43 Folders

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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’.

Ask 43F: Handling notes in scattered places

Shiran Pasternak writes to ask:

I'm overwhelmed by various note-taking tools you've recommended in the past (so it's your fault). I use, fairly arbitrarily, either TextMate, OmniOutliner Professional (purchased for kGTD, of course), and Notational Velocity...

My main problem is how to retrieve the notes, given that they exist in these scattered applications. Should I then migrate all my notes and use just one of these (or another I may have missed)? Or, should I use a combination of the tools? If so, can you offer heuristics for when to use each note-taking application, and also, if possible, some ideas for how and when to retrieve notes?

This is a really good question -- especially given how many people are suffering from the first-world problem of having way too many cool Mac apps to choose from for this kind of work. The short answer is to slim down the number of tools you're frequently using, but to then be sure you also do something smart and repeatable with everything you've captured. The longer explanation...

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Finding "Getting Things Done Fast"

You could argue that the holy grail in GTD media these days is the woefully out-of-print “Getting Things Done FAST” CD set that DavidCo put out a few years ago. It’s eight (8) CDs of audio material covering the popular multi-day seminar that David did a few years back.

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GTD with a Mac label maker?

multipart/mixed: Turbo-Charging the Dymo LabelWriter

Dymo LabelWriter 330

I love my Brother PT-65, which is regarded by many as the unofficial official label maker of GTD nerds (and which, quizzically, appears to have been discontinued :-().

The PT-65 has easily paid back its modest sticker price with three years of faithful service. Trouble is, I like using it so much that it's gotten to be kind of a pain to pull it out and Blackberry-thumb-type my bajillion labels via its teeny keys. Now, I want something that hooks up to my Mac.

Josh Carter's gotten me interested in the Dymo LabelWriter 330 Turbo via this handy tutorial from late last year, which covers basic setup info, plus a tip on speeding up the creation of a new label with Quicksilver.

Josh has good stuff to say about the 330:

The advantages of the LabelWriter, as I see it:

  • The Dymo software is easy to configure for "power user mode" which eliminates all the extra dialog baggage, and then it's wicked fast to use. (Doubly so with Quicksilver in the mix.)
  • You get to use your computer's nice keyboard. This is especially important for me since I use the Dvorak key layout.
  • The Dymo labels are cheap and look totally pro, even better than a stand-alone label maker.
  • Labels are the same size, so reusing a folder is as simple as sticking a new label over the old one, and it still looks nice.
  • You can use fancy Mac OS X features like printer sharing if needed. (I tried it, it works great.)

Anybody using one of these units or similar? Care to recommend a label maker of any brand that hooks up via USB and works well with Tiger/OS X? I ♥ my little Brother, but I'm ready for Label Maker 2.0!

Guest Review: Fraser Speirs on "Time Management for System Administrators"

Review by Fraser Speirs

At the end of 2004, Merlin blogged about possible extensions or specialisations of Getting Things Done for specific constituencies, such as programmers, students or parents. Thomas A. Limoncelli’s book Time Management for System Administrators is perhaps the first example I’ve seen of a book which advocates a GTD-style workflow with some modifications specific to the system administration “lifestyle”.

Book Structure

The book is laid out under the following thirteen chapter titles:

  1. Time Management Principles
  2. Focus Versus Interruptions
  3. Routines
  4. The Cycle System
  5. The Cycle System: To Do Lists and Schedules
  6. The Cycle System: Calendar Management
  7. The Cycle System: Life Goals
  8. Prioritisation
  9. Stress Management
  10. Email Management
  11. Eliminating Time Wasters
  12. Documentation
  13. Automation

The core chapters for GTDers to think about are really chapters 4 through 8 and 13. The material about maintaining focus, handling email and managing stress will be familiar to regular readers of 43 Folders.

Although Time Management for System Administrators is not a simple modifier on GTD, in the sense that the author doesn’t explicitly reference GTD until the epilogue, much of the structure of Limoncelli’s suggested workflow will be recognisable to those familiar with David Allen’s book. Although Limoncelli doesn’t refer to GTD in the body of his work, it’s hard to avoid certain very obvious parallels such as the analogy of one’s memory as “RAM” (c.f. Allen’s “psychic RAM”) and the strategy of “Delegate, Record or Do” (which sounds much like Allen’s “Do, Defer or Delegate” in another order).

However, it would be unfair to dismiss Time Management for System Administrators as a GTD knockoff. It’s certainly not. One area in which I have personally found GTD to be weak is that of helping me decide ‘what to do next’. Certainly, David Allen does have some advice on that matter, but I always found it a little difficult to relate to my workplace. Limoncelli’s Cycle System is, I believe, a very strong contribution to filling that gap in GTD.

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GMail + GTD = GTDGmail

GTDGmail - The Firefox Extension that Combines Gmail with Getting Things Done - home

GTDGmail looks like a promising entry into the increasingly crowded gene pool of web-based productivity software.

