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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.


Getting more out of iCal

Okay, I admit it. I've grumbled about iCal on and off since it came out. It's one of those things in life that makes you nuts with how it almost works. The alarm choices are amazing but there's no way to have them added automatically. The shared calendars are great, but only one person can make changes. The snoozing sucks, notifications magically disappear, and some days, the "moist Jolly Rancher" design motif makes me want to barf pink. Hrmph. But (and it's a big but)...

The truth is, iCal works great with kGTD (mostly of course), and once you make your peace with the perplexing stasis of its feature set, there are some not-bad hooks and affordances hiding in its pastel, roundy corners. Here's a few I like.

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OmniOutliner in law school, and an appreciation of OmniGroup

Using OmniOutliner Pro and Kinkless GTD in Law School

Erik Schmidt has a useful post on how he's using OmniOutliner Pro and Kinkless GTD in law school. His explanation of kGTD is succinct and nicely captures the economy of using a simple system to track projects and tasks.

But, I think his section on law school note-taking and planning is a particularly good read for anyone who could use OO for similar purposes -- he highlights how you can adapt a basic structure (in his case, reading arranged by time/syllabus order, and notes arranged by class), but then have lots of flexibility via things like drag and drop:

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Intl. Business: How not to be the "ugly American"

Getting Through Customs - Articles

My friend's dad is a hard-nosed American sales guy. He spent thirty years developing and, in my opinion, mastering the disparate skills of schmoozing, selling, negotiating, and closing. (Man, this guy could close.) But when he started moving into big-time international sales, he realized there was this whole world (literally) of customs, skills, and rhythms he'd have to master -- lest he unintentionally offend a client and blow the deal.

When I first heard about some of these differences ("In Japan, brace yourself for several days of intense all-day recreation before business is ever discussed"), I picked up a copy of Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, which has tons of fascinating advice on how to adapt your behavior when conducting business outside the US.

I wonder how many of these have changed since I read the book in the mid-90s -- the world has shrunk a lot since then. Still, I have to say that as a poorly-traveled American, I do find this stuff fascinating And, now I've discovered the book's authors have this ginormous repository of web-based information.

Here's some favorite random factoids, mores, and customs from outside the U.S.:

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Insomnia: 12 ways to better sleep


This looks like a useful resource for people who're having trouble sleeping. It includes some educational hand-waving, tips on finding out why you aren't sleeping, plus cautions on the usual outboard sleep solutions (from the environmental to the pharmaceutical).

Here's their long-term, sustainable tips for developing better sleep hygiene:

  • Wind down prior to bedtime
  • Do not smoke (nicotine is a stimulant) or consume caffeine
  • Try warm milk or a light snack before bed (if this doesn't interfere with another treatment you are using)
  • Exercise daily, but not right before bedtime
  • Take a warm bath, but not right before bedtime
  • Keep a regular bedtime and rising time
  • Get in the habit of going to bed when you are sleepy and sleeping where you sleep best
  • Reserve your bed for sleeping only
  • Don't have any clocks visible to you
  • Reduce the amount of time you allow yourself to sleep until you fall asleep easily (your health care provider can help with this form of "sleep restriction therapy"
  • Schedule worry time during the day and put worries out of your head when it is time to sleep; you can write them down on 3x5 cards, and then let go of them
  • Get up if you have not fallen asleep in 15 minutes and practice a relaxing activity (e.g. handwork, reading a boring book) until you feel sleepy

Personally, I cast aside their hand-wringy warnings last night and treated myself to a cocktail of Melatonin and Valerian; slept like a lamb, I tells ya. Now on to cutting out tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, clock-watching, and worry. Yep. Need to get right on that.

What works for you? How do you beat insomnia?

TOPICS: Home Life, Links, Tips

The Art of Packing Light

Carrying off the art of one carry-on

Yesterday, The Chronicle ran a couple great articles on how to pack light for a trip. From "Carrying off the art of one carry-on:"

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Shaving tips, or, 'how I remain Gillette’s bitch'

shaving brush

About six months ago, I read this excellent MSNBC interview about shaving (via the wiki’s shaving page), and I ended up experimenting with bits of what it suggested in my own periodic attempts at grooming. My results to date:

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Evergreen advice on email and voicemail

Managing the Trend Toward Increasing Use of Electronic Messaging Tools

I've been Googling around for good advice on how people deal with "email overload," and I think this 1999 report from the CommCore Consulting Group may contain some of the more sound and evergreen advice out there for not contributing to the noise (cf: "Writing sensible email messages").

It covers etiquette and best practices for both voicemail and email. Some of the best tips on email:

  • Keep e-mail short and focused on one issue, and reflect this issue in the subject heading. Many people are inundated with e-mail. Focusing each e-mail on one issue allows time-crunched recipients to prioritize your e-mail and respond as necessary. Including a sharp, strong subject header can differentiate your e-mail and attract your reader to your message...
  • Don’t use the Reply to All function unless everyone needs to know the information. Copying people on messages unnecessarily can overload systems, annoy readers and waste everyone’s time...
  • Manage your e-mail. Try to keep the number of messages in your in-box at a minimum by cleaning out e-mail in-boxes and message logs frequently. Use the filing system in your e-mail program to save needed messages to the appropriate folder. This clears space in your in-box, but saves the e-mail for future reference...

And on voicemail:

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Turning procrastination into your shitty first draft

Are you procrastinating? Or are you just thinking? | Gadgetopia

I think Deane's insights on procrastination and programming might actually be even more true of writer's block and for many of the same reasons. But perhaps unlike coding, the gestation period of a writing project almost always benefits from a series of very small starts.

While there are dozens of tricks for psyching yourself out of a perceived writing slump, you eventually learn that blocks are sometimes there for a theoretically plausible reason -- because you really haven't figured out what you're trying to say yet, but suffer crippling anxiety and dread about even committing the "shitty first draft." So, as with the programming example, your brain beats itself up for being such a laggard and you may stay locked in creativity-sapping inaction. But the truth is you're probably working on it already. The only way to find out is to start someplace. Anyplace.

As Neil Fiore wisely points out in his excellent book, The Now Habit, we usually have more than enough information to just start most any job. Don't begin by fussing about perfection or the "right" place to start, just start. You can get help midwifing the process through tools like outlines, mind maps, or talking to a duck.

But, if you've truly procrastinated even getting to the point where proper gestation and idea seeding can begin, you're understandably in a bit of trouble. Because now you have to go straight to producing the artifact (the code or the article or whatever) while your brain still craves that extra bit of time to turn it all over. Like they say, a pregnancy takes nine months, regardless of how many women you've put on the job. Don't slip on a deadline that makes you try to make an infant in one night.

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Open Thread: What's your favorite minimalist wallet?

Like most 43F articles on economical carriage and stowage, the Jimi post attracted a lot of interest. Makes me think it's time for an open thread: What's your favorite minimalist wallet? Jimi? Slimmy? Moneyclip? Coin purse? Goin' commando? Spill in comments (and feel free to link to canonical product pages or price compar-i-nators like Froogle).

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Catching the brain rain

Warm, Partly Cloudy, 100% Chance of Brain Rain

I like James' ideas for catching the "brain rain" -- a way of setting aside a few minutes each day for firewalled creativity through idea generation and capture. This kind of habit could fit nicely into an end-of-day ritual, maybe before a quick review and daily cleanup.

Keys to catching the brain rain:

  • set aside 10 minutes, each and every day
  • have pen and paper handy
  • allow yourself the freedom to think crazy thoughts
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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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