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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.


Elmore Leonard: 10 ways to "remain invisible" in your writing

Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

I feel like I must have linked to this before but, screw it, it's too good not to share again.

Written for the NYT's "Writers on Writing" series, these are Elmore Leonard' 10 tips for "disappearing" from what you're writing.

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

A few to give you the flavor:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary...

Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful...

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Love that bit about 2-3 exclamation points every 100k words -- treating it like the fire alarm of prose fiction.

Edit 2006-02-14 09:28:37: Kindly note that the author of these tips is no longer a dead bluesman. He is now just a writer. Many thanks, John Schofield! Take a twenty out of petty cash.

TOPICS: Tips, Writing

Recap: Becoming an Email Ninja

Here are a few of my favorite (and the site's most popular) posts on that heated topic of email -- how to better deal with email as a recipient, and how to improve the lives of others as a better sender. Email is a subject that invigorates (and occasionally infuriates) me, so get ready for plenty more in the future. But if you're one of the seemingly innumerable people who's snowed under by email or unsure how to deal with it at a responsible level, flip through a few of these oldies, and see if any ideas jump out at you.

read more »

4-1/2 tiny ways to master Mail.app

Seriously, though, suck it up and just check for new mail as seldom as your job and your patience will possibly permit. Really push the envelope on this, even just for half a day, and see if you don't notice a difference. The world actually can spin without you for a while.

read more »

Real Simple: Plugging money leaks

Money-Saving Secrets: RealSimple.com

This article from the March, 2006 Real Simple has some handy tips on plugging the "money leaks" in your life. Leaks to plug include:

  • Paying bills by snail mail
  • Paying the minimum on credit cards
  • A cell-phone plan that doesn’t match your needs
  • Eating out on vacations
read more »
TOPICS: Links, Money, Tips

Ganging your mosquito tasks

Not all tasks are created equal. Our to-dos all differ in priority, complexity, time requirement, and context, so it’s probably daft to always capture and expose them in an identical way. I have a little trick for dealing with this that’s been working really well for me.

Back in the day, my to-do list was an egalitarian nightmare of inefficiency — verb-centric “next actions” through they all were, I commonly faced a task list that looked something like this:

  • call Alice about Foo project
  • fix line 125 of bar.php
  • fix line 349 of bat.php
  • take out kitchen recycling
  • buy milk
  • buy index cards
  • sweep the decks

Now, the problem here might be self-evident to you smarter people, but I was missing an important concept: there is such a thing as too granular a task to track as its own event. In this instance, I was cruftifying my landscape with items that were way too detailed or tiny and, consequently, I’d turned my task list into an undoable roller coaster of un-focus. Just as “projects” are composed of “tasks,” I like to think that “tasks” themselves can often be collected into silos of small “mosquito tasks.” And my solution, as ever: text files and alarms.

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kGTD Tip: Link to sites, files, and more

This is technically more of an OmniOutliner Pro tip than a strictly kGTD trick, but it's so useful that I wanted to make sure my fellow fans are aware of it.

The beauty of kGTD lies in its single-minded focus on managing your tasks in the context of the projects with which they're associated. Add too much else (or get lazy with your level of commitment to what you've added) and the system starts to fall apart. And yet it's so useful to have easy access to the people, websites, and documents that you'd like associated with your tasks and projects. OS X to the rescue, because OmniOutliner makes it very easy to drag and drop virtually any kind of Mac data object into a given OO document -- and, consequently, to keep the non-task corners of your world never further than a click away.

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Ethan Kaplan on getting his digital life together

blackrimglasses.com » My So Called Digital Life Pt 1 - The Environment

My pal and occasional partner-in-crime, Ethan Kