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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.


NYT: New data on the problems of "multitasking"

Slow Down, Multitaskers, and Don’t Read in Traffic - New York Times

'The Myth of Multitasking' by timothymorgan on Flickr

Yesterday's New York Times front page ran an article pulling together the results of several recent studies looking at how interruptions and attempts to multitask can affect the quality of work as well as the length of recovery time.

Here's one bit that really grabbed me:

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois, of a paper on the study that will be presented next month.

And, from a PDF of another of the studies cited ("Isolation of a Central Bottleneck of Information Processing with Time-Resolved fMRI"), here's a telling snippet from the article's abstract (yes, most of the rest of it is well over my head):

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Dave Cheong on staying focused at work

18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

In this post from last August, Dave Cheong pointed out some of the hazards of working in a cube farm, and he proposes some handy tips for wresting back your attention from a room full of interruptions and distractions. I think a few of these tips are big winners.

Allocate time slots colleagues can interrupt you...Instead of having people stop by your desk every 10 mins and asking you questions, let them know of a time in the day, say between 2-4pm you can be interrupted. At all other times, you can really get some work done...

Apply time boxing...Instead of working at something till it is done, try working on it for a limited period, say 30 mins. By that time, the task is either completed or you allocate another time slot, perhaps in another day, to pick it up again...

Find the best time to do repetitive and boring tasks...For example, I’m more alert at the start of the day, so it’s better to work on things which require brain power early. Working on boring tasks that can be done via auto-pilot are better left towards the end of the day when I’m usually tired.

I realize that many of these ideas assume a lot of autonomy and control over your work day as well as how you conduct it -- obviously not every career is conducive to the enforcement of what amounts to "office hours" -- but I think that's kind of the point as well as the irony and the big, bottom-line challenge.

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43f Podcast: David Allen on interruptions

Productive Talk #06: Interruptions

43 Folders and The David Allen Company present the sixth in a series of conversations that David and Merlin recently had about Getting Things Done.


In this episode David and I talked about interruptions. How you can minimize the bad interruptions and make the best of the good ones.

(Running time: 10:17)

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen here (after the cut).

Merlin's comments

In this episode, David makes the excellent point that if interruptions are a baked-in part of your job, they shouldn't necessarily be seen as a Bad Thing. It's just something you need to prepare for by "clearing the decks" in a way that opens you up for the opportunities and game-time input that new information can bring into your world.

Something not to miss -- David is just truly a whiz at changing gears based on his own system. If new stuff interrupts what he's currently working on, he scoops all the current work back into "pending," and basically says "Bring it on!"

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Managing around interruptions

Being organized means marshalling resources - The Boston Globe

Cindy Krischer Goodman's recent article on time management for the overcommitted and overwhelmed contains a gem from Stephanie Winston, who points out how senior executives learn to manage around the interruptions in their lives:

To do this, she says, start by blocking an hour or half-hour each day as power time to accomplish priorities. That may mean coming in early or hiding in the cafeteria to escape interruptions.

Break tasks into 10-minute segments; when you get interrupted, jot a phrase or cue to bring you back into the task later. When people drop in or call, give them your full attention, she suggests.

I think this is one reason why I like getting up early; time like that is so much easier to claim and defend before the world's demands start banging down your door.

SBJ: Filtering interruptions to enhance focus

Emerging Technology - Discover Magazine - E-mail Making You Crazy?

Steven Johnson on battling the email and interruption avalanches with smarter technology. He also cites the King's College study suggesting that multitasking makes you less productive than if you'd been doing bong hits.

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43F Podcast: The Myth of Multi-tasking

The Myth of Multi-tasking (mp3)

43Folders.com - "Multi-taskers" are really just splitting their time and attention into smaller slices than you; no one can really do more than one thing at a time. (2:34)

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NPR: Clive on "Interruption Science"

Technology forces us to juggle competing demands on our attention over the course of our workdays. Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times Magazine contributor Clive Thompson about "interruption science," the study of the effect of disruptions on job performance.

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Recap: Overload and the interrupt-driven lifestyle

Clive's excellent article from Sunday's New Your Times Magazine has brought us a lot of new folks looking for ways to adapt to the overloaded, always-on, interrupt-driven world in which most of us are living. I've bubbled up a few older entries on these topics that you might find useful:

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On the culture of distraction; one pipe for all interruptions?

Driven to distraction by technology | CNET News.com

Really good article on the problems and implications of the interruption-driven lifestyle. Full of great bits, including this:

Businesses could benefit from introducing a collective effort to switch off, Honore said. He points to the marketing department at Veritas Software, which last year instituted “E-mail-free Fridays” for its marketing department. The move came at the behest of Jeremy Burton, an executive vice president who was finding his in-box stuffed with 400 messages a day, many from his own department.

In Burton’s department, employees can’t e-mail one another on Friday, but they are allowed to e-mail customers or other parts of the storage company if they have to. The result? Workers spend more time connecting face to face, and Burton finds his in-box is only half as full.

And when it comes to finishing up a big project, many workers are unplugging altogether—something that Microsoft’s [Chris] Capossela says should not have to be the answer.

Well-written software could offer a better solution, he said. It should help employees stay connected but enable them to receive only messages they want to get—from a boss or family member, say.

Also, Carl Honore, the author of In Praise of Slowness (Amazon.com: US | UK | CA | FR | DE | JP) offers great tips like this, among others:

Before using any time-saving technology, ask yourself if you could perform the task…more efficiently using an old-fashioned method such as walking across the office and talking face to face.

I really do encourage you to read the whole article, because it gets to the heart of a problem that’s contributing to most everyone’s stress and feeling of being constantly overwhelmed. And you might want to follow it up with seeing how Billy G. reportedly carves out a “Think Week” each year.

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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. »

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