43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

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

Project Work

Reviving a moribund project with Doodle

Doodle: Scheduling meetings

Maybe this is the GTD-er in me, but I have to admit a frustration with projects that peter off because there's no one person near the helm who's dedicated to defining and managing the group's actions. It's a Project Manager role, and if a group doesn't choose and empower one person to take care of it, stuff simply won't get done. Whether it's deciding on a good night for dinner with friends or organizing the next board meeting, we all need a little help turning generic good ideas into real-world coordinates for action.

So, lately, I've found myself informally assuming this role, driving a surprising number of gone-fallow projects just by using Doodle to propose a simple check-in. The bottom line is that this process of getting a stupid 15-minute call on the calendar of several busy people will tell you so more than you can imagine about where you and your project stand. But where's Doodle enter in to it?

read more »

Stikkit: Magic words, functional emails, and a handy cheat sheet

(Disclosure: I’m a proud member of Stikkit’s advisory board)

As promised, I wanted to start sharing some of the reasons I’ve been digging Stikkit, so I thought I’d begin at the beginning: Stikkit’s use of “magic words” to do stuff based on your typing natural (albeit geeky) language into a blank note. There's a lot more to Stikkit than magic words, but this is a great place to start. (And, yeah, future posts will be more about how to implement stuff with Stikkit, but it's worthwhile to start with the mechanics.)

[Note: this is one of those posts that you might want to print out]

So let’s say I want to schedule lunch with my old roommate, Jake, during a notional trip to Sarasota later this week. I might create a new blank stikkit then add the following contents:

Lunch with Jake at The French Hearth
on Friday at 11:30
directions: http://map.example.com/76868/
We talked about this on the phone !1/30 @ !12:50pm (see: {123456})
Jake Short 850-555-1212
share jake@example.com myadmin@example.com
remind us all
@appointments travel Sarasota JakeShort p:social

Ok, first — and as usual with my infamously over-the-top demos — there’s a lot more going on here than is strictly necessary (e.g., I could have just typed “Lunch with Jake on Friday at 11:30” and been done with it). But, since this is partly about showing the flexibility of multiple magic words in action, I wanted to demonstrate to you how that crapload of text up there turns into this finished and functional Stikkit:

Stikkit Example - Full

After the cut are a couple more detailed pics, followed by an explanation of what’s happening in my example, as well as an Unofficial Stikkit Cheat Sheet.

read more »

HOWTO generate a kGTD Project list for your weekly review

While OmniFocus is under development (and yes, friends, I have seen it: it is actual software that does things), we Kinkless users will have to make do as we can for now. And while I still find my own kGTD setup oddly stable given its byzantine under-the-hood workings (think: innards of Cylon Raider meets Brazil's pneumatic tubes), there are definitely times when I crave just a bit more canonical GTD functionality.

One of the most vexing shortcomings in kGTD (God bless it) is the lack of a formal Project list -- one easy location to glance just all of the obligations and desirable outcomes that are on your horizon, without reference to the tasks that comprise them. David Allen has repeatedly said that the project list is critical (as I recall, his quote in our interviews was "...the Project list is king."), and, honestly, lacking an all-in-one Project list for your weekly review is kind of like sitting down to the SATs without your two sharpened #2 pencils.

My solution for this has two components -- one mostly behavioral and one mildly technical. Both are squirrely and lofi and your mileage may vary. As ever.

read more »

Vox Populi: Best practices for file naming

If it wasn't apparent from my pathetic cry for help the other day, even I -- one of your more theoretically productive persons in North America -- struggle with what to call things.

Tags, files, and -- dear Lord -- the innumerable assets associated with making web sites, graphics, audio, and video projects; it's all a hopeless jumble unless you have some kind of mature system in place for what you call your stuff and its various iterations. Of course, if you're like me -- and I hope that you are not -- you still have lots of things on your desktop with names like "thing-2 finalFinal! v3 (with new changes) 05b.psd".

For prior art, I still treasure this Jurassic thread on What Do I Know where people share their thoughts on this age-old problem, but, frankly I haven't seen many good resources out there on best practices for naming.

