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


Managing around interruptions

Being organized means marshalling resources - The Boston Globe

Cindy Krischer Goodman's recent article on time management for the overcommitted and overwhelmed contains a gem from Stephanie Winston, who points out how senior executives learn to manage around the interruptions in their lives:

To do this, she says, start by blocking an hour or half-hour each day as power time to accomplish priorities. That may mean coming in early or hiding in the cafeteria to escape interruptions.

Break tasks into 10-minute segments; when you get interrupted, jot a phrase or cue to bring you back into the task later. When people drop in or call, give them your full attention, she suggests.

I think this is one reason why I like getting up early; time like that is so much easier to claim and defend before the world's demands start banging down your door.

WriteRoom: Free full-screen writing app for OS X

WriteRoom | Hog Bay Software

O, how we distraction-prone people pine for persistent and ubiquitous full-screen mode. And it looks like the good folks at Hog Bay have come up with an elegant freeware app to help save the beleaguered writer from him or herself.

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NYT: Mixed blessings of workplace tech

Attention- Juggling in the High-Tech Office - New York Times

NYT talks with Ed Reilly of the American Management Association on technology's "double-edged impact in the workplace."

Q. Do all the distractions mean that people don't have time to think deeply about what they're doing?

A. There is certainly some indication that in middle to upper management, that can be a problem. If you don't properly organize your thinking and your time, you can end up concentrating on the urgent rather than the important. You can get tied up being a traffic cop in terms of answering e-mails, when in fact those things can be answered later. Management, particularly the more senior management, needs time to think.

Q. If people have a sale happening on eBay, are using several e-mail platforms and their cellphones and their office lines, does that fracture their attention span?

A. Absolutely. When people switch gears and move from one process to another, our brains require some amount of time to begin thinking about something else. Forget the amount of time you actually spend browsing on the Internet and reading things you don't really need to read for your job. Just the fact that you're switching back and forth means you're not organizing your time correctly.

Q. What impact do the distractions have on working-level people?

A. There's a curious anomaly. These tools produce more productivity. But it doesn't imply that everyone is working at maximal effectiveness. There's a general consensus that managing the quality and quantity of work from knowledge workers has proven to be more difficult than managing the work-study processes that added so much productivity to the industrial age. For example, you can assign people to customer relations jobs. They will, if you make them, respond to, say, 120 inquiries a day. The real question is whether they take a few more minutes to think about what the customer really wants and try to be responsive.

For my money, though, this one is the quote of the week:

Companies go to great lengths to set up lists of authorized approvals, meaning who can approve what size of purchase. But you will find that people who are not authorized to spend $100 on their own are authorized to send e-mails to people and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of company time.

Richard Kuo: Getting Outlook to clam the heck up

Richard Kuo's Personal Blog : Optimize your life #3 - how to manage e-mail effectively (1/2)

Richard Kuo posts on email efficiency are quite good and cover a few of the best practices for managing your crazy email world (a few of which I covered as well in Inbox Zero). I bring it up here because one of his articles walks you through screengrabs explaining how to shut off noisome auto-check and notifications options in Outlook.

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Faking fullscreen mode on your Mac

Faking Fullscreen Mode

I forget where, but someone once mentioned that you could probably emulate fullscreen mode in most OS X apps by using the "Universal Access" PreferencePane (if I'm stealing this idea from you uncredited, send the link and I'll correct the error with my thanks).

Anyhow, this rules. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty fast to set up, and if you're as easily distracted as I am, it's a handy way to minimize distractions and force yourself into focusing on just one thing.

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Guest post: More on distractions, from Paul Ford

Last week, I enjoyed and linked to Paul Ford’s Ftrain post, “Followup/Distraction.” It led to us exchanging a few chatty emails, so I asked Paul to favor us with a deeper write-up on his idea of narrow vs. broad distractions. More specifically, I asked: “Is there such a thing as a good distraction?”

Are there "good" distractions?

by Paul Ford

I don't want to differentiate between "good" distractions and "bad" distractions. I want to stick to the idea of "narrow" and "broad" distractions. Because sometimes a broad distraction--like, say, getting drunk and watching the movie Red Dawn--is exactly what you need. In fact, one of the best things I can do when I'm in a rut is go see some utter-crap movie that features CIA operatives and lots of gunfire. I like to goof off a whole lot. I think it's insanity to try to justify that in any way.

I struggle, though, because my PC can play a DVD of Red Dawn while I check my email and work on an essay. This sort of computing power is fine for strong-willed people, but for the weak-willed like myself it's a hopeless situation. My work requires me to patiently work through things and come up with fresh ideas. And I can honestly say that since broadband Internet came to my home a year and a half ago my stock of new, fresh, fun ideas has grown very thin. It's just too much. My mind can't wander, because, with anything that interests me, I can look it up on Wikipedia to gain some context. Before I know it I've got thirty tabs open at once in Firefox. Then new email comes in. I loathe the way computers blink to demand your attention; the computer wants to tell me, for instance, that it can't load a web page. On the Mac, my Firefox icon starts jumping up and down like an anxious toddler (I know I can probably turn this off, but there are always more pop-up windows). My computer constantly wants to share totally asinine, useless information like that with me. So I've started using an Alphasmart Neo to draft text, and WordPerfect for DOS to edit and revise. My average daily word count has doubled as a result, and my stock of fresh ideas seems to be replenishing.

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NPR: Clive on "Interruption Science"

Technology forces us to juggle competing demands on our attention over the course of our workdays. Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times Magazine contributor Clive Thompson about "interruption science," the study of the effect of disruptions on job performance.

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Paul Ford: The two kinds of distraction

Followup/Distraction (Ftrain.com)

Paul Ford, eloquent as usual, on the two kinds of distractions--the wide kind that are the equivalent of a kitty toy for distractible humans, and the narrow kind, which stimulates you to follow a train of thought into tunnels it's nary entered. Paul concludes, in part:

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Recap: Overload and the interrupt-driven lifestyle

Clive's excellent article from Sunday's New Your Times Magazine has brought us a lot of new folks looking for ways to adapt to the overloaded, always-on, interrupt-driven world in which most of us are living. I've bubbled up a few older entries on these topics that you might find useful:

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NYT Magazine: "Meet the Life Hackers"

Meet the Life Hackers - New York Times

_New York Times_ Select subscribers (coughFreeTrialcough) can login to preview an article by Clive Thompson that runs in the Sunday Magazine. It's called "Meet the Life Hackers" and it's a terrific overview of how people, companies, and products are responding to information overload and our (sometimes self-imposed) culture of interruption.

Danny and I pop up, as well as heroes like Mary Czerwinski and the late Bluma Zeigarnik. Clive did a hell of a job with a big and complicated topic, and I'd encourage you to check out the full article when it becomes available for free (Saturday night?). It's really good--I'd never heard, for example, about the research on interrupting telegraph operators. Awesome.

Update 2005-10-15 19:04:08

Now available online for free: Meet the Life Hackers - New York Times

Extended excerpts on Danny and the Genesis of the life-hacking movement:

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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