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

Mind and Spirit

Time & Attention Presentation: "Who Moved My Brain?"

Who Moved My Brain? Revaluing Time & Attention (slideshare.net)

a brain in a jarThanks to my pals, Dara and Shawn, I've been preparing for a return visit with the folks at GoDaddy to deliver a couple talks on Inbox Zero and Time and Attention.

As I've been going over my slides for the Time & Attention talk, I realized I hadn't shared how the material has evolved since it premiered at Macworld in January. Which is to say, "Kind of a lot." So, I've posted the updated deck.

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Task Times, The Planning Fallacy, and a Magical 20%

Overcoming Bias: Planning Fallacy

Via The Guardian, via Chairman Gruber, comes this post from the new-to-me blog, Overcoming Bias. It discusses the research behind a common cognitive bias known as The Planning Fallacy, which is a repeatable, documented error in thinking that apparently explains why we all tend to "underestimate task-completion times."

It's summed up nicely by Gödel, Escher, Bach author Douglas Hofstadter's Law regarding the time it takes to do anything:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take Hofstadter's Law into account.

Sounds familiar. From the Overcoming Bias post:

People tend to generate their predictions by thinking about the particular, unique features of the task at hand, and constructing a scenario for how they intend to complete the task - which is just what we usually think of as planning.


But experiment has shown that the more detailed subjects' visualization, the more optimistic (and less accurate) they become.

Cf: The Optimism Bias.

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Tracking Down the "Embarrassing Memory" Noise

Compelled to Blurt... | Ask Metafilter

Like a lot of people in this Ask Metafilter thread, I thought I was the only person in the universe who made an unconscious little noise when remembering something stupid I did or said.

It's not especially loud, in fact it's often under my breath. The sound is usually just a quiet grunt, or a word/syllable or two. If I remember an embarrassing conversation, I tend to blurt out a random word of the conversation (as in, I'm replaying the dialogue in my head but then all the sudden one of the words pops out of my mouth). If it happens while I'm reading, I tend to blurt out one or two of the words that happen to be under my eyes at the moment.

For context, my tic (which can also be heard when someone near me does something dumb) sounds a little like the noise Leo Bloom makes after he falls on his keys (00:34). "Ooooooom...."

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Chronic Procrastination and the Cost of the "Ding!"

Guadian UK: Hi-tech is turning us all into time-wasters

(via Rich Siegel)

A few weeks ago, I pointed you to a startling stat in the New York Times stating that 28% of the average worker's day gets blown on unnecessary interruptions -- helping contribute to a crisis that a company like Intel now considers a $1 billion per year problem. From yesterday's Guardian comes more numbers on the growing cost of distraction:

Ferrari says that chronic procrastination is now so serious a condition it needs to be recognised by clinicians. In a study to be published later this year, he estimates that 15 to 20 per cent of people are chronic procrastinators. 'We now have data on 4,000 people, and it doesn't seem to matter what age you are, or your sex or background.'

Of course, as the Inbox Zero guy, I think a real eye-opener sneaks in with this passing note about the cost of all those noisy email notifications you created:

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"Zerstreutheit" and the Attention Management Cure

Linda Stone: Is it Time to Retire the Never-Ending List?

Linda Stone -- who coined the phrase "continuous partial attention" -- makes a thoughtful distinction between managing time and attention, deflating the misconception that making long lists and then overscheduling your day can be a bulwark against distractions, interruptions, and the crippling feeling of being overwhelmed.

In this recent blog entry from the Huffington Post, Stone talks about a pattern she's noticed from talking with people about how they think about and plan their day.

What did surgeons, artists, and CEO's have in common? Most of them reported that they managed both their time and their attention. In surgery, in the studio, and in the time carved out to think through strategies and issues, these professionals reported shutting down the devices and endless inputs (email, phone, interruptions), at scheduled times, and claiming those moments to focus. In almost every case, these professionals reported experiencing "flow" (a la Csikszentmihalyi) in their work.

[HuffPo link via Boing Boing]

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Ask MetaFilter on Worrying

How to Change my Worrywort Perspective | Ask MetaFilter

The thing I love about Ask MetaFilter is that it makes you feel like you're not alone. Just when you start thinking you're crazy for feeling a certain way, someone pops up with a question about the exact same thing. Over the weekend, a poor soul calling himself a "world class worrier" asked the hive mind how he could just let it go and find his inner Bobby McFerrin.

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Ain't Nothin' Wrong With a Little Free Time

Since my days are set to the sleeping patterns of a toddler and the biorhythms of a dog, I have to squeeze my "work," i.e. writing, interviews, blogging, etc, into naptime and the few hours after the boy goes to bed and before I collapse. I'm pretty good about getting the important, bill-paying stuff done, but unfortunately that means what suffers is Me Time, things like reading books or watching a ballgame on TV without a computer in my lap. When I just spent most of my day stressing out about what I wasn't getting done because I was at the playground or reading Richard Scarry books 49 consecutive times, I can't very well justify not doing my stuff when I'm back home and books are put away.

One day this week, the boy was at Grandma's for the day, so I lined up a ton of things to knock out. Most of my afternoon was going to be spent dealing with some carpenters installing a cabinet in our house, so I also knew I had to get busy in the morning. As any time-constrained person knows, feeling squeezed is the best way to make yourself efficient, and I finished everything I needed to by lunch. Then, lo and behold, the furniture guys called and said they couldn't make it, so I was faced with a free afternoon.

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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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Stefan Sagmeister on design and happiness

TED | Talks | Stefan Sagmeister: Yes, design can make you happy (video)

I really enjoyed this 15-minute TED presentation by Stefan Sagmeister (watch out: flashy page with grabby browser javascript) on how specific instances of design have made him happy.

The replacement subway signs he mentions (recreation below via Chris Glass) really are pretty terrific. (Anyone have more info or links on the artist and the guerilla campaign?)

Like, Chris, I also really like what Sagmeister has to share about the patterns in his own life that have made him more happy than not. It's easy to see how striving to live these sixteen bullets could help a person enjoy a more creative, open world.

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The War of Art, and JoCo on becoming a "true person"

007: Interview: Jonathan Coulton, Part 2 | The Merlin Show

I first heard about The War of Art from David Allen during our GTD podcast series last year. I finally picked up a copy a couple months back and read it in an evening. Like a lot of self-help books, it's longer than it needs to be (and it's not actually very long to begin with), but it does make some great points about what its author calls "resistance."

Resistance can be thought of as anything that pulls us away from doing the work we know is most important to us. It takes many forms (including procrastination, fear, distraction, and negative self-talk), but the effect is often similar: we find or permit all kinds of barriers to keep us from becoming the person we want to be, or from completing the thing we really want to make. Whether that's being a published author, a composer, a playwright, or a painter, our impulse to create constantly battles an impulse to do something else, or to do nothing -- to not upset our weirdly comfy stasis.

This book came up twice in my recent interview with Jonathan Coulton; both in part one and today's recently released part two. Jonathan strikes me as someone who has, so far, succeeded at talking down the resistance he'd faced, and now he's doing what he's great at, and, in his words, he's working hard to become the kind of "true person" that he wants to be for his daughter.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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