43 Folders

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

Personal Productivity

Provide context for better ubiquitous capture

Although the first priority in ubiquitous capture is getting it down, the red-headed stepchild trailing in at number two is providing context. And I don't mean the GTD kind of contexts, but the kind of context that minimally explains what this information means, where and when you collected it, why it matters, or anything else that will help you find a meaningful place for it in your life later on.

Example? Sure. Here's one from my real and recent world. Index card with one word on it:


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Sink or Swim: Managing RSS Feeds with Better Groups

Besides baseball, coffee, and my music collection, I probably obsess over how I read RSS feeds more than anything. Sometimes it feels like I tinker with the setup more than I actually read the news, but I'm making progress. I won't claim to be completely satisfied with how or why I try to consume so much information from the internet, but lately I've been as content with the process as I can hope.

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Best of: Our Favorite Videos

Back at work killing time? Sure you are. After all, it's nationwide "Thumb up your butt" week, right? You bet it is.

So, from the archives of 43 Folders (and the on-hiatus Merlin Show), here's four of my favorite videos of stuff I've done. Hope you like 'em.

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Sciral Consistency update: Remember flexible tasks

Sometimes surprises come from unexpected places. (Um, I guess that’s part of why they’re surprising.) Case in point, yesterday I opened Sciral Consistency as I’ve done several times a day for the last five years. This time, however, something happened that hasn't occurred since sometime in 2005. A notification window announced that a new version of the application was available for downloading.

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Vox Populi: Reasons to Quit

I have a lot of trouble keeping track of what I'm supposed to be doing. It's not that I necessarily have trouble prioritizing my tasks or scheduling things - I mean I do, but that's not the main problem.

The main problem is that I've got too many things I really need (want) to do - too many long-term projects with potential - and I'm never exactly sure when they're a few weeks away from a grand payoff and when they're just wasting my time.

I suppose this is a crisis of faith.

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The 7 deadly sins of instant messaging

I heart instant messaging, but I heart it too much. If you're a chat addict like me, you understand the lure. It's convenient, connecting you to faraway buddies with little cost. It's safe, releasing you from the worry of looking pretty or sounding sexy. And its deliciously fun. How can you not love video effects, screensharing, and presentation-hosting in Leopard's iChat?

Despite the benefits, instant messaging can turn you into a mindless chat drone. Too much chatting replaces real interactions and, soon, people turn into pixels.

To bring richer conversations back into your life, here are 7 bad chatting habits to stop right now. I've formatted them as a "not-to-do" list:

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Everything I needed to know, I learned in the 1600s.

It's taken as a given that we now deal with more information than previous generations ever imagined, living lives in which "number of clicks" is a meaningful measure of time. As Spanish productivity guru Balthasar Gracian says:

There is more required nowadays to make a single wise man than formerly to make Seven Sages, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.

Except he wrote that in the 17th century.

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The Annoying Productive Guy At Work: Shaming Users One Color At A Time

I was recently put in charge of on-site tech services after a two year apprenticeship as the assistant. Surveying the mess left to me by my former boss, I'm amazed at how many open projects he allowed to grind to a dead stop on his watch. I suppose it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Bloated from the effects of rapid growth, my company suffers from years of rampant position-creation and ill-considered solution grafts. Left to grapple with a culture of contradictory goals, incomplete training and an end-to-end process similar to Sartre's "No Exit" ("hell is other departments"), I'm surprised my predecessor got anything done at all.

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Psychotherapy for the Chronic Switcher

There's an obscure rule in baseball for a situation that rarely occurs, when an ambidextrous pitcher faces a switch-hitter. The pitcher has to declare which arm he's going to throw with before the at-bat and stick with it, else the batter could keep jumping back and forth to either side of the plate in an endless game of one-upmanship that would make Tony La Russa's head explode. The intent of the rule is obviously to keep the game moving, but it also saves the pitcher from himself; it forces him to pick his weapon given the challenge he faces, and just go with his best stuff.

I need a rule like this when it comes to picking the tools I use to manage my system for getting things done. I know my last post gave the impression that I'm almost proud of changing my system more often than Barry Bonds changes hat sizes, but deep down I'm rather ashamed. I need something to force me to go with my strengths, and just throw strikes the best I can.

Someone suggested that I think about what causes me to monkey around with my system as much as I do, and what, if any, elements stay the same. Then maybe as a means of public psychotherapy, the hive mind can help me identify my best pitch.

To start, let's look at the reasons why I switch:

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Confessions of a Chronic Switcher

My name is Matt, and I'm a chronic system switcher. Read through some of my old forum posts and bear witness to my shame. You'll see me talking about using text files and Moleskines; Treos and Pocket PCs; index cards and Hipster PDAs; iCal, kGTD, Backpack, Gmail, and Mail.app. There have been stretches when I made so many wholesale changes in how I Got my Things Done, shifting from digital to paper and vice versa, that I never needed to do a weekly review because I was picking through every scrap on my plate so often.

This is highly ill-advised behavior, I know. You're not the one who has to look the Staples clerk in the eye every other week when I pay for that armload of binder clips and gold star stickers ("They're for metadata," I say). And yet while I've tried every combination of bits and black ink known to man, I've never once felt like I was letting things slip through the cracks.

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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. »