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

Life Hacks

"Right Now, What Are You Doing?"

Right Now: What Are You Doing?

Right Now: What Are You Doing? I've started to become a lot pickier about where my attention goes as I observe what it means to my work when it drifts. But, I still have a long way to go. Long way.

Like a lot of people I have a bad habit of CMD-Clicking tab sets in my browser, which then spawns a dozen or more new panes of potential distraction, pointless horseshit, and 10,000 excuses not to focus on what I really want to be making right now.

I whipped up this (rather plain and inefficiently coded) page this morning, and stuck it into every tab set that I tend to abuse: as the first tab I see.

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Lunch Poems

Guest post from our pal, Brian, on how one of my favorite poets of the 60s captured interstitial time to make art. —mdm

At the late late party after party we were talking about how you know if you're a writer. I suggested that actually writing routinely was the tip off. Then someone had a better idea: that writers are those who feel guilty about not writing. A first-world problem, to be sure, but if you know any working writers, one of their most beloved hobby horses is that they just don't have time to write. Students, money, speaking engagements, lint, bacon, the Cubs, morning sex. So many things between them and great sentences.

Frank O'Hara didn't seem to have this problem. read more »

Motivate yourself with "loss aversion"

NPR: Put Your Money Where Your Girth Is

I really enjoyed this Morning Edition story on "Prospect Theory," or the idea that loss aversion can be an effective motivator in goals related to health improvement like weight loss and smoking cessation:

"What we know about incentives is that people work a lot harder to avoid losing $10 than they will work to gain $10," explains Ayres. "So something that's framed as a loss is really effective at changing behavior."

Related to that question I was asked at Macworld: I wonder if a gym membership might be even more motivating if you received a daily email updating you on the wasted dollars you'd spent by not working out in the last n days.

When I started paying most of my own college tuition, I remember realizing that every class I skipped was equivalent to throwing away about a day and a half of the money I'd earned from waiting on tables. It was very motivating for me, and I started missing a lot fewer classes as a result.

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Working In Close

"Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work." -- Chuck Close


Detail Chuck Close



It may be that I like hearing about the work habits of writers and artists I like almost as much as I like their work. How do you force yourself to do work no one (really, like, no one) is clamoring for, in addition to doing the long apprentice work you need to do to build your chops? As most of our work gets less structured and more creative, it might prove helpful to take a look at how artists get their stuff done.

And, sorry, all those romantic notions you have of absinthe spoons, manic episodes and Kerouac-like rambling on a long roll of butcher paper really aren't operative. Creative work is mostly showing up every day and enduring a million tiny failures as you feel your way to something a bit new.

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Laundry Hacking

Making life easier isn't always about massive, miraculous changes in habit, or chucking vast quantities of your belongings. Sometimes, preventing just one little hassle can make your day.

detergent.JPGYou know how the little bit of soap left in the cup after you dump it in the wash always manages to leak down the side of the bottle when you recap it? Usually, you don't notice it until the next time you do the wash, and have to pry the jug loose from a sticky, lint-colored pool. To prevent this from happening, toss the cap in along with the wash instead of recapping the bottle right away. It comes out squeaky clean, and you just have to shake off a little water before screwing it back on the bottle. I suspect this would work with the top of a dish soap bottle too, though you'd have to ask Ray, the gallant cleaner.

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The "Leave it by the Door" Trick, Ninja-Style

When we moved into a tall and narrow townhouse last summer, its advantages--more space, bigger rooms--came at the expense of having everything spread out on separate floors. Even though I'm quick to point out the bulbous calves and firmly sculpted buttocks I (further) developed from the all-day exercise of trudging up and down the stairs, I've also learned to avoid unnecessary trips.

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TOPICS: Life Hacks

David Brooks on his "Outsourced Brain"

The Outsourced Brain

NYT's David Brooks on outsourcing memory, reference, and decision-making to things that theoretically do it better:

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain’t got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind — one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don’t matter, Ma. I’ll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there.

And, ironically enough, if you didn't catch the Grapes of Wrath reference, it's easy enough to find it. Because, if you're like me, sometimes you also outsource your pop culture knowledge to Google, Wikipedia, and IMDB.

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The downside of the outboard brain

The fate of human memory

Clive Thompson writes on a phenomenon I think about constantly: if you really do start entrusting all your ephemeral memory work to external systems, might your wetware start to atrophy?

Apparently, yes:

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Toward a hygienic credit card

You've probably heard the advice to photocopy your wallet's contents; in the event that you lose your wallet, this makes it easy to know what you need to cancel and replace. Smart.

I recently received a new credit card and had forgotten what a hassle it is to change the info across all my various online accounts. Here's a few suggestions based on things I did this time around that should make it easier (or at least more interesting) the next time this happens.

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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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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. »