The Firefox extension runs on top of your Gmail account, giving you an email-centric approach to implementing Getting Things Done that includes contexts, statuses, a very nifty search feature, and more. This could be just the thing for people who have to live in email, but who don't want to live in an unprocessed inbox.

From the GTDGmail site:

Gmail has long been identified (see Bryan Murdaugh's Whitepaper) as a very good tool for GTD. It has a simple interface, plentiful storage, effective label system a basic approach to storage (just Inbox and Archive). The 'Conversation' concept is perfect for efficiently linking tasks and other data - again promoting simplicity and personal effectiveness.

Finally, email needs GTD as much as any other part of your life, so it makes sense to embed GTD into an email client.

GTDGmail requires Firefox -- as in vanilla Firefox; it didn't work on my (preferred) Mozilla browser, Flock, but I'm open to accounts of pilot error if I'm missing anything.

Edit (2006-08-21 07:32:57): Well, that was mean and Michael Arrington of me, wasn’t it? :) I was incorrect in thinking GTDGmailhad gone functionally public (although the project seems pretty well known already). Keep an eye out for the full release (and do forgive me for the unintentional tease).

Edit (2006-08-21 18:01:06): Yay! Looks like it's available now: GTDGmail :: Mozilla Add-ons :: Add Features to Mozilla Software. Thanks, Aaron.

Download Squad: Windows GTD apps

Getting Things Done Software Systems (Part 1 of 2) - Download Squad

Download Squad has posted the first in a two-part series reviewing systems for supporting Getting Things Done. It includes an overview of the GTD basics, plus apps for Windows and PDAs. The next edition will cover "online software."

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Folders for organization _and_ action

I recently ran across a mostly-helpful post on a website that mentioned the importance of using email folders for "organization." For some reason, this made me wince. I suspect it's because the day I got good at email was the day when I stopped organizing my messages and started focusing on doing something about them. Is this a distinction without a difference? I don't think so, and I'll tell you why.

As one of the holiest sacraments in the Church of Productivity Pr0n, folders -- be they physical, digital, mind-mapped, or purely notional -- represent the canonical way to put information into thoughtful piles. Folders of any sort afford a kind of higher-level, low-stress thinking that GTD fans in particular seek out. Folders do lots of stuff well:

  • allow me to keep like with like
  • let me not have to think about the things I don't need to think about right now
  • help me know how to find things when I do need them
  • assist me in switching gears quickly
  • make my life less chaotic and messy

So, yeah, folders are great at all of these things, for sure, and yeah, they do help you to get organized, especially in the sense of having less stuff in your life that's sitting around unprocessed. But at what point can a folder become an impediment to smart and timely action? Put more generically: how do we not allow the buckets and cubbyholes in our lives to become affordances for procrastination and dis-organization?

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What would you ask David Allen?

Forums - Ask David any question

Over on the DavidCo forum, Lisa asks:

If you could ask David Allen any one question about GTD, what would it be?

It mightn't surprise you to know I'd want to learn a bit more implementation and about how David sees contexts working best for people whose work mostly happens in one place (recently).

But I'm especially curious to hear what you guys would ask, given the chance. What would you ask David Allen about Getting Things Done?

Back to GTD: Simplify your contexts

This post is part of the periodic “Back to GTD” series, designed to help you improve your implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

As we've noted before, GTD contexts lose a lot of their focusing power when either a) most of your work takes place at one context (e.g. "@computer"), or b) you start using contexts more for taxonomical labeling than to reflect functional limitations and opportunities. As you may have discovered, these problems can collide catastrophically for many knowledge workers, artists, and geeks.

Part of what makes the Natural Planning Model so attractive are the decisions that can be guided by contextual limitations ("I'm near a phone" vs. "I'm at the grocery store" vs. "I'm at my computer"). While it's definitely a kind of "first world problem" to have, facing the unlimited freedom to chose from any of a bajillion similar tasks from similar projects with similar outcomes is not nearly as fun as it first sounds. Consider the contextual hairballs of certain jobs and tasks:

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Back to GTD: Do a fast "mind-sweep"

This post is part of the periodic “Back to GTD” series, designed to help you improve your implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

Whether you learned GTD from the book or heard it from The David himself (via one of his excellent seminars), you know that the vital first stage of Getting Things Done is Collection.

As laid out in Chapter 5:

Basically, everything is already being collected, in the larger sense. If it's not being directly managed in a trusted external system of yours, then it's resident somewhere in your psyche. The fact that you haven't put an item in your in-basket doesn't mean you haven't got it. But we're talking here about making sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

And, as David succinctly states elsewhere in the book, if you don't use a dedicated inbox in the context of a healthy collection habit, your whole house or office turns into your inbox. And that just doesn't scale. Failing to do so in recent weeks may be why you've fallen off the GTD wagon.

So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it's precisely the place to start when you're trying to properly get back into it.

And for the errant GTDer, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what DA calls "the mind-sweep."

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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