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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.


Topless meetings for team focus?

When it's hard to stay focused, try going 'topless' to meetings - San Jose Mercury News

Our good pals over at Adaptive Path have been experimenting with banning laptops and other communication devices in meetings (something I've supported in the past). From today's Mercury News:

Frustrated by distracted workers so plugged in that they tune out in the middle of business meetings, a growing number of companies are going "topless," as in no laptops allowed. Also banned from some conference rooms: BlackBerrys, iPhones and other personal devices on which so many have come to depend...

But as laptops have gotten lighter and smart-phones even smarter, people have discovered a handy diversion, making more eye contact these days with their screens than one another. The practice became so pervasive that Todd Wilkens turned to his company blog to wage his "personal war against CrackBerry..."

His San Francisco design firm, Adaptive Path, now strongly encourages everyone to leave their laptops at their desks. His colleague, Dan Saffer, coined the term "topless" as in "laptop-less." Also booted are mobile and smart-phones, which must be stowed on a counter or in a box during meetings. It took some convincing, but soon people began connecting with one another rather than with their computers, Wilkens said.

"All of our meetings got a lot more productive," he said.

[via Dan Saffer]

The Question to You

Has your team tried some version of topless meetings? How did it work for you? Anybody tried it and given up? How did the meetings change without the toys being on?

Vox Pop: Patterns for email as work conversation?

Inbox Zero is a system and philosophy that most benefits people who are overwhelmed by a high-volume of mystery meat email. The system works because it's stupid-simple, and the real art comes out of getting fast and ruthless at identifying requests for your time and attention that must be acknowledged or completed vs. the vast majority of stuff that needs very light attention (or can just get deleted).

But, not so fast -- what if, instead, you're receiving a high volume of easily identifiable messages? And what if your main "action" is reading, digesting, and then contributing? That's a bit trickier, as I have learned.

Every time I give the Inbox Zero talk to a tech-heavy group -- and most especially when I talk with engineers -- there's pushback on a couple issues. First, a lot of techies say they love it when everything gets routed through email, and second, they think an Inbox-Zero-type methodology isn't particularly useful for the type of communication that they get all day long. And that's conversations. Lots of conversations.

For many tech folks, email is the ideal and preferred way to avoid meetings and pointless flights. It's where they discuss features, debate implementation, and argue over the best solution to a problem. And that's how they like it. Some companies I visit with tell me they take pride in generating over 1000 person-messages each day. That's their culture, and love it or leave it.

This doesn't mean there's not room for improvement, but of course it's a valid and very real way to work.

Do stay tuned after the jump for your chance to join the conversation with comments and tips for managing conversational email, but first here's my observations on a few patterns that seem to work for a high volume of conversation based email:

read more »

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 »

Ideamatt on GTD with support staff

Matt's Idea Blog: Best practices for GTD and administrative assistants

Matt Cornell has posted some useful notes on emerging best practices for doing GTD with an administrative assistant. There's some practical and thoughtful stuff here, and I recommend having a look.

While I have a gut feeling most 43f readers probably don't have/are not a dedicated admin, I know that most of you do work on teams and do have support staff (or are support staff). And one of the constant themes I hear from people is the need for more advice on how to implement GTD practices outside one's own half-acre (here's my interview with David Allen about just that issue). Articles like Matt's can be useful in considering how information might flow with less friction in your workplace. Great way to get the conversation going, for sure.

I think the theme I like best here may have virtually nothing to do with GTD, strictly speaking, but has everything to do with informal standards, team culture, and divisions of labor. As David said numerous times in our recent interviews, you want to get to the point where you don't need to interrupt one another to trust that any new input makes a responsible entry into a team member's world. But that requires certain shared expectations and, in many cases, a physical external system that everyone understands and utilizes.

To this end, I like Matt's notes on collection:

read more »

David Allen Interview: Getting Things Done with Email

Productive Talk #05: Email

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


In this episode, David and Merlin talk about email. We learn that David coaches people to deal with a high volume of messages by treating them like you would any other input.

(Running time: 17:53)

Grab the MP3, learn more at Odeo.com, or just listen here (after the cut).

Merlin's comments

Email was one of the topics that I was most interested in talking to David about, and I found his responses to my questions thought-provoking.

David makes the case that email is basically just another input -- like voice mail, for example -- that needs to be emptied and processed every day. That it's not substantially different (apart from how badly mostly people do it right now).

While I absolutely agree on processing to zero, I think opinions may differ on the significance of email's impact on the life of the average knowledge worker.

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 »

Mark Morford on de-cluttering (and the SF reuse culture)

The always-enjoyable Mark Morford has a cure for the clutter in your life that doesn't involve gnashing of teeth or the intervention of a TV show. He calls it getting rid of stuff.

read more »

Writing sensible email messages

Writing sensible email messages

As we've seen before, getting your inbound email under control will give you a huge productivity boost, but what about all the emails you send? If you want to be a good email citizen and ensure the kind of results you're looking for, you'll need to craft messages that are concise and easy to deal with.

read more »



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

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