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

Crazy Modern Life

Making Time to Make: One Clear Line

This article is Part 3 of a 3-part series about attention management for people who do creative work called, Making Time to Make.
Previously: Part 1, Bad Correspondence
Then: Part 2, The Job You Think You Have

Tick tock.Could an email recluse like Neal Stephenson just cowboy up by agreeing to a monthly chat session or the occasional visit to a fan forum? Sure, he could. Could a volunteer intern scan Neal’s email once a week for particularly wonderful notes? You bet. Could he even conceivably just drop all the blast shields, open a chat room, “livestream” from his desk, and then spend the rest of his life answering questions from people with nothing better to do? Maybe. Sure. But, probably not. He’s already told us as much, hasn’t he?

The point, from my perspective, is that Stephenson possesses the man-sized pant stones to declare precisely what the people who enjoy his work should expect from him. And, in so doing, he has drawn a clear line that some might find hard to love, but that is very easy to see, understand, and respect. No, he didn’t hire someone to answer his email, or get a kid to pretend to be him on Twitter, or install a Greasemonkey script that “autopokes” people on Facebook (I’ll leave you to guess which two of these I do).

Neal Stephenson essentially said, “Listen, gang, here’s what I’m going to make for you: novels.” And then, he went back to typing. To working. On work.

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Making Time to Make: The Job You Think You Have

This article is Part 2 of a 3-part series about attention management for people who do creative work called, Making Time to Make.
Previously: Part 1, Bad Correspondence
Finally: Part 3, One Clear Line

Photo of Former Beatle, Maker, and Non-BlackBerry Carrier, John Winston Lennon (1940-1980) If you're a publisher, journalist, author, blogger, musician, artist, designer, cartoonist, or any other sort of person whose job it is to connect with people by communicating ideas, it's natural and wholesome for people who are interested in what you do (and many of whom are certainly makers-of-stuff in their own right) to develop a relationship with your work and to want a way to participate in it, add to it, and build upon it. It's equally great to reciprocate in a way that's collaborative, fun, and useful. God knows, it's anybody's dream to have people interested enough in what you do to find that they want to reach out to you. Talk about a first-world problem.

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Making Time to Make: Bad Correspondence

This article is Part 1 of a 3-part series about attention management for people who do creative work called, Making Time to Make.
Next: Part 2, The Job You Think You Have
Finally: Part 3, One Clear Line

Over the years, novelist Neal Stephenson (wiki), has had at least a couple different pages where he's explained why he's chosen to limit the access he provides via email, interviews, and phone calls. It appears to be something he's given a lot of thought to.

Via Jessamyn, here's an Archive.org mirror of an older version of his page where he explains his introversion and need to stay focused on his work, alongside FAQs that answer many of the questions he typically has to field. Read it all though. It's pretty good. Stephenson's bottom line?

I simply cannot respond to all incoming stimuli unless I retire from writing novels. And I don't wish to retire at this time.

And here's another well known piece, Stephenson's "Why I am a Bad Correspondent", in which he lays out more details about why he's chosen to create an expectation based on guarding his attention so slavishly:

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Email Insanity & the 0.001 Challenge

Via a Toot by Jeff Atwood comes this thoughtful post by Tantek Çelik on how email is no longer working for him. His first reason is a biggie:

1. Point to point communications do not scale.

All forms of communication where you have to expend time and energy on communicating with a specific person (anything that has a notion of "To" in the interface that you have to fill in) are doomed to fail at some limit. If you are really good you might be able to respond to dozens (some claim hundreds) of individual emails a day but at some point you will simply be spending all your time writing email rather than actually "working" on any thing in particular (next-actions or projects, e.g. coding, authoring, drawing, enjoying your life etc.)

This is one reason I'm getting attracted to using Get Satisfaction as a way to expose help issues to a large group of helpers and helpees (BTW, we're just getting started on GS -- FAQs and more will be coming soon). I'm also realizing that this is why I (and Jonathan Coulton and probably you) struggle with holding up dozens of one-on-one conversations -- it locks up your attention and its fruits in thousands of inaccessible alcoves. And truly, that does not and will not scale.

But, y'know, as I read Tantek's post, alongside his "Communication Protocols" notes, I found myself returning to a pet theory that I've been too embarrassed to lay out in a real post. But what the heck, I'll capture some notes and you can tell me what you think:

I suspect that email encourages people to act insane.

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Re-evaluating Your Online Commitments

overworked.gifThis is the time of the year for everybody to make lame, half-hearted resolutions about how they’re going to lead a better life in the new year: lose weight, stop smoking, eat less fried cheese, take a ceramics class, etc. My gym is already full of flabby, confused-looking people who spend more time adjusting their iPod cases and checking out their new track suits in the mirror than actually doing reps. I usually treat January as my month to be lazy; I stay away from the gym for a few weeks until the interlopers poop out.

But it is a new year, and it’s not a bad idea to at least try to alter some of your bad habits, pick up a new skill, or do something to make yourself happier. My suggestion for this year addresses a problem I suspect many of the people who read this site have: the sheer number of online commitments--that is, blogs, social networks, message groups, IM accounts, Flickr, Twitter, and any other online time sink that ends with an R--that we try to maintain.

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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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Field Reports: Guerrilla Office Tactics

I've started collecting stories -- some of which may be entirely apocryphal tall tales -- of the purported lengths to which people are going to filter noise and to ensure that their time and attention aren't ceded to bad ideas, thoughtless people, or garden-variety time burglars.

Here's a few of the more novel ones I've picked up. I'd also love to hear your favorites from amongst the cheats, tricks, and squirrely rules you've heard about:

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43 Folders Series: Inbox Zero


Inbox Zero

These are posts from a special 43 Folders series looking at the skills, tools, and attitude needed to empty your email inbox — and then keep it that way. You can visit each of the posts by clicking the title.

And don’t miss the “Related Articles” for our all-time popular posts on productively dealing with email.

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Naps: Endangered species in modern life?

My Make column on napping is overdue, and yet right before dashing off to steal a rejuvenating 20-minute nap, I take a spin past del.icio.us/popular to find this little gem:

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iCal hack to automatically add alarms

Groby Unplugged » Blog Archive » Making a better iCal

Robert Blum has come to my rescue with this handy little iCal hack -- it automatically adds an alarm to new events. It's currently hard-wired with a "one day before" alarm (happily, also my preferred default from Entourage), but Robert plans to add some flexibility in the 0.2 release next month.

(It still kind of amazes me that this feature isn't baked right in to iCal, but I'm wildly grateful to Groby for picking up the slack.)




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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