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


Michael Buffington: iGTD + Quicksilver + subversion

by Michael Buffington

This is the second entry in a multipart series about my recent obsessive love affair with GTD, the iGTD application and Quicksilver.

In the last entry I put the emphasis on getting my tasks written down quickly and out of my focus into a system I could trust. I could choose to spend some time later to review my tasks and do what I like to call "iGTD gardening", where I check up on all my projects and do a bit of weeding of duplicate or irrelevant tasks, and fortify those tasks with whatever information comes to mind as I'm looking at them.

Since I'm now in the habit of pushing new tasks to iGTD and immediately forgetting about them I have the refreshing ability to work on a task without ever thinking about anything else. iGTD then becomes my set of instructions to follow when I need guidance, and if I've tended my task garden well, it's a rich set of instructions with a lot of tedious thinking already finished.

This system works out alarmingly well until you're possessed by SSD (severe stupidity disorder) and delete your iGTD database without even a whiff of lingering vapors. Immediately you'll be consumed by a profound and unshakable dread as you realize your tether has been severed from the mother ship and you begin to drift into outer space, your Tang to be divided up amongst your colleagues (even the ones you loathe).

Luckily for most of us, iGTD makes database backups upon starting up the iGTD app and for a couple of other events, and luckier still, most of us don't suffer from SSD very often.

But I often do, and don't leave anything to chance.

read more »

DavidCo's Robert Peake on "Getting Software Done" (part 2)

This is the second of a two-part article by Robert Peake, CTO of the David Allen Company. Be sure to start with yesterday's first part, "Why GTD Matters To Programmers."

Part II: GTD and Extreme Programming

by Robert Peake, David Allen Company

I have to admit that I'm not a perfect adopter of Extreme Programming. We don't program in pairs, for example -- quite the opposite, our coders are flung far and wide, tethered together only by a broadband connection. However, as much as GTD is "advanced common sense", so to my mind is Extreme Programming a form of "best practices on steroids" -- and for this reason, there are not only many parallels, but great crossover when it comes to managing programming projects.

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Guest Post: DavidCo's Robert Peake on "Getting Software Done" (part 1)

Robert Peake is the brainiac CTO for the David Allen Company (a/k/a, "DavidCo"). I first met Robert when I was down in Ojai a few weeks ago to record some stuff with The David, including our Productive Talk podcasts and that TechGTD panel we did with Robert and Eric Mack.

Robert really impressed me with his humor, his insight, and his mad Macintosh skillz. Also -- off the record -- I happen to think Robert's probably the most articulate evangelist for geek GTD I've ever met. He really gets both pieces so well that, of course, I demanded he write an article for 43F, right on the spot. He was kind enough to play along, and flipped around this terrific piece in record time.

As he covers in this series, a lot of Robert's time over the past few months has been spent putting together the GTD Connect membership program, as well as making sure all the company's lights stay on from a technology standpoint. Since I know a lot 43F readers share Robert and my interest in GTD and programming, I'm sure you'll dig hearing from him. He successfully pulls together some pieces I've had floating around in my own head, and I thank him much for sharing this.

[Note: Part 2 of Robert's article, entitled "GTD and Extreme Programming," appears Wednesday on 43 Folders.]

Getting Software Done

by Robert Peake, David Allen Company

Since launching GTD Connect, we have gotten a lot of great feedback not only on the content, but on the technical underpinnings of the system we built to deliver the audio, video, forums, podcasts, and other goodies on the site. What a lot of people may not realize is that, to my mind, a lot of the elegance expressed in the technology that drives Connect stems from the fact that we implement and use the GTD methodology in our software development process. We really do "eat our own dog food" at DavidCo, and I'm convinced that necessarily translates to a more positive user experience overall in every product we produce, and especially software. A lot of people also don't realize how highly relevant GTD is to the software development industry specifically, and how many interesting parallels there are between software best practices and workflow best practices (i.e. GTD).

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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.

read more »

Guest post: Scott Andrew on "Productivity for the Practicing Musician"

Some time back, mathowie poked me about talking to our pal, Scott Andrew, about some of the productivity mojo he uses to keep his one-man acoustic pop army in line. Turns out that, in addition to being a terrific singer/songwriter, Scott’s got a mature system for booking gigs, promoting his work, and maintaining a lively relationship with his many fans.

Although there are tips here that will be useful to everybody (keep it simple; fear not lofi; provide great customer service), the musicians, artists, and other performers out there will most especially learn from what Scott’s got going on; as my friend Sean is fond of saying (in a booming, fakey showbiz-guy voice): "It's not music 'friend'; it's music business!"

