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.


Howard Rheingold, (Re)Sliced

Howard Rheingold, online pioneer and dapper man of the mustache and Indiana Jones hats, has started a new video blog to update his seminal 1992 essay, “A Slice of Life in my Virtual Community,” with how he spends his time online with today’s technologies. The first video is a little remedial, but what caught my eye is his promise to clue us in to his daily process, including not only his office time, but time spent on hobbies like painting and gardening. Looking back at that sentence, I know that sounds about as exciting as getting a flu shot, but I’m a sucker for watching how smart people manage their days. Should be worth a watch.

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Productive Talk 02: David Allen on patching GTD "leaks"

Productive Talk #02: Patching Leaks

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

In this episode, David and Merlin talked about ways to patch the leaks in your GTD system -- including the role of ubiquitous capture and scrupulous review. (10:33)

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen from here:

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GTD: Priorities don't exist in a vacuum

If you're a fan of Getting Things Done, you're familiar with the Four Criteria Model for choosing tasks. It's where the rubber meets the road in GTD, because it's the way you decide, in the moment, how any one of those wonderful tasks you've been tracking in your big system actually gets done.

As common sense as it seems to GTD'ers, this model is one of the more controversial aspects of Getting Things Done for a simple reason: it posits that priority is not the only factor in deciding what to do at a given time. It's just one of four factors, which include, all told:

  1. Context - Where are you? What tools are available? What are the limits and possibilities unique to this moment?
  2. Time available - Do you have, for example, 30 seconds, 30 minutes, or 30 hours available to you right now? What tasks could you accomplish given the time you have?
  3. Energy available - Are you full of energy, is your ass dragging, or are you somewhere in between? Which of the tasks on your list could you finish, given that energy level?
  4. Priority - If you had access to all the tools, opportunities, time, and energy you needed, what's the most important or time-sensitive thing you could do right now?

When I'm helping coach people on getting it together, they're often puzzled by this seeming bit of new-agery -- partly, I suspect, because most of us have been conditioned all our lives to think that pre-ordained Priority stamps always trump everything, all the time, always, forever, in all cases, end of story. But is it true, reasonable, or even physically possible to always work this way? Can you will yourself into doing only your identified high-priority items anytime, all the time?

Nope, and I'll show you one reason why.

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Patrick Rhone: Excellent productivity whitepaper

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but if you also hadn't spend much time with it yet, I suggest you check out Patrick Rhone's whitepaper on his version of a GTD system.

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Process email faster with Mail Act-On

My usage of Mail Act-On, while far from novel, has revolutionized the speed with which I can blow through email processing.

If you've never seen it before, Mail Act-On is a very clever Mail.app plugin that lets you create key commands that execute Rules you've generated in your Preferences. Sounds pretty dull, right? Absolutely. Until you start putting this stuff into action and learn how painfully slow all that draggy mc drag drag business is. Here's how I've set mine up.

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Ask 43F: Handling notes in scattered places

Shiran Pasternak writes to ask:

I'm overwhelmed by various note-taking tools you've recommended in the past (so it's your fault). I use, fairly arbitrarily, either TextMate, OmniOutliner Professional (purchased for kGTD, of course), and Notational Velocity...

My main problem is how to retrieve the notes, given that they exist in these scattered applications. Should I then migrate all my notes and use just one of these (or another I may have missed)? Or, should I use a combination of the tools? If so, can you offer heuristics for when to use each note-taking application, and also, if possible, some ideas for how and when to retrieve notes?

This is a really good question -- especially given how many people are suffering from the first-world problem of having way too many cool Mac apps to choose from for this kind of work. The short answer is to slim down the number of tools you're frequently using, but to then be sure you also do something smart and repeatable with everything you've captured. The longer explanation...

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Percolating your blog drafts

Let Your Blog Posts Marinate (4 Steps to Forming Great Ideas) at LifeDev

Good advice on developing a tunnel for how you draft stuff that will eventually go on your blog. I think #3 ("Let it develop") -- while it could benefit from a bit more explanation -- is the really interesting part. Try not posting immediately, and return to the draft later on:

It’s hard to say how long this step lasts. Sometimes it’s all over in 15-20 minutes. Sometimes it takes weeks. The important thing is not to rush the process.

5ives: The text file behind the curtain

I do something similar with 5ives, where this kind of process is really conducive. I have a running, two-year-old collection of ideas, partial lists, orphan titles and lots of "one fun line I could build a good list around." Goofy as many of them are, some actually sat around since the site began until they evolved to the exact choices, wording, and order that I liked.

Tip: Use text folding

Since this kind of collection method can get messy (over 100 partial piles of junk in one text file), I like to use text folding inside TextMate. This makes it easy to "roll up" lists in such a way that just the title shows, then you can individually click a little "reveal" arrow to see the hoisted contents. Something like this (note the arrows in the gutter):

The beauty part is that I can still append text to the bottom (or prepend to the top) using Quicksilver since it's all just plain old text. Neato.

[ via Gina on Lifehacker ]

Interviewing with "The Sawatsky Method"

I enjoyed this recent ATC story about the interview skills guru, John Sawatsky. "The Sawatsky Method" contrasts sharply with the confrontational attack dog methods most of us associate with people like Mike Wallace:

Sawatsky's rules are simple, but he says they get broken all the time: Don't ask yes-or-no questions, keep questions short and avoid charged words, which can distract people. In his seminar, Sawatsky points to Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes and CNN's Larry King as examples to avoid. In Sawatsky's illustrative clips, King favors leading questions that generate curt answers, while Wallace's rapid patter fails to get a subject to speak candidly.

More on Sawatsky here and here, including this gem:

The best questions, argues Sawatsky, are like clean windows. "A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it's like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn't notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn't notice the window. They should be looking at the lake."

Even for non-journalists, if you need to conduct the occasional interview, Sawatsky's got some golden tips.

What would you ask David Allen?

Forums - Ask David any question

Over on the DavidCo forum, Lisa asks:

If you could ask David Allen any one question about GTD, what would it be?

It mightn't surprise you to know I'd want to learn a bit more implementation and about how David sees contexts working best for people whose work mostly happens in one place (recently).

But I'm especially curious to hear what you guys would ask, given the chance. What would you ask David Allen about Getting Things Done?

Back to GTD: Simplify your contexts

This post is part of the periodic “Back to GTD” series, designed to help you improve your implementation of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

As we've noted before, GTD contexts lose a lot of their focusing power when either a) most of your work takes place at one context (e.g. "@computer"), or b) you start using contexts more for taxonomical labeling than to reflect functional limitations and opportunities. As you may have discovered, these problems can collide catastrophically for many knowledge workers, artists, and geeks.

Part of what makes the Natural Planning Model so attractive are the decisions that can be guided by contextual limitations ("I'm near a phone" vs. "I'm at the grocery store" vs. "I'm at my computer"). While it's definitely a kind of "first world problem" to have, facing the unlimited freedom to chose from any of a bajillion similar tasks from similar projects with similar outcomes is not nearly as fun as it first sounds. Consider the contextual hairballs of certain jobs and tasks:

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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. »