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.


43f Podcast: Ian Shoales on Wasting Time

Odeo: Ian Shoales on Wasting Time

43 Folders welcomes guest commentator Ian Shoales on the subject of wasting time. (2:20)

More on Ian Shoales at http://www.ianshoales.com/

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

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Dethroner on the 1.0 of incremental weight loss

Dear Grady, You Asshole at Dethroner

Joel, situated in day two of Dethroner's topical "weight loss" week, throws down on the need for what I like to call a 1.0; yeah, we all want to be perfect, but first we just have to suck less -- in Joel's case, that means the need to just intake less, even if it's pre-packaged, non-organic, non-artisanal cuisine.

The compulsion to be perfect, immediately and eternally, is one of the most profound causes of procrastination for the garden-variety human, and it most certainly gives each of us all the reason we'll ever need not to even try. Or, as Joel puts it, to commenter "Grady:"

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6 powerful "look into" verbs (+ 1 to avoid)


In one of the recent podcast interviews I did with David Allen, we talked about procrastination and how he tries to get people -- especially knowledge workers -- back to just "cranking widgets."

I love this term, because, in his humorous way, David captures how any thing we want to accomplish in this world eventually has to manifest itself in an intentional physical activity. Seemingly over-huge super-projects like "World Peace," "Cancer Cure," or "Find Mutually Satisfying Vehicle for Jim Belushi" all still come down to physical actions, such as picking up a phone or typing an email.

And David is wise, in that interview, also to highlight the importance of what he refers to as a "'look-into' project," which just means that even deciding if a project is interesting and useful to undertake can be a project in itself. It also means that, even with an outcome of "deciding," that meta-project still consists solely of physical actions. In this case, it's the physical actions that help you locate the additional information you'll need to make a timely and wise decision about whether to proceed at all. In sum, no matter what, it all still should come back to widgets and how they get cranked.

Like a lot of you, I've struggled with how you turn "thinky work" into physical action widgets, but here are a few of my favorite task-verbs to get you started in the right direction. They're presented here in a rough approximation of the order in which I use them in my own "look-into" projects:

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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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Podcast: Interview with GTD's David Allen on Procrastination

Productive Talk #01: Procrastination

As I mentioned yesterday, today 43 Folders and The David Allen Company are happy to bring you the first in a series of wide-ranging conversations that David and I recently had about Getting Things Done.

So, let's kick things off with a goodie. Here's The David's take on that devil, Procrastination.

In this episode, David and Merlin talk about a very popular topic on 43 Folders -- procrastination. They discuss where procrastination comes from and how GTD can help get you back to cranking widgets. (13:21)

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

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AskMe: Motivation to do things you dislike

motivation solutions? | Ask MetaFilter

Good Ask Metafilter thread on finding ways to motivate yourself to do things you don't want to do. Good advice so far includes:

  • "Incentivise yourself, e.g. 'If I spend an hour cleaning and tidying, I definitely deserve <insert vice of choice here> when I'm done'."
  • "I set the timer for one hour every weekend and make myself tackle chores before I'm allowed to do anything else. When the beeper goes off, I stop and do something fun for a while. Repeat all day Saturday until everything truely essential is done."
  • "Don't look at everything all at once! Otherwise you won't get anything done other than worry about all the stuff you need to do. You have to pick at it, otherwise it overwhelms you."
  • "just pick one thing and do it, I pick the smallest thing if I'm feeling unmotivated. As you start chipping away the motivation will come to tackle the larger things."

Great tips, and a good time to mention The Procrastination Dash and most especially The (10+2)*5 Hack.

Folders for organization _and_ action

I recently ran across a mostly-helpful post on a website that mentioned the importance of using email folders for "organization." For some reason, this made me wince. I suspect it's because the day I got good at email was the day when I stopped organizing my messages and started focusing on doing something about them. Is this a distinction without a difference? I don't think so, and I'll tell you why.

As one of the holiest sacraments in the Church of Productivity Pr0n, folders -- be they physical, digital, mind-mapped, or purely notional -- represent the canonical way to put information into thoughtful piles. Folders of any sort afford a kind of higher-level, low-stress thinking that GTD fans in particular seek out. Folders do lots of stuff well:

  • allow me to keep like with like
  • let me not have to think about the things I don't need to think about right now
  • help me know how to find things when I do need them
  • assist me in switching gears quickly
  • make my life less chaotic and messy

So, yeah, folders are great at all of these things, for sure, and yeah, they do help you to get organized, especially in the sense of having less stuff in your life that's sitting around unprocessed. But at what point can a folder become an impediment to smart and timely action? Put more generically: how do we not allow the buckets and cubbyholes in our lives to become affordances for procrastination and dis-organization?

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43F Podcast: Work the Dash and Take the Break

The 43 Folders Podcast

Work the Dash and Take the Break

43folders.com - To make the "(10+2)*5 Procrastination Dash" work, you have to actually take the break. Make a modal change, get away from the computer, and catch up on your neighbors' mail.

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

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Michael Linenberger: Liberate tasks from your inbox

Get Out of the In Crowd

Fast Company speaks with author Michael Linenberger about not living out of your inbox. Although, like most GTDers, I'm not a big fan of priority- and date-based task management, the advice Linenberger gives is otherwise solid gold from my standpoint. Remember, if you're using your inbox as an ersatz to-do list, you're setting yourself up for a constellation of terrible habits and nearly certain procrastination. Quoting:

When you see a requested action in an email, don't do it immediately. It might be one of the least important things for you to do that day. Instead, immediately identify what the action is and put the email in a task folder. Change the title so that it states what you need to do, and put a due date on it and a priority level. You can do that in 15 or 20 seconds. Then you move right on to the next email. Now you'll get through your to-do email remarkably fast. Drag all of your other emails into a process folder, so you now have an empty inbox, which is a really nice feeling. The next thing you do is go to your task list and ask, "What are the most important things I need to do today?" That's the stuff that would keep you from going home at the end of the day.

[ via: Lifehacker ]

Turning procrastination into your shitty first draft

Are you procrastinating? Or are you just thinking? | Gadgetopia

I think Deane's insights on procrastination and programming might actually be even more true of writer's block and for many of the same reasons. But perhaps unlike coding, the gestation period of a writing project almost always benefits from a series of very small starts.

While there are dozens of tricks for psyching yourself out of a perceived writing slump, you eventually learn that blocks are sometimes there for a theoretically plausible reason -- because you really haven't figured out what you're trying to say yet, but suffer crippling anxiety and dread about even committing the "shitty first draft." So, as with the programming example, your brain beats itself up for being such a laggard and you may stay locked in creativity-sapping inaction. But the truth is you're probably working on it already. The only way to find out is to start someplace. Anyplace.

As Neil Fiore wisely points out in his excellent book, The Now Habit, we usually have more than enough information to just start most any job. Don't begin by fussing about perfection or the "right" place to start, just start. You can get help midwifing the process through tools like outlines, mind maps, or talking to a duck.

But, if you've truly procrastinated even getting to the point where proper gestation and idea seeding can begin, you're understandably in a bit of trouble. Because now you have to go straight to producing the artifact (the code or the article or whatever) while your brain still craves that extra bit of time to turn it all over. Like they say, a pregnancy takes nine months, regardless of how many women you've put on the job. Don't slip on a deadline that makes you try to make an infant in one night.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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