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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.


Mini-reviews: LabelWriter 400, Polder Vibrating Timer, "Beyond Bullet Points"

I was adding a few items I recently bought and enjoyed over in the right rail, and by the time I was done writing the “TITLE” tags I realized I had three shortie reviews.

After the cut, LabelWriter 400 by Dymo, Vibrating Digital Timer by Polder, and Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

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TextExpander: Essential Mac shortcut utility

TextExpander just got an update that adds a few features and fixes to this already essential OS X PreferencePane. Via email:

  • Abbreviations with characters requiring the Option key are fixed
  • Named delimiters (space, tab, return, esc) appear in other languages
  • Other minor fixes

I have to say, I just love TextExpander (formerly “Texpander”). Its functionality is not unique — users of, say, TextMate, TypeIt4Me, or Windows’ popular ActiveWords (Hi, Buzz), or for that matter, Vim, will recognize the similarities. But, brother, is it ever easy to setup, modify, and use.

At the heart of it, TE gives you system-wide text shortcuts that, when typed, explode into much longer bits of text or can even, say, paste in an image, like your scanned signature. So, for example, if you’re sick of retyping a new email sig, you can store it in TE and assign “emailsig” as the trigger to paste in the full text for you.

A screenshot of the control panel, courtesy of the Smile on My Mac site:

Screenshot from Smile on my Mac site

There’s just too many uses for TextExpander to try and catalog here, but I'll share a few that I particularly like...

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Guest Review: Fraser Speirs on "Time Management for System Administrators"

Review by Fraser Speirs

At the end of 2004, Merlin blogged about possible extensions or specialisations of Getting Things Done for specific constituencies, such as programmers, students or parents. Thomas A. Limoncelli’s book Time Management for System Administrators is perhaps the first example I’ve seen of a book which advocates a GTD-style workflow with some modifications specific to the system administration “lifestyle”.

Book Structure

The book is laid out under the following thirteen chapter titles:

  1. Time Management Principles
  2. Focus Versus Interruptions
  3. Routines
  4. The Cycle System
  5. The Cycle System: To Do Lists and Schedules
  6. The Cycle System: Calendar Management
  7. The Cycle System: Life Goals
  8. Prioritisation
  9. Stress Management
  10. Email Management
  11. Eliminating Time Wasters
  12. Documentation
  13. Automation

The core chapters for GTDers to think about are really chapters 4 through 8 and 13. The material about maintaining focus, handling email and managing stress will be familiar to regular readers of 43 Folders.

Although Time Management for System Administrators is not a simple modifier on GTD, in the sense that the author doesn’t explicitly reference GTD until the epilogue, much of the structure of Limoncelli’s suggested workflow will be recognisable to those familiar with David Allen’s book. Although Limoncelli doesn’t refer to GTD in the body of his work, it’s hard to avoid certain very obvious parallels such as the analogy of one’s memory as “RAM” (c.f. Allen’s “psychic RAM”) and the strategy of “Delegate, Record or Do” (which sounds much like Allen’s “Do, Defer or Delegate” in another order).

However, it would be unfair to dismiss Time Management for System Administrators as a GTD knockoff. It’s certainly not. One area in which I have personally found GTD to be weak is that of helping me decide ‘what to do next’. Certainly, David Allen does have some advice on that matter, but I always found it a little difficult to relate to my workplace. Limoncelli’s Cycle System is, I believe, a very strong contribution to filling that gap in GTD.

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2 OS X timers to watch: Flextime & Meridian

An alarmed timer is one of the most simple external systems you can employ, and many of us distracted geeks have come to rely on them as a way to improve concentration, redirect attention, and bitch-slap procrastination. Why make your brain be the time-keeper and scold when you can just make some little robot do all the heavy lifting for you? Exactly.

Lucky for the Mac-scented timer geeks out there, this is an area of software development that seems to be flourishing lately, with sexy little apps like Minuteur and Dashboard widgets like ProdMe arriving on the scene to ride herd on the wandering mind.

Further, in the past week, I've stumbled across a couple more new apps that look like promising additions for the time-addled brain -- and, I'm happy to note, they look especially useful for fans of the (10+2)*5 dash.

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456 Berea Street reviews _GTD_

Getting Things Done (Book review) | 456 Berea Street

Roger Johansson at 456 Berea Street has a short review of Getting Things Done that nicely captures the book's tactical practicality and the subsequent stress relief it can bring (which happens to be favorites of mine too):

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iCommit: PHP app for doing GTD

Getting Things Done [iCommit.eu]

iCommit Home View

Rainer Bernhardt has put together a nifty little PHP app for doing GTD via a web interface. It lets you wrangle projects, next actions, calendar items, ad hoc lists, and all the other tactical building blocks of GTD all via your (non-IE) browser. The interface is pretty good and typical workflow is quite easy to navigate through. It has nice touches like attachments, per-item effort estimates, printable views, plus Rainer says he may soon offer email integration which would "eliminate use of a separate e-mail app" for workflow-related planning. Wow.

