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


Why don't you just shut up?

I subscribe to a lot of email discussion lists for the various secret yet high profile projects to which I contribute. Most of these lists are active, with five to ten new threads every day, each consisting of several messages. Even when the lists stay on topic, most of the time, my contribution to (and interested in) the conversation only lasts a few messages.

This creates a problem for me, as I am a neurotic email checker. Constantly seeing a stream of new messages that I am not reading makes me feel stressed out. I do not feel like I have to read them, but I do feel like SOMETHING must be done. But I cannot silence the threads by reading the messages, or by deleting them -- as soon as a new message comes in, the thread will be back, bolding up my inbox again.

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TOPICS: Email, gmail, inbox, mute

Technology for smarter ignoring

Cory Doctorow has a short piece in Internet Evolution called "The Future of Ignoring Things" that really resonated with me. Excerpt:

Take email: Endless engineer-hours are poured into stopping spam, but virtually no attention is paid to our interaction with our non-spam messages. Our mailer may strive to learn from our ratings what is and is not spam, but it expends practically no effort on figuring out which of the non-spam emails are important and which ones can be safely ignored, dropped into archival folders, or deleted unread...

Figuring out what you can afford to ignore in life is starting to seem like an art form to me. Since failure to filter incoming stuff properly over time has consequences way beyond annoyance, I'm starting to think that getting it right may be another one of those emerging knowledge worker skills.

It's definitely one I'm working on (and struggling with).

[via: BB]

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Field Reports: Guerrilla Office Tactics

I've started collecting stories -- some of which may be entirely apocryphal tall tales -- of the purported lengths to which people are going to filter noise and to ensure that their time and attention aren't ceded to bad ideas, thoughtless people, or garden-variety time burglars.

Here's a few of the more novel ones I've picked up. I'd also love to hear your favorites from amongst the cheats, tricks, and squirrely rules you've heard about:

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One reason your boss is so twitchy

Marketplace: Another crazy boss

Stanley Bing on what the crapflood of incoming data is doing to your boss's state of mind.

BING: Well, what that does is that feeds control freaks with a constant, steady stream of stuff that needs to be controlled. That's what's making people more crazy. And what happens is that everybody goes crazy in a different way. In other words, some people get extremely morose. Other people get very paranoid. You know, it's really like a graded scale of pathology. But it all comes from the same root source, which is, you know, basically personalities under too much duress.

I think one of the emerging leadership skills of the next five years will be learning how to do brilliant filtering -- either programatically or by delegating information-sorting to others. To ultimately become someone whose system accounts for incoming data in smart ways and who never has to make excuses about too much stuff.

Yeah, I know smart execs have delegated for centuries. But I can envision a world where sweating over your beepy electronic device starts looking about as "executive" and "pro-active" as sucking on a crack pipe in the break room.

Gruber on "Rethinking Email"

Rethinking Email

Good insight from Chairman Gruber, related to the email system he's started employing since moving to Mail.app

...I can classify all incoming personal email into three broad categories: (a) messages that are either very important or very interesting; (b) messages that are utterly non-interesting; and (c) those which fall somewhere in-between.

The vast majority of my email falls into the latter category. Under my previous “system”, I let them pile up in my inboxes, under the assumption that some day I’d get around to answering many of them. Under the new system, if I don’t respond immediately after reading them, they go right into my archive. Out of sight, out of mind.

For folks who haven't crossed the line to where this realization really clicks, I understand that this can sound harsh, even uncaring. But once you have gotten into the habit, you realize the amount of bullshit you had been shoveling to yourself -- hoping that all that stuff in your inbox, which you knew in your heart you'd never do anything about, would just...what?...grow wings and fly a response back to its sender? It's daft.

It's so tough to be honest with yourself about your real situation with email, but once you've made the admission, you're weirdly freed up to communicate more authentically, and, in my experience, with a renewed enthusiasm.

Vox Pop: Email via web CRM?

Most businesses and an increasing number of people (including me) are looking for friction-free ways for teams to deal with incoming public email accounts. Whether you're managing a home eBay company, fielding FAQs, or reviewing incoming resumes, it seems like there must be some good, lightweight web apps for teams to use and collaborate around.

Ron Richards just pointed me to Cerberus, and I've previously looked at DayLite, MailTank, and Sugar. I like the trouble-ticket approach in some ways, but I also wish it could be prettied up -- ideally including remote form submission from your own domains.

The Question to You:

Have you found a free or inexpensive web-based app that helps your teams manage incoming email and convert them into assigned tasks? Got one that’s great at template-based responses? Anything with the power of a support ticket app that’s a bit prettier from the user’s standpoint?

edit 2007-08-27 09:17:40: Shoulda mentioned: relevant self-links are okay on this one.

Vox Pop: What default settings would you change?

As I am wont to do, I was thinking out loud on Twitter this morning.

Twitter message: 'I wonder how different the world might look if the default 'new meeting' time in calendar programs were 10 minutes instead of 1 hour'

I'm convinced that, for better or worse, a lot of computer-related habits come straight out of using the default settings. For example a stock Mail.app install checks your email every 5 minutes (I reset mine to 'Manual') and, without interdiction, Apple's mail program will also create all your new messages as "Rich Text" (Nuh uh. Mine? 'Plain Text').

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How to use a single Mail.app Archive (without losing your mind)

For some time now, I've encouraged people to consider abandoning the byzantine folder structure that most of us used to employ to "organize" our email. In fact, this kind of functional simplicity is something I've started to think of as a pillar of Inbox Zero.

In addition to helping explode the myth that most email messages have any life once their actions have been liberated, it's a healthy habit to actively remove any unnecessary systematic fiddling that doesn't handsomely pay back the effort that habitually goes into it.

And, as ever: yes, some of you -- because of the incredibly unique nature of your work in an office -- will need to have 500 taxonomic mailboxes, a monthly archives by project, a person-by-person collection going back to 1983, and a multiply-copied CC'd team archives, coded by color and identified with helpful icons you found on Gopher in 1992. Sure, why not. If that's working for you, by all means, keep fiddling and filing.

But, if you're ready to admit you might be turning a crank that's potentially not hooked-up to anything, here's my four favorite ways to leverage the intelligence of Mail.app for drop-dead simple archiving.

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Vox Pop: Your best "best practice" for email?

Short Subject: Now You're Talking (1927)

prosaic [on email]

Chris Streeter picks up on a thread that I've been thinking about a lot lately (and he's kind to mention the relationship to Inbox Zero).

He reminds us that the etiquette for using a telephone was once well-established enough to earn a place in the encyclopedia:

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Free MP3 of Inbox Zero talk

The 43 Folders Podcast

43F Podcast: Inbox Zero - Google Tech Talk

A lot of folks with slower connections (or who just aren't crazy about internet video) have written to request an audio version of the Tech Talk on Inbox Zero I gave at Google last Monday. Google has very kindly permitted me to share that with you, so here you go. Thanks to everyone who wrote to request it.

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen from here:

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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