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.


Anne Lamott: Put the puppy back on the paper

I’ve previously mentioned Bay-area writer Anne Lamott in the context of her fondness for index cards and her belief in the importance of capturing ideas at the moment they come to you (it’s something I also really believe in). It’s fun to hear her talk about this stuff, too. She has a discursive speaking style that’s, by turns, insightful, frustrating, and very funny.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading her book Bird by Bird a section or two at a time whenever I have a few minutes, and I have to say, it’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time.

As a guide for young or aspiring writers, I’d put it up there with On Writing Well and Writing Down the Bones in terms of practical, really useful advice. She strips away so much of the pretense and BS about the writing process and encourages you to just start writing—focusing on small assignments (all you need to do is fill a 1″x1″ picture frame with words) and what she calls “the shitty first draft.” Great stuff.

But I think some of the most amazing passages in the book have little to do with writing, per se. It’s all about how we choose to look at the world and ourselves.

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Park on a downhill slope

Jeffrey Windsor shares a great tip for making it easy to start work in the morning—by always leaving your work at a point where it will be easy, intuitive, and interesting to pick things back up. Instead of grinding away until you're drained and out of enthusiasm, quit while you're on a roll.

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Lifehacker: Canadian Press Secretary on his HPDA

Gina talks with Ian Capstick, who coordinates complex press interactions for NDP party MPs using a favorite tool of ours.

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Found: Rules of Thumb 2

Rules of Thumb 2
Originally uploaded by hotdogsladies.

Last month, I mentioned a series of books by Tom Parker that I had loved in college, called “Rules of Thumb,” and I’d lamented that they were out of print (since I couldn’t find my old copies). Imagine my delight when a bit of closet refactoring turned up this dog-eared veteran.

Here are a few of my old favorites:

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Six Apart redesign (plus a few thoughts from your author)

Wrote a little bagatelle on blogging for the Six Apart kids. Congrats to them and Mule for a beautiful re-launch.

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A 'Getting Things Done' Valentine

Deez Steeles: Getting Things Done as Marriage Counciling

GTD 4U This is a wonderful post, and it illustrates something I hear from people all the time—how they feel more tuned-in to their personal life once they find a way to climb out from underneath their pile of ephemeral crap, and, frankly, how they are finally able to pull their head out of their ass long enough to pay attention to the really important people in their life.

In my case, my positive outcome is that my marriage is strong, and my wife knows and feels like she is the #1 priority in my life.  So then I can identify the next physical thing I need to do in order to accomplish those goals: it might be buying flowers, or taking an evening to cook dinner and spoil her, or booking a little weekend getaway.  Now, my wife doesn’t really like the idea of being treated like a “project,” against which tasks are assigned.  But, I would say that I’m just using GTD as a tool to make sure that I am constantly reminded to take actions to make her a priority.  That can’t be bad.

That’s pretty cool. Nice Valentine’s Day message for you GTD fans (and a savvy reminder never to let your loved one know they’re a project).

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Systems, ciphers, and the dirty little secret of self-improvement

My theory is that the secret code for most self-improvement systems—from Getting Things Done through Biofeedback and the Atkins diet—is not hard to break; any idea that helps you to become more self-aware can usually help you to reach a goal or affect a favorable solution. That’s pretty much the entire bag of doughnuts right there.

Self-improvement juju works not because of magic beans or the stones in your soup pot; it works because a smart “system” can become a satisfying cipher for framing a problem and making yourself think about solutions in an ordered way. Systems help you minimize certain kinds of feedback while amplifying others.

Also, when you’ve undertaken most any kind of program, there’s usually a built-in incentive to watch for change, monitor growth, and iterate small improvements (think: morning weigh-in). While I don’t doubt that some systems empirically work better than others, I suspect that success with any of them has much to do with how we each think, behave, and respond to our environment.

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Mark Taw on Procrastination

Mark's article gets to the core problems that cause people to get derailed, distracted, and perpetually off-target.

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Patching your personal suck

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work is a terrifically useful and very entertaining list of hacks, tricks, ciphers, and fake rules for helping yourself write. Or more specifically, it helps you get unstuck, unblocked, and out of that hated procrastinating mire. It’s actually a much better version of my “Hack Your Way out of Writer’s Block” that I somehow missed in putting my ideas together.

I have to say, I’m really pleased to have discovered this article today, because it comports with some stuff I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and with the approach that sums up my feeling about “43 Folders-esque” ideas: in order to find what works for you, it helps to understand why the old stuff doesn’t

By now, everybody knows that I swiped the basic idea for 43 Folders from my pal, hero, and personal muse, Danny O’Brien. His work on the original Life Hacks presentation was centered around research into why some people, especially those overachieving alpha geeks, seem to get so much more accomplished over the same 24 hours we mortals start with each day. Some of them, like Rael, just seem preternaturally organized and focused. Others, like Cory, are blessed with an ungodly gift for effective multi-tasking.

But many of the other productive nerds, as you soon realize, have just gotten really good at identifying their weaknesses and developing the compensatory psychic muscle needed to shore up their vulnerabilities. Forgetful? Write stuff down. Easily distracted? Set timers. Saddled with pointless interruptions? Leave the office. Find the bad code in your system and eliminate the bugs. Find the fastest, easiest, most elegant solution that could possibly work. Can it really be that simple?

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »