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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.


DailyLit: 5-minute literature chunks, via email or RSS

DailyLit: Read books by email and RSS.

To know me today, you'd never imagine how many hundreds of pages a week I read in college. Surprises me, anyhow. While I've devolved into an accomplished skimmer of Harper's and the The New York Times Magazine, I rarely find (or, make) the time to finish a whole book about anything that's not related to "work." That's why I'm intrigued by DailyLit, a service that leverages rather than battles the tendency to hang out online.

The idea is simple enough: select a "free" book that appeals to you, then, every day or two, via either email or RSS, the DailyLit robot sends you a section that's readable in about five minutes. If you want more at any time -- the digital equivalent of turning the page -- just click to have the next installment sent, then keep on a'reading.

The variety of available selections is handsome, including favorites like Tristram Shandy, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The Devil's Dictionary and over 400 more. Feeling ambitious? Try War and Peace (675 5-minute parts), The Count of Monte Cristo (581 parts), or Don Quixote (448 parts). Want something a little lighter? You can't go wrong with Candide (42 parts) or A Modest Proposal (4 [still hilarious] parts).

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Vox Pop: Managing actions from list emails?

Inbox Zero Tech Talk

During the Q&A portion of my Inbox Zero presentation at Google the other day, an audience member stumped me with a question about how to manage action around mailing list distributions (the question starts at about 48:22).

He said he frequently receives email requests and questions that are also distributed to the other 20 people on his team. He describes a "waiting game" in which team members hang back to see if other people will respond first -- at least partly out of not wanting to duplicate effort or flood the sender. I thought it was a really intriguing question, although I said (and still believe) that distributed email would not personally be my first choice to handle this kind of communication.

Well, based on the reaction in the room that day, I gathered that this is a common dilemma for Googlers. Funny thing is that, since the video went up, I've received a lot of email from people outside the Googleplex who share the same problem -- a few of whom were aghast that I wasn't aware what a huge pain this is for knowledge workers. And to an extent, I'll admit those folks were mostly right.

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Video for Merlin's "Inbox Zero" talk

Google Tech Talk: Inbox Zero

This is the video for my Inbox Zero talk I presented in July of 2007 at Google.

Is Inbox Zero an idea that your company should learn about in person? You can invite me to speak to your organization, live and in-person.

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Colleen Wainwright on email as PSD

Treat your email more like Photoshop

My pal, Colleen, has written up a short, designer's take on handling email. She suggests you treat messages the way you'd handle Photoshop PSDs; streamline, automate, and fear not the rule nor template:

Once you’ve done enough of the same kind of work in Photoshop or Illustrator—say, resizing photos or creating a certain size of flyer—you devise ways of creating your templates quickly...

Apply the same principles to processing your inbox and you will vastly reduce the time you spend horsing around in your email client. There are as many “best practices” with email as there are organizational gurus, but the same principles generally apply:

  1. Handle things once
  2. Process all at once, at scheduled times
  3. Clear your inbox, don’t use it as a holding bin

Right on. And as good a point as ever to re-point-out my beloved MailTemplate, which is still the easiest way I know of to create customizable boilerplate templates for Mail.app and Entourage.

Random Bonus: Here's some video (direct MOV download) of me interviewing the MailTemplate/MailTank guys at Macworld back in January.

David Shipley on getting better with (rather than dumping) email

Opting Out: New Jersey Governor Rejects E-mail

David Shipley, author of Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home, did an ATC commentary on NJ Gov. Jon Corzine's saying he's swearing off email. Shipley thinks it's a teachable moment that shouldn't be missed:

How about: writing better.

How about: a little more thought about what we are saying on email before hitting that send key?

How about trying all this...instead of giving up...?

Instead of quitting, why doesn't Governor Corzine turn this into a moment to teach us how to email better. Should New Jersey schools teach email the way they once taught typing and composition?

By the way, how we doing on that Richard Scarry Book of the Future?

Guy Kawasaki & the art of the 5-sentence email

Ten Things to Learn This School Year

I'm intrigued by this bit of advice from Guy Kawasaki on the stuff you don't learn in school (but should):

How to write a five-sentence email...Whether UR young or old, the point is that the optimal length of an email message is five sentences. All you should do is explain who you are, what you want, why you should get it, and when you need it by.