Although I haven't spent a great deal of time with it, I'm very intrigued by the baked-in "weekly review" functionality, which walks you through most of what you need to look over each week from one interface. Since review gets short shrift from the many folks (like me) who use GTD primarily for task management, I think an addition like this is a terrific idea.

iCommit is, like so many of my favorite apps these days, a non-commercial, one-man operation, so there are a few rough edges, no documentation (yet! coming soon, says Rainer), and it is very much "first come, first served" in terms of seats he can handle on his personal server setup (I hope we don't cream Rainer's productivity boxen with this). But iCommit is worth a look if you've been craving a cross-platform, low-paper implementation of Getting Things Done.

Screengrabs below the cut -- I feel like Michael Arrington!

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DEVONthink: An appreciation of "smart groups"

Using Smart Groups

DEVONthink Smart Groups

I've recently gotten way back into DEVONthink as a means to capture, wrangle, and analyze all the reference material in my world.

If you're new to this amazing application -- and at the risk of far exceeding my understanding of both the human brain and this particular piece of software -- DEVONthink learns the neural pathways between the stuff you know or say is related. But, more importantly, it prompts you on the relationships you probably don't know exist (yet). This is awfully useful and wildly stimulating to the busy front parts of my own brain, such as it is.

I'd seen the power of the app before and have been way inspired by how the heroic Steven Johnson is using it, but the learning and experience curves always seemed just a bit steep for me, given the returns that it yielded in my too-brief usage. Still, I was quite smitten with the concept.

Flash forward a year and a half. I've now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files. Thus far, this includes stuff like:

  • most of the more interesting contents of my hard drive (transparently "synced" with DT every week or so)
  • all the text files in which I "live" (over 300 -- also synced)
  • all my Safari bookmarks (over 3000)
  • all my del.icio.us links (also over 3000)
  • full text of all my 43 Folders posts (over 400)
  • full PDFs and excerpts from a ton of books, manuals, and slide shows
  • RTFDs or full web archives of over 100 interesting wikipedia pages (this is definitely the fastest growing sector)
  • any interesting quotes, quips, snarks, canards, nuggets, scraps, emails, web pages, or random ephemera that cross my transom

My focus over this time has been strictly on capture, rather than trying to make anything particularly useful of it all just yet. But I've recently started grouping and classifying occasional clusters of content using the app's killer feature: really smart AI that finds associations between items based on a concordance of common words and similar previous relationships you've established.

So, I have the start of a potential post underway that will re-introduce DT in more detail (which I've been building right in DT, natch), but I was moved today to share the insane usefulness of DEVONthink's "Smart Groups."

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7 things I like about Path Finder for OS X

I've received a minor surfeit of email since yesterday asking me to talk a bit more about Path Finder and why I think it's so swell. Here's a few fast reasons for my own affection.

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Cool Stuff Remainders, 2005-12-15

A few books, apps, and other baubles I've enjoyed lately.

  • As a kid, I devoured dorky books like Haley's Hints, and I'm convinced it's partly what made me into the sort of person drawn to the life hacks phenomenon. If you suffer from the same affliction and nurse a passion for clever little tips on removing stains, moving furniture, or drying a sweater, you'll love this one, too. It's nicely indexed and the nano-sections make it perfect bedtime (or bathroom) reading.
  • SuperDuper, the most excellent backup tool/disk cloner, had a recent upgrade that added scheduled, non-attended backups and several other nice features to the mix. I love this app. Love it.
  • Xinha Here so rules. True WYSIWYG HTML editing inside Firefox may be (I say for the umpteenth time) what finally moves me to The Fox and keeps me there. Combining Xinha with Writeboard -- or even Writely, I guess -- gives me a glimpse of where the web might be heading (and Redmond's Office team may have a lot to find troubling about it). Great little chunk of func. Go, Firefox. [via LH]
  • A wonderful reader gifted me with a much-desired item from my AMZN wishlist -- a terrific little book called Buddhism Plain and Simple. In the 20 years I've flirted with learning more about Buddhist practice, this book has brought the clearest and most practical presentation I've come across. Re-framing Buddhism not as a religion but as a way of seeing has really flipped a switch in my head. Great little book that I can highly recommend (and many thanks to my kind giftor for bringing it to me).
  • On a recent field trip to pester my friends at Mule I found myself jealously coveting a lot of the toys and tech on Mike Monteiro's desk, including a most excellent wireless Microsoft mouse. As a consequence, I dropped by CompUsa on the way home, picked up the Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 and have been really pleased with it so far, I'm happy to say. It has a bunch of programmable buttons, nice precision, and a wacky "zoom in" feature that's probably fun at parties. I also love that the scroll wheel goes side-to-side as well as up-and-down -- if you ever have the kind of hot and heavy makeout sessions with Excel that I do, this is a Very Good Thing.
  • I also nabbed me a RadioShark which is kind of like a TiVo for your favorite local radio stations. It's a plastic thingee that connnects to your USB port and ships with some fairly janky software for automating recording. The reception also sucks, and it has a very 1.0 feeling in general, but combining it with RadioTime is actually ace. You can use the RadioTime site to schedule all your favorite shows (local and otherwise accessible via the web) and RT does all the heavy lifting of recording streams, bodyslamming the RadioShark in line, then dumping the product right into iTunes. At $39.95 a year, the RadioTime service is steep, and I do wish the next-gen Shark could be "flashed" in a way that allows for independent (un-connected to the Mac) recording. Still if you're a huge Public Radio nerd like me, it's nice to know you'll never miss another "Fascinatin' Rhythm" or "Writer's Almanac".



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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