Anyhow, during a recent MacBreak shoot, I noticed that Alex and his team seem to have a pretty fly system for naming the video files that eventually get turned into their big-time IPTV shows. Thus, I turned to Pixel Corps' Research Division Lead, Ben Durbin (co-star of Phone Guy #5) for insight and sane help. And, brother, did he ever give it to me (see below the cut for Ben's detailed awesomeness).

But, just so I don't lose you, do give me your best tips in comments: What are your favorite current conventions for naming files? How does your team show iterations and versions? Do you rely more on Folder organization than file names in your work? How have Spotlight, Quicksilver, and the like changed the way you think about this stuff?

read more »

43f interview: David Allen on Getting Things Done with your team

Productive Talk #04: Teams

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

In this episode, David and Merlin talk about the role of GTD in teams and how to lead by example.

(Running time: 08:46)

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

read more »

Open Thread: Doodle & your favorite simple web tools

Doodle: Scheduling meetings

This has been mentioned here before (just in comments, I think), but I have to repeat: I can't say enough good things about Doodle. It takes the idiotically over-complicated problem of figuring out when all of n people are available to do something, and in the simplest way conceivable, polls all the participants to find the optimal time and date.

I'm always thrilled when colleagues send a meeting invite in the form of a Doodle email; it requires zero fiddling on my part and pleasantly skirts the need for the endless email threads that most people rely on to get a group of people extant in one time-space unit.

I'm risking the indignity of a double-post on an "old" link for a good reason: with all the foam and fuss over "Web 2.0," and the ever higher (Ever! Higher!) technology we shovel to solve stupid human problems, it's refreshing to see adoption of a tool that ends up being no more complicated than a white board with electrical-tape columns.

I wish stuff like Doodle would inspire more developers to start with the Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work. No Arial Rounded, no whizzy AJAX, and no angel-round-attracting gradients. Just a modest solution to a single dumb problem. That is a life hack, defined.

What's your favorite idiotically simple web tool right now?

43f Podcast: First-time Sex & the Beauty of 1.0

43F Podcast: First-time Sex & the Beauty of 1.0

43folders.com - Just get through it the first time. You can try that stuff you read about in magazines later. (2:35)

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

read more »

Make vol. 07, new Life Hacks column

makezine.com: The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work

Danny and my latest column, for vol. 07 of Make, is about "The Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work." While the concept is nothing new to agile developers, we wanted to talk about how it relates to the lives of garden-variety makers and life hackers:

When choosing an approach to building code that will pass their unit test, XP programmers are always encouraged by their beardy masters to "try the simplest thing that could possibly work." Note that this is not the most comprehensive thing that could work, nor the most impressive thing that could work, nor even a particularly enjoyable thing that would just be really fun to build...

[In Danny's Life Hacks research,] geeks weren't developing world-beating frameworks that could "scale across the enterprise" or cook a plate of french toast every morning -- most of the scripts were hastily coded with the single-minded purpose of fixing exactly one problem.

The geeks' consequent leaps in productivity seemed to come not simply from automating repetitive tasks, but, one imagines, from not blowing two weeks engineering a bloaty system meant to solve every conceivable problem in their lives.

Among many other cool things, this issue also has a profile on Mark Pauline, instructions on building a weatherproof wi-fi access point, plus -- my favorite -- three methods for silencing a child's beeping toy.

Vol. 7 of Make is available at your geekier magazine stands, or you can buy it now on Amazon.com.

Bokardo: Apple moving deeper into social software?

Bokardo » Apple Making Huge Social Software Push?

Via Andy, here's a thought-provoking post that draws from a mosaic of current and forthcoming features (including Wiki Server, iCal Calendar Sharing and the nifty-sounding Teams) to suggest that Apple's moving toward some interesting directions in social software and enhanced functionality for teams.

Joshua writes:

Notice that all of these features are about enabling communication as much as they are about creating content. It’s about getting the right information to the right person at the right time through interaction with their friends and associates. That’s how we do things out here in meatspace, so that’s how we’ll do things in cyberspace as well.

I think this is good news for Apple. As the proliferation of telephones, cellphones, chat software, blogs, and social networking sites have shown, there seems to be a market for this social software stuff…

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:

read more »



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


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. »