While exaggerated for effect, this strikes me as sound advice. And, in the context of a discussion about education, I'm reminded of the "hamburger essays" we used to have to write in school. Yeah, sure, there aren't many times in life where you have to sit down and write an actual 5-paragraph essay, but they sure did encourage you to think about structure, rhetoric, and arc. As ever, that bit of constraint gives you the focus needed to improve the quality of your presentation.

Man, in retrospect, I've sent a lot of emails that could and should have been whittled down to five sentences (if that). Emailarrhea.

Neatorama on sustainable email fu

Rule the Web (and Rule Your Email Inbox!)

Alex from the always-swell Neatorama has written up the bullets on his preferred method for keeping an email inbox at zero.

4. Have a Simple Filing System
Don’t overthink this: a complex folder with subfolder system is not what you need to remain organized. Obviously, your particular needs will dictate how many folders you have … but in my experience, you rarely, if ever, need subfolders.

5. Have a Follow Up Folder There will be times that I need to research an answer to a particular email or do something before I can reply. I let these emails sit in my inbox for a maximum of 1 day (gasp!), then they get put into a Follow Up Folder if I haven’t gotten around to them - and then I add an entry in my to-do list.

Good tips, and my only (seemingly omnipresent) comment is to underscore that need to empty all your baskets regularly. Hence, one benefit of keeping your email storage and action structure light is that you won't have to dash around to multiple places to see what's on your plate.

The strange allure (and false hope) of email bankruptcy

E-Mail Reply to All: 'Leave Me Alone' - washingtonpost.com

"Email bankruptcy" was a term I first heard in the context of Lawrence Lessig deciding to throw in the towel by telling everyone to whom he owed email that he was starting over (and that important stuff should be sent again).

Last week, the Washington Post had an article on the practice that traces its origin (or at least its naming) to the end of the last decade:

The term "e-mail bankruptcy" may have been coined as early as 1999 by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who studies the relationship between people and technology.

Professor Sherry Turkle said she came up with the concept after researching e-mail and discovering that some people harbor fantasies about escaping their e-mail burden.

Turkle, who estimated that she has 2,500 pieces of unread e-mail in her inbox, is one of those people. A book she has been working on for a decade is coming out soon. Turkle joked that it would have taken her half the time to write it "if I didn't have e-mail."

The wonderful access to one another that email gives (or, put differently: that it causes us to cede) can be a great thing. But I have to admit that bankruptcy alone may not even be enough to save me (or you).

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Some handy Mail.app Smart Mailboxes

It took me a while, but ever since I've gotten my head around Smart Folders (and Smart Playlists and Smart Groups, etc.), I've started to think about the way I use my Mac a bit differently.

Clearly iTunes is the winner in this regard (watch for an upcoming multi-part series about Smart Playlists on The Merlin Show), but the Finder, and Address Book, and Mail.app also have an amazing amount of power rumbling under the hood. So, in the interest of spreading the love, here's four Mail.app Smart Mailboxes that have been rocking my world over the last months.

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NYT: BlackBerry outage about more than missed information

BlackBerry - Research in Motion - Technology - Smartphones - Cell Phones - New York Times

An article in yesterday's New York Times suggests that the upshot of last week's BlackBerry outage may be about more than just an annoying communication outage -- for some, it was a flop-sweat-inducing night of cold turkey.

“It’s random reinforcement,” Mr. Katz said. The fact that you don’t know when important news will come, he said, “means you will quickly engage in obsessive compulsive behavior.”

These social needs and yearnings may drive the use. But at some point, that use becomes an end unto itself — a physical ritual that can take on some of the qualities of actual addiction, said Dr. John Ratey, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, where he specializes in neuropsychiatry.

Several years ago, Mr. Ratey began using the term “acquired attention deficit disorder” to describe the condition of people who are accustomed to a constant stream of digital stimulation and feel bored in the absence of it. Regardless of whether the stimulation is from the Internet, TV or a cellphone, the brain, he said, is hijacked.

Sure, I kid the BlackBerry addicts, but I do sympathize. Left to my own devices, I'd check email a hundred times a day and can still half-ruin a vacation with the constant need to "just check in." Electronic fiddling is a lot like tobacco addiction and a lot easier to get away with nowadays.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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