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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.

Getting Things Done

GTD is a personal productivity system and book by David Allen that we like a lot. Read: Getting Started with ‘Getting Things Done’.

Twyla’s Box: It’s Where Everything Goes

Self-Reliant Film » Blog Archive » Twyla Tharp: Getting Things Done (with Boxes)

This post by Paul Harrill is a great take on what I've been saucily referring to as, "Twyla's Box." (Yes, again with the Twyla Tharp book.)

I'm sharing it here, because in addition to delivering a thought-provoking slap at the self-abuse of productivity pr0n ("Certainly if you find yourself reading productivity book after productivity book you’re missing the point" [ouch]), it includes a canny synthesis of the overlap between (the best, non-fiddly parts of) GTD and those patterns that seem to help folks like Twyla Tharp to keep making for decades. Nice work, Paul. Loved this (and sorry for arriving so late to the party; I am now subscribed).

So, first a quote from Paul's post, followed by (forgive me) a long-ass re-quoting of Tharp's chapter, "Start with a Box", which I've lovingly copied straight from Paul's swell post. Paul said:

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Gmail Outage or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love GTD Contexts

My Toot about the Gmail outage

Like thousands of people yesterday, I was annoyed and inconvenienced by Gmail's unexpected 2-hour dirtnap. But, wow. Apparently, it just irrevocably hijacked the whole day for some folks. And even sent a few into a Dark Afternoon of the Soul that most 19th-century Romantic poets would have found a bit histrionic.

Now, as a user, polemicist, and nemesis of Apple's MobileMe problems, I'm not here to criticize the frustration about a broken cloud service; I know that feeling all too well and have the dents in my wall to prove it. But, I do want to talk about some strategies you can choose to employ whenever a change in access to anything unexpectedly rearranges your day. Because things do break, and there's no reason you have to break with them.

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Foo for Bar: Kicking Ass with Outcome-Based Thinking

The other day, I was talking with someone who is trying to encourage a Getting Things Done-like work approach amongst the people on his team. We started talking about which parts of David Allen's GTD system appear to have the greatest long-term impact on the people who have adopted it and who ultimately stick with it for years.

When asked to distill everything down to its most powerful concepts, I came up with three, and here's how I'd summarize each:

  1. Outcome-Based Thinking. Articulating in the most specific terms possible what a successful outcome looks like for any given use of your time. Or as I like to put it, "How will I know when I'm done with this?"
  2. The Next Action. Knowing that you don't need to track everything you could conceivably do about a Project; you just need to know the next physical action that would get you closer to completion.
  3. The Review. Accepting that the heart of the Trusted System that lets you move through a day with a high tolerance for ambiguity is the knowledge that eventually everything you're doing gets looked at once a week without fail.

While I think stuff like ubiquitous capture, the Natural Planning Model, the Two-Minute Rule, and many other bits are arguably as important, these are the three things that I feel have the biggest impact on how people's results change over time.

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James Fallows on GTD apps

Bright side #5: interesting GTD software, including for Mac

The Atlantic writer (and recent Mac convert) James Fallows covers three apps that have caught his attention, including OmniFocus, ThinkingRock, and MonkeyWiki. Fallows says:

The GTD Way mainly involves habits of mind and action, but it also places a lot of emphasis on having the right tools, gizmos, and gimmicks to support those habits. Over the years I've used a variety of software to set up GTD-based systems on my computer.

And, if you're in a real "grab the shovel" mood, don't miss his link to a metric buttload of GTD apps.

As ever, though, friends, just remember: GTD's power is in what it does to your approach and to your thinking; it's not about magic beans and doo-dahs. Never allow yourself to obsess over tools to the exclusion of actually completing tasks. This is about action.

Whining, Blue Smoke & the Mechanics of Getting Unstuck

I've been working on a bunch of (non-43 Folders-related) stuff lately, but I started feeling that hankering to come back and write something new here. To get the engine started, I went through some old posts and turned up a few (oddly self-inspiring) ideas that I want to re-share. The topic? "Getting unstuck."

