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.


Open Thread: How are you using Excel?

Yesterday, I mentioned I'd been talking with someone who's looking at interesting things people are doing with Microsoft Excel. I talked to her again yesterday, and with her official okey-dokey, I'll virtually introduce Tralee Pearce (*waves*), a reporter from Toronto's Globe & Mail whom you might remember from a very swell article about the Hipster PDA.

So, by request -- and to help Tralee with fleshing out her fun-sounding article -- I hope you all will jump in here: What kind of cool, novel, and non-obvious stuff are you doing with Excel? What's the wildest, most obsessive, most nerdy thing you ever saw someone do with our favorite spreadsheet program?

Interviewing with "The Sawatsky Method"

I enjoyed this recent ATC story about the interview skills guru, John Sawatsky. "The Sawatsky Method" contrasts sharply with the confrontational attack dog methods most of us associate with people like Mike Wallace:

Sawatsky's rules are simple, but he says they get broken all the time: Don't ask yes-or-no questions, keep questions short and avoid charged words, which can distract people. In his seminar, Sawatsky points to Mike Wallace of CBS' 60 Minutes and CNN's Larry King as examples to avoid. In Sawatsky's illustrative clips, King favors leading questions that generate curt answers, while Wallace's rapid patter fails to get a subject to speak candidly.

More on Sawatsky here and here, including this gem:

The best questions, argues Sawatsky, are like clean windows. "A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it's like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn't notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn't notice the window. They should be looking at the lake."

Even for non-journalists, if you need to conduct the occasional interview, Sawatsky's got some golden tips.

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?

read more »

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 »

Merlin on MacBreak: Intro to Quicksilver

Leo and Alex were kind enough to ask me to drop by MacBreak to talk a little bit about Quicksilver.

Most of what we discussed is probably old hat to the hardcore fans, but if you're looking for a fast intro, this might be a useful link for your friends and cubemates.

read more »

Back to GTD: Do a fast "mind-sweep"

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.

Whether you learned GTD from the book or heard it from The David himself (via one of his excellent seminars), you know that the vital first stage of Getting Things Done is Collection.

As laid out in Chapter 5:

Basically, everything is already being collected, in the larger sense. If it's not being directly managed in a trusted external system of yours, then it's resident somewhere in your psyche. The fact that you haven't put an item in your in-basket doesn't mean you haven't got it. But we're talking here about making sure that everything you need is collected somewhere other than in your head.

And, as David succinctly states elsewhere in the book, if you don't use a dedicated inbox in the context of a healthy collection habit, your whole house or office turns into your inbox. And that just doesn't scale. Failing to do so in recent weeks may be why you've fallen off the GTD wagon.

So, just as you learned Collection as the first step in implementing GTD (and to subsequently maintain your system), it's precisely the place to start when you're trying to properly get back into it.

And for the errant GTDer, I feel like the most powerful collection exercise is what DA calls "the mind-sweep."

read more »

Gina on not checking your email first-thing

Geek to Live: Control your workday - Lifehacker

Gina has a good post on ways to structure your work day and ensure you get your most important stuff accomplished, and she includes a piece of advice I've recently started practicing myself:

Get one thing done first - THEN check your email

Author of Never Check Email in the Morning Julie Morgenstern suggests spending the first hour of your workday email-free. Choose one task - even a small one - and tackle it first thing. Accomplishing something out of the gate sets the tone for the rest of your day and guarantees that no matter how many fires you're tasked with putting out the minute you open your email client, you still can say that you got something done...

I've discovered that a lot of my most unpalatable, low-priority email arrives overnight; it's when most cron jobs and mailing digests run, plus, I suspect, it's when a lot of garden-variety crazies get their second wind (or 12th beer).

Waiting an hour or so to collect the overnight haul buys me time to wake up, get some work done, and generally orient myself. By the the time I raise the electronic flood gate, I'm already feeling on top of things and have no problem blowing through all my mail in a few short minutes. Even the crazy ones.

The larger issue is a pillar of Inbox Zero: it's your mailbox, and you get to decide when and for how long it draws your attention. I recommend affecting that decision while awake, cogent, and adequately caffeinated.

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:

read more »

Tips on becoming a better listener

When we meet, you and I, you will see for yourself one of my most humiliating traits. No it's not my acromegaly, my plaid pants, nor my atrocious hairpiece.

No, friend, you will be deeply annoyed to hear me ask you to repeat your name at least twice, and possibly five times, during our inaugural conversation. And, in subsequent meetings, even though your face will be forever etched upon my brain (a skill at which I absolutely excel), I will probably call you "Champ," "Chief," or possibly "Tex." Because, yes, I will have completely forgotten your name. And it's not just a bad memory that's to blame here (although, of course, my memory sucks, too) -- I'm convinced it's because I am a terrible listener, and because I suffer intermittent encoding errors at the time data is written to disk, so to speak.

In working to improve this socially-crippling liability, in general -- to hear what people are really saying rather than just using the down time to formulate a pseudo-clever response -- I've begun skimming the web for advice. I have these sites and tips to share with you so far, so listen up!

read more »



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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