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


Task Times, The Planning Fallacy, and a Magical 20%

Overcoming Bias: Planning Fallacy

Via The Guardian, via Chairman Gruber, comes this post from the new-to-me blog, Overcoming Bias. It discusses the research behind a common cognitive bias known as The Planning Fallacy, which is a repeatable, documented error in thinking that apparently explains why we all tend to "underestimate task-completion times."

It's summed up nicely by Gödel, Escher, Bach author Douglas Hofstadter's Law regarding the time it takes to do anything:

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take Hofstadter's Law into account.

Sounds familiar. From the Overcoming Bias post:

People tend to generate their predictions by thinking about the particular, unique features of the task at hand, and constructing a scenario for how they intend to complete the task - which is just what we usually think of as planning.


But experiment has shown that the more detailed subjects' visualization, the more optimistic (and less accurate) they become.

Cf: The Optimism Bias.

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Task List: Handy student app for tracking assignments

Funkware - Task List

Task List is a promising looking new app for students who want to track the tasks associated with homework and other assignments.

As a former dysfunctional student, I like the way you can filter work by class, gauge progress on assigments, set priorities, and then track the results, such as the grade you received, etc. It also has support for "Classcasts," syncs with .Mac, and seems to work nicely with iCal.

As with many tricked-out task apps, there's plenty of room for bogging down in the sort of fiddly meta-work that's more fun than, say, actually reading Bleak House, but this app is far from the worst attractive nuisance I've seen in that regard. Based on my 20 minutes of running through it yesterday, it looks like a useful application for managing the rat's nest of tasks standing between you and your sheepskin.

Task List is the simple way to manage your homework. After all, it's bad enough that you have to do homework in the first place - why should keeping track of it be difficult too? Task List 5 builds on the many features of Task List 4, and offers you even more ways to keep track of what you need to do. Even better, it makes it easy to actually do something about your homework, with features such as multiple file attachments for each task, a built-in tabbed notes editor, and convenient reference information and links, just like your composition notebook. Best of all, Task List 5's new interface makes it easy to view your information in as simple or complex a manner as you wish.

What are you organized Mac students out there using to keep it all together?

GTD: Project Verbs vs. Next-Action Verbs

In implementing Getting Things Done, you're wise to understand that words are powerful things. And the king of words in GTD, as in life, is the verb.

How you articulate an activity or how you choose to frame a project within the context of your larger life and work will say a lot about how successful you can be in turning all your "stuff" into atomic actions that will work in support of valuable outcomes. This starts with simple things like beginning next actions with a physical verb, but there's actually a lot more subtlety (and potential confusion) to it.

In fact, one of the hang-ups that many people encounter in planning their work in GTD is that, no matter how hard they try, they can never seem to get the distinction between single-action verbs and the larger "look-into" style projects that may require sub-actions. This comes up a lot, and it can lead to frustration and untold friction.

Well, if you've ever shared this affliction of not knowing your verbs from a hole in the ground, I have some rare and unexpected GTD gold.

Buried in the companion booklet for the Getting Things Done FAST! CD set (currently out of print) is one of the more useful bits of GTD instruction I've seen outside the book. It's a list of "Project Verbs" versus "Next-Action Verbs" and, man, is it ever useful.

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43F Podcast: Goin' on a Media Diet

Goin’ on a Media Diet (mp3)

43folders.com - Two simple things you can do this week to reclaim your attention and start enjoying the I/O in your life again.

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Building a Smarter To-Do List, Part I

Since new folks visit 43F each day, I thought it might be valuable to return to one of our most popular evergreen topics to review some "best practices" for keeping a good to-do list. While a lot of this might be old hat to some of you, it's a good chance to review the habits and patterns behind one of the most powerful tools in the shed. Part 2 appears tomorrow (Update: now available). (N.B.: links to previous posts related to these topics are provided inline)

Why bother?

In my own experience wrangling life's entropic challenges, some of my best gains have come from maintaining a smart, actionable, and updated accounting of all the things I've committed myself to doing. While the quality of that list may vary from day to day, it's the best place to train my focus whenever things are starting to feel out of control. In fact, the health of my to-do list usually mirrors the health of my productivity (as well as the barometric pressure of my stress). On the good days, my to-do list has a living quality that helps guide my decisions and steers me through unexpected changes in priority or velocity. And on the crummy days, it becomes the likely suspect when I need to quickly reassess the state of the union and make changes.

While you can argue for the flavor and approach to task management that best suits your style (and your personal suck), it's hard to disparage the benefits that come from getting task commitments out of your brain and into a consistent location. One list scribbled on one busy day is not necessarily the answer (although it can be a lifesaver). Try thinking of your to-do list as an evolving plan for responsibly focusing your effort and attention in the near future.

read more »

To-Done: Scheduling tasks

This is an intriguing idea. Keith converts his important to-dos into scheduled blocks of work.

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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. »