  • Hack your way out of writer's block - "Literally. Put five completley random words on a piece of paper. Write five more words. Try a sentence. Could be about anything. A block ends when you start making words on a page."
  • Solve problems by writing a note to yourself - "Seriously, open up your email program, type in your own email address, then choose a brilliant subject line that perfectly encapsulates your particular problem."
  • Do a fast "mind-sweep" - "And as long as you let that stuff accumulate as chunky deposits on the edges of your perception, it’s very unlikely it’ll get done since — well — they won’t get done until they’re been captured and properly started, right?"
  • Cringe-Busting your TODO list - "Per cringe item, think honestly about why you’re freaked out about it. Seriously. What’s the hang-up? (Fear of failure? Dreading bad news? Angry you’re already way overdue?)"
  • Patching your personal suck - "Every patch that fails teaches you a little something that might come in handy some day. Mistakes, as they say, can be a buddhist gift."

I guess all I'd add -- since it's on my mind today -- is that I'm learning how much it pays to listen whenever you hear yourself mentally whining.

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43 Folders: Best of GTD

NPR: Tech Junkies Crazy About 'Getting Things Done'

As an insufferably huge public broadcasting nerd, I was happy to hear (via our pal, Ryan) that 43 Folders was mentioned in tonight's All Things Considered story about Getting Things Done.

Since this may be the first time some folks have visited the site, I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite GTD posts from the past four years. We talk about lots more than GTD here, but it's definitely a lot of my readers' favorite topic.

Thanks for stopping by. Ton of links after the jump...

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TaskPaper 1.0 adds new features (and "fiddling" isn't one of them)

Hog Bay Software's TaskPaper was recently released in a completed 1.0 version (previously), and if you're the sort of person who casts about for a simple way to manage projects and tasks from a Mac, this just may be your app.

But, even more significantly, if you're not looking for a simple action management system -- if you're that particularly pathetic sort of character who's convinced that features like tagging, syncing, collaboration, graph paper generation, and the introduction of an onboard artisanal breadmaker are all that stands between you and getting your stuff done -- well, you may need TaskPaper more than anybody. Because, friends, TaskPaper is just about fiddle-proof, and, frankly, I know a lot of people who could benefit from that today.

Here's what a simple document looks like in TaskPaper:

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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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Enlightened outsourcing Part 2: The practice

Ryan Norbauer returns with the hotly-anticipated conclusion to his series on the psychology and practice of outsourcing your life. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to start with part 1.

Now that I’ve primed your pump for an outsourcing extravaganza, it’s time to turn our eyes towards the quotidian.  Once you’re ready to hire help, there are two main challenges to face.  Firstly, you have to identify portions of your daily work that can be outsourced, and then you have to find the right person to do that work for you.

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Enlightened outsourcing, Part 1: The psychology

Yesterday, Ethan talked about delegating to yourself. Today, Ryan Norbauer discusses what it takes to delegate well to others. Part one of a two-part series.
Update 2007-10-08: Part 2 of this series is now available. »

I’m Ryan, and you can usually find me in the midst of my workday by following the trail of naked yaks. I fear that I’m drawn to arcane tasks not in spite of the fact that they are tangential to my ultimate goals, but precisely because they give me an excuse to avoid them. I don’t need to grapple with the big anxiety-evoking issues of how to make a new one of my companies make more money, for example, if I can instead focus on creating an elaborate triply-redundant, auto-rotating archival filing system for our Apache server logs (which we never look at.)

However, I recently encountered a weirdly tantalizing idea in Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek, which would ultimately disrupt my addiction to the extraneous. The book advocates farming out the more mundane tasks of your existence to outside firms and consultants, which Ferriss calls “outsourcing your life.” Probably because it would give me an excuse not to do something else more pressing, I decided to give this a go a few months ago. While I did learn quite a lot about outsourcing in the process, my experiments led me to a far grander epiphany about the way I approach life and work generally and helped me form a new set of habits that have utterly rocked my workaday world. I’m about to introduce you to the theory and practice of what I believe to be the forgotten Prime Minister of All Productivity Hacks: asking for help.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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