Productivity for the Practicing Musician

by Scott Andrew

When Merlin approached me about writing a sort of “Getting Music Done” piece, I initially thought: buh? I’m probably the worst model for artistic productivity. After mulling it over, it occurred to me that I’m probably a very typical model. I have a day job. I have rent. I write songs on a used thriftstore guitar and record them when I can scrape enough gig money together. I spend my creative life in that emotional DMZ between self-assured, passionate DIY ferocity and vague, nagging career dissatisfaction. In other words, I’m just like most aspiring musicians. Perfect! So don’t please look on this article as advice from someone who’s “been there” — I’m still getting there.

I once read a rant by a punk musician who complained that if he had the time and ability to do all the stuff needed for a rewarding music career, he wouldn’t need a record deal. Well, yes. The unsexy truth is that some days you’ll feel more like a Post Office than a rock star. This pisses off some people who’d rather be working on, like, music, instead of bookings or publicity. But that’s okay, because the worst that can happen is: nothing happens. Eventually you get tired of nothing happening, and you resign yourself to the “business” side of the music business. Sigh.

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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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Jeff Covey: Running a _Progressive_ Dash

Reader Jeff Covey shares how he’s started beating procrastination with a dash. Jeff’s system features a very fast daily start-up and a clever way to make sure every to-do gets touched first thing every morning.

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The D*I*Y Planner: Hipster PDA Edition

a million monkeys typing » D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition

Geek worlds collide as Douglas Johnston releases the “Hipster PDA” edition of his popular D*I*Y Planner. As with the classic version, Douglas has adapted and refined popular “paper planner” templates—only this time they’re tailored to fit on our beloved index cards.

To commemorate this august occasion, we’ve asked Douglas himself to share his thoughts on why paper seems to be making such a comeback (if it ever “went away”), including some insights into who this format may and may not work best for.

Great work all around, Douglas!


The D*I*Y Planner: Hipster PDA Edition

by Douglas Johnston

D*I*Y Hipster PDA In this day and age, paper-based planning (PBP) is a notion roughly analogous to horse-and-buggies, pneumatic networking, sliderules, and steam-powered lawnmowers — in other words, ancient technology.

So, why are we suddenly seeing a resurgence in paper-based organizational tools like planners, index card sets (a.k.a., the Hipster PDA), file folders, pocket briefcases, and honest-to-goodness real-ink pens? Outside of a number of philosophical reasons, I believe that it's ultimately a matter of knowing that these things actually work. After all, not even the trendiest tools last for more than a season if they don't deliver (and I have a junk drawer overflowing with orphaned gadgets to prove it). There's a proven track record behind paper-based planning, and an endless array of options for those people wanting to define --and redefine-- their systems.

Despite being an IT professional, I've found that the dozens of technology-based systems I've used over the years have never really been fully effective solutions for managing my time and projects, and so bits and pieces of my life are now scattered in a hundred incompatible systems, never to be seen again. The last straw was when several of my Palm databases became badly corrupted last year, the bad data having also spread to the desktop and the backups: needless to say, much was lost. I began to wonder if the Day Runner I used a lifetime ago could be resurrected and made useful again. This plan had its problems, however: not only was the nearest Staples a four-hour jaunt away, but their shrink-wrapped forms were quite limited in variety and usage, not to mention very expensive -- a typical pack of 20 To Do sheets was about $5 USD. The D*I*Y Planner project was thus born as a way of providing a wide assortment of forms at little cost. (Although, my wife might argue that I was just being cheap.) With the realization that others might find it useful, I decided to create a system that could be tweaked to suit almost any methodology or situation, relying heavily upon user feedback for ideas and direction.

The latest member of the D*I*Y Planner family is the Hipster PDA Edition, a set of 34 organizational and planning templates designed specifically for 3x5“ index cards. I've received hundreds of requests for a kit like this, many claiming it was an important option for creating an ideal customized system. At first, the demand took me by surprise; after all, why would you want to print so tiny on cards that contain so little information and are so hard to file?

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Danny O'Brien: Question on geeks and games

Danny asks: "When you have a regular, mind-crushingly dull task to do, do you have a little game you play with yourself to make it easier? What is it?"

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Guest: Mike Harris looks at "Remind"

How much do I love my readers? So much.

Mike Harris very kindly sent me a suggestion about having a look at Remind, a swell little Unix program for doing CLI stuff to give yourself, well, reminders. It’s really quite powerful, that.

Despite my initially flipping the bozo bit by asking for technical support about installing Remind, Mike responded with one of the most useful emails I’ve received in a year. So good, that I asked him to move a couple things around and turn it into a full-length guest feature for 43 Folders. So he did.

Many thanks, Mike. I'm still getting my head around a lot of this, but already see many uses for this. Fellow Unix noobs: this looks like a pretty good first project, eh?

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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