

TED | Talks | Stefan Sagmeister: Yes, design can make you happy (video)

I really enjoyed this 15-minute TED presentation by Stefan Sagmeister (watch out: flashy page with grabby browser javascript) on how specific instances of design have made him happy.

The replacement subway signs he mentions (recreation below via Chris Glass) really are pretty terrific. (Anyone have more info or links on the artist and the guerilla campaign?)

Like, Chris, I also really like what Sagmeister has to share about the patterns in his own life that have made him more happy than not. It's easy to see how striving to live these sixteen bullets could help a person enjoy a more creative, open world.

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Ze Frank on creativity and "morphological synthesis"

cecil vortex: An Interview with Ze Frank

Cecil Vortex recently talked with with Ze Frank about the creative process, including how he came up with new stuff every day for The Show. Lots of good stuff to glean from this short interview, including how Ze employs an association trick called "morphological synthesis."

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The War of Art, and JoCo on becoming a "true person"

007: Interview: Jonathan Coulton, Part 2 | The Merlin Show

I first heard about The War of Art from David Allen during our GTD podcast series last year. I finally picked up a copy a couple months back and read it in an evening. Like a lot of self-help books, it's longer than it needs to be (and it's not actually very long to begin with), but it does make some great points about what its author calls "resistance."

Resistance can be thought of as anything that pulls us away from doing the work we know is most important to us. It takes many forms (including procrastination, fear, distraction, and negative self-talk), but the effect is often similar: we find or permit all kinds of barriers to keep us from becoming the person we want to be, or from completing the thing we really want to make. Whether that's being a published author, a composer, a playwright, or a painter, our impulse to create constantly battles an impulse to do something else, or to do nothing -- to not upset our weirdly comfy stasis.

This book came up twice in my recent interview with Jonathan Coulton; both in part one and today's recently released part two. Jonathan strikes me as someone who has, so far, succeeded at talking down the resistance he'd faced, and now he's doing what he's great at, and, in his words, he's working hard to become the kind of "true person" that he wants to be for his daughter.

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Blogs: Watching passionate thoughts evolve (in public)

cover of 'The Blogging Church' by Brian Bailey

The Blogging Church
by Brian Bailey

A few months back, Brian Bailey asked me to contribute a short essay for his new book, The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs (neat idea for a book).

As I'm sure Brian realized at some point, a lot of the advice in the book (creating an online image, deciding who the blog's for, and improving your blog over time) will also be of interest to small business and garden-variety bloggers. I enjoy Brian's writing and think he has a sound grasp on what makes blogs work (or not). Good stuff, and red meat for anyone thinking of taking their church (or their business or their kittens) to the web.

Here's an excerpt from what I sent him.

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Scrivener: Powerful OS X app for writers

Literature and Latte - Scrivener

Scrivener, a full-featured writing program that I've been raving about a lot lately on MacBreak Weekly, has now reached the 1.0 milestone and is available for purchase from Literature and Latte. Scrivener's product page has also been updated with a terrific explanation of why this app feels so different.

Personally, I like the excellent fullscreen mode, built-in (round-trip) outliner, tricked-out Inspector, and all-in-one form factor, but my favorite feature (which can be hard to explain without actually using the app for yourself) is Scrivener's use of the index card and corkboard metaphor.

Scrivener - Corkboard view

If you write like I do (and I pray that you do not), you have a messy approach to drafting that is iterative, intuitive, and far from linear. You do a brain dump, then type a little, then research a little, then type a little more, then move a bunch of stuff around, then groan aloud, then 80% start over and so on until something is done. Yes, it would be more tidy if we all followed the mandate of our elementary school teachers and wrote perfect 5-paragraph essays straight from a completed outline. But, such is life. And Scrivener seems to get that.

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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. »

Scared Shitless

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