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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

Happy Birthday, Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott

I learned via the Writer's Almanac that today is the birthday of the Bay Area novelist and non-fiction writer, Anne Lamott.

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pigeonA few things I've learned I don't need to know about the second they happen:

  • a new comment has been added to a 43 Folders post
  • a friend of mine has posted a new photo to Flickr
  • a very long message from a mailing list I never read has been delivered to my inbox
  • someone on LiveJournal is still disappointed with their (job|love life|roommate|hair|lunch|other)
  • Technorati reports a new post somewhere in the world tagged "web 2.0"
  • the temperature in San Francisco has dropped one degree Farenheit
  • my FedEx package is still in Memphis

And, yet these are all things that I used to monitor manually via my RSS reader. Refresh all. Refresh all. Refresh all. Refresh all. Refresh all. Madness.

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2 ways to make RSS readers smarter

There's two significant features I've been wishing for in my beloved newsreader, NetNewsWire, and the emergence of this cool little ListMixer app will suffice as the prodding needed to toss them out to Brent and the boys upstairs.

1. Per-feed expirations

I'd love a little drop-down menu on the "New Subscription" window (that's also echoed as a section in the feed's "Info for..." window) that lets me select how long I want to subscribe to the feed. It might be pre-popped with, say, 3 months, but the options I'd include are (1 day | 1 week | 2 weeks | 1 month | 3 months | 6 months | 1 year | Forever). "But why?" you wonder aloud, "these RSS feeds, they are so wonderful!"

Well, one of the reasons I ended up deleting all my RSS feeds last month was the fact that my collection had become a disorganized travesty consisting largely of things I'd stopped reading, packages that had been delivered weeks ago, and comment threads that hadn't seen a new addition in months. Noise, noise, noise, and it's all down to me to delete the junk one feed at the time. Screw that. Reset.

I've found an increasing number of my feeds are, by their nature, ephemeral, in that they will lose any value to me within a very short period of time. FedEx deliveries are the canonical example. What in this world could possibly seem more important before it happens, but could matter less once it's passed?

Letting me establish the life of a feed when I add it, but then giving me a cool interface to decide if I really want to delete it would be very cool, and it could come in the way of...

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5 apps to rescue the distracted

Has your Mac turned into a shooting gallery full of distractions? Do your eyes spin like pinballs every time you sit down to work? Try a few of these apps to help discourage attention-grabbers and force your sickeningly versatile computer (and yourself) into doing just one thing at a time.

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Make #5 is out; "Smarter To-do" posts still available

Make Volume 05: Science

Make no. 5Another quarter, another sexy-ass issue of O'Reilly's Make Magazine. And that means another Life Hacks column from Danny and me. (Amazon.com link)

This time around, I laced-up for a knockdown, drag-out, one round intro to "Building a Smarter To-do List." The two posts from which it was inspired are still two of the most popular items on 43F.

While you can argue for the flavor and approach to task management that best suits your style, it's hard to disparage the benefits that come from getting task commitments out of your brain and captured in a consistent location. The Life Hacks research showed that most all of the alpha geeks had a "todo.txt" sitting in their home directory -- often comprising thousands of items covering every aspect of the geek's life, both past and future. In this case, we're focusing more on the to-do list as tactical game plan; until you get really good at this stuff, try thinking of your to-do list as the evolving strategy for focusing your effort and attention in the immediate future.

If you're saving your pennies, or liked the column and would like to learn more, you might want to cruise back through the original posts from last September. I still really like how they turned out --- and I actually do re-read them myself when I'm having trouble getting my stuff together. Yes, I'm actually that unproductive; I have to look to myself for advice. Pathetic, really.

Anyway, reintroduced here, "The Smarter To-do List":

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Tool Updates: D*I*Y Planner; GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus

There's been some interesting activity lately on two of the productivity tools that a lot of our readers like to follow.

D*I*Y Planner 3.0

D*I*Y Planner 3.0 (Classic/A5 Edition) | D*I*Y Planner

Douglas Johnston has recently released v 3.0 of his Classic/A5 D*I*Y Planner. If you haven't seen this before, Douglas has put together a Creative Commons-licensed version of the plain-paper templates usually associated with Costly Paper Planners. But he's added some lovely design touches as well as some creative templates that are meant to support GTD and other popular productivity systems. Douglas says, of this version:

Way more professional and extensive, covering not only time/project management but also lifestyle, health, creativity and more (e.g., life balance, storyboards, diet tracker, finances, exercise log, story submissions, etc.). Nearly 200 pages of templates are included.

While, in my opinion, the recent 'net obsession with "things you can print at home" has gotten out of hand -- y'know they have graph paper in stores now? -- Douglas has added a lot more than blue quadrille lines here. This is thoughtful stuff, and if you love the immediacy of paper but don't want to spend a fortune on a big folio from Staples, this may be right up your alley.

N.B. Fans of a tricked-out Hipster PDA can look forward to an index card edition late next month. Until then, the 2.0 HPDA edition is still available on his site.

GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus

GTDTiddlyWiki Plus - your simple client side wiki

Although I'm a little confused over exactly who's doing what to which version (why does my brain freeze up whenever I see words like "wiki" and "plus"?), it appears that GTD Tiddly Wiki Plus is a project to revive the popular (but stalled?) GTD Tiddly Wiki. According to Ted Pavlic, on the 43F wiki:

GTD TiddlyWiki Plus is much better than GTD TiddlyWiki because it is not a derivative of TiddlyWiki; it actually is TiddlyWiki. This means that plugins and macros can be added and the system can be upgraded as new versions of TiddlyWiki come out.

