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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

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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Tips from Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools

Cool Tool: Tips 22

I love when Kevin posts these collections of tips from his readers. They're cut from the same cloth as our life hacks on the wiki.

Like many of 43f's readers, Kevin's contributors also obsess about shaving:

When your container of shaving oil is empty, try filling it with olive oil from the kitchen instead of spending $15 on a new stuff. I discovered that when I ran out a few years ago & I haven't looked back since. Olive oil does just as good a job and costs almost nothing per shave. People have been shaving with olive oil for thousands of years, there's no reason not to continue doing so.

-- Mark James

Many more on Cool Tools (here's the CT "Tips" category).

5 Favorite 43 Folders Podcasts, 2006

43 Folders Podcast

O'Reilly and Associates logo, detail

I'm a far from prolific contributor to the personal podcasting scene, but 2006 brought several episodes of the podcast that people seemed to enjoy and that I'm pleased to have made.

If you're new to 43f's podcast (subscribe for free) or just want to amble down memory lane with me, here's my five favorite episodes from this past year. Unexpurgated, unedited and, as ever, featuring candid depictions and the occasional swear; because sometimes productivity talk is just NSFW.

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MacBreak: Minimize distractions on your Mac

MacBreak 33: The Distracted Mac (Direct MOV Download)

Although it covers a lot of the same ground as a previous MacBreak we did on the subject, I think Leo and my segment on un-distract-ifying your Mac turned out pretty good (my atrocious hairstyle at shoot time notwithstanding). Download 10:28 MOV file now...

Here's the apps and tricks that we covered, with links:

  • Hide Others - In the front app, select "[Application name menu] > Hide Others"
  • Turn [Dock] Hiding On - In the Dock, CTRL-Click the Dock's vertical separator bar, and select "Turn Hiding On"
  • Backdrop - Create a black background that still lets you easily interact with Desktop contents
  • MenuShade - Alter the brightness of your Menu -- or totally black it out, like I do
  • Spirited Away -- Hides non-active applications after the interval of your choice (thanks for the legacy download link, Don)
  • Path Finder - Totally tricked out Finder on steroids that I love love love; where I made the Desktop black and hid all mounted drives, folders, etc. (doable in the regular Finder, too)
  • Hazel - Automagically clean up the contents of folders and the Desktop (e.g., "move old MP3s here" or "archive files older than a week" etc.)
  • Textmate - My favorite text editor. Which I apparently love to plug for no particular reason.

Edit 2006-12-21 16:51:22: Check after the cut for reader suggestions from comments for this post...

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Crossword-maker Merl Reagle on index cards

YouTube - The Hipster PDA in Wordplay

In the Will Shortz crossword puzzle documentary, Wordplay, Merl Reagle discusses how he uses index cards to collect and track ideas on the go.

[ via: The Hipster PDA in Wordplay - Lifehacker ]

I love two things in particular about this.

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Life hacks: Smarty Pants v. Dumbass

Your Brain's 2 Minds

The New, Soft Paternalism - New York Times

A recent NYT Magazine piece considers the trend toward compulsive gamblers being able to self-ban themselves from casinos and considers the discussions around what this sort of self-imposed "paternalism" might mean.

I don't have much of an opinion one way or another about whether this is good, bad, paternalistic, or what have you, but I was struck by a couple paragraphs that go straight to the heart of why many folks seek out garden variety "life hacks" in the first place:

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Kati Kim's life-saving ingenuity

I swear, if my family and I are ever in a situation like the Kims went through, I hope to God that one person in our group has the clear thinking, make-do ingenuity, and life-saving cleverness of Kati Kim:

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Productive Talk Compilation: 8-episode podcast with GTD's David Allen

Download MP3 of "Productive Talk Compilation"

As promised, here's the single-file compilation of the Productive Talk podcast interviews I did with David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done. The final version's eight episodes clock in at a considerable one hour and twenty-six minutes, so this should give you plenty to listen to while you're in line at the DMV.

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HOWTO cook a moister turkey: Ice it, pilgrim

Although I’m not much of a hand at generating tasty birdflesh, I heard a great tip a while back, gleaned from Mr. Harold McGee, author of the all-time-awesome geek food book, On Food & Cooking.

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David Allen on GTD's future (and why it just works, as is)

Productive Talk #08: GTD 2.0?

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


In this episode, Merlin asks David one of the most popular questions about GTD; if he could write the book all over again today, what would he do differently? David addresses how people’s understanding of GTD evolves on repeated exposures, as well hinting at future plans for making GTD easier for people to start and maintain. He makes some great points on learning to pay attention to your "higher altitudes," and wraps up by underscoring the importance of not having to rethink every task throughout the day. (13:11)

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

Merlin's comments

If you bend David Allen's ear for more than 30 seconds about GTD, you'll hear some variation of a phrase that I heard a lot over the couple days we hung out in Ojai: "It's all in the book!"

Say what you will about The David, but he is not a man who suffers from The George Lucas Complex. Much to the consternation of his publishers, his fans, and -- one suspects -- even some of his colleagues, David feels like he has already written the complete and definitive work on the Getting Things Done system. And he very clearly has no desire to futz with that basic system without a good reason; it's sound and complete, as is, and there you go. Next subject.

And, I have to say, in a lot of ways, I've come to really admire this.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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