I haven't spent much time with this new release, but I'm intrigued by the idea of "plug-ins" as well as the idea that Ted plans to afford a "kGTD-like usage" for the GTDTWP.

I played with the last release of GTD Tiddly Wiki last summer, and I think it's a fascinating chunk of functionality. It's not really my particular cup of tea for everyday usage, but I really recommend you have a look for yourself. I get so much mail about the best way to "live" on two or more computers, and -- at least from a "GTD system" standpoint -- this seems like one novel solution.

Flow: How action and awareness get things done

A few good links and snippets on Flow -- a topic that's come a couple times before here and on the group, but which seems more germane than ever given a lot of what [the royal] we have been talking about lately. More deets on buying the book at the end, although there seem to be plenty of chewy resources on the web if you just want an introduction.


From c2:

"Flow" is a mental state of deep concentration. It typically takes about 15 minutes of uninterrupted study to get into a state of "flow", and the constant interruptions and distractions of a typical office environment will force you out of "flow" and make productivity impossible to achieve.

From wikipedia:

As Csikszentmihalyi sees it, there are components of an experience of flow that can be specifically enumerated; he presents eight:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernable).
  2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time - our subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is not too easy or too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.

Not all of these components are needed for flow to be experienced.

From The Man Who Found the Flow:

Of the eight elements, one in particular emerged as the most telling aspect of optimal experience: the merging of action and awareness. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence sounded a similar theme, when he wrote that "happiness is absorption." As the thirteen-century Zen master Dogen pointed out, in those moments when the world is experienced with the whole of one's body and mind, the senses are joined, the self is opened, and life discloses an intrinsic richness and joy in being. For Csikszentmihalyi, this complex harmony of a unified consciousness is the mode of being toward which our own deepest inclination always points us.

From Interfaces for Staying in the Flow:

In summary, interfaces that are targeted at improving user's ability to stay in the flow shouldn't underestimate the importance of speed in supporting creativity, quality, and enjoyment. Every time there is an interruption, literal or conceptual that gets in the way of users concentrating on their tasks, flow is lost. Slow interfaces, which I define as any that get in the way of users acting on their work as quickly as they can think about it, are problematic.

Online places to pick up a copy of Csikszentmihalyi's book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:

Washington Post: Why do we carry so much around?

Burdens of the Modern Beast

What’s in my bag: Yes, I will cut you.Washington Post on the growing amount of crap people carry around (present company very much included).

The increased quantity of carry-on items for our flight through life, he says, reflects "the tendency of our society to dispense with sources of shared stability -- the long-term job, neighborhoods, unions, family dinners -- and transform us into autonomous free agents."

The Walkman, introduced in 1979, Hine says in an e-mail, "probably set the precedent; it allowed people to be physically in a space, but mentally detached. The plethora of 'communications' devices we carry are also tools of isolation from the immediate environment. And, in the words of the recruiting ad, we each become 'an army of one' carrying all our tools of survival through a presumably hostile world."

It's the perfect posture for the Age of Insecurity. We fret about our jobs, families, country, manhood or womanhood, ability to be a good parent. We believe someone is out to get us. And to get our things. So, like the homeless, we carry our stuff with us. Just in case something, or anything, happens.

[ via Joe Ganley on The Google Group ]

So what should you carry, hmmm?

If you're looking to shed (or, perhaps, more efficiently augment) your on-board crap pile, check out these fun pages from the 43F wiki:

"Send to Quicksilver" returns in 10.4.4

I was doing a little demo of Quicksilver for a few folks at Search Champs last week, when a truly amazing and life-giving thing happened: I realized that one of my favorite features of Quicksilver -- cruelly torn away by a heartless Tiger upgrade a few months back -- has returned following the 10.4.4 update. Best. Day. Ever.

For those of you who haven't seen The Light, you can now (again) select virtually any kind of thing on your Mac -- including text strings, URLs, Finder selections and so on -- and "send" it to Quicksilver by hitting "CMD-Escape". On the face of it, this sounds like a fairly modest functional addition, but, dang, is it ever powerful in practice. It's the primary and easiest way to pass virtually anything into Quicksilver, from where you can then do -- well -- practically anything, as we've seen.

For me this means I can type a bunch of crap in any old text file, select it, hit CMD-Escape (thus passing it off to the first pane in QS) and then TAB to "Prepend to... > 5ives_ideas.txt". Yet another way to push your information into interesting places without ever leaving what you're doing.

Now, it's also worth mentioning that, with the versatility of Proxy Objects, you can do the same thing from within Quicksilver. Get your head around ideas like "Finder Selection," "Current Web Page," and "Selected iTunes Album" and you start to see even more ways to quickly get where you need to be without breaking a sweat.

The more you use and explore Quicksilver, the more you see how its sticky little tendrils can be extended into nearly every corner of your Mac world. And if you missed Dan's excellent overview of the many new Quicksilver features that have sprung up in the last little while, do yourself a favor, and check it out. You may be amazed what all's hiding under Quicksilver's hood these days.

SFGate talks with the father of "patterns"

To be a good builder, you need a feel for what surrounds you. Christopher Alexander knows. [SFGate.com]

Berkeley's Christopher Alexander -- author of A Pattern Language -- talks with Chron art critic Kenneth Baker in a 2-part feature discussing his career and his 4-volume collection, The Nature of Order (official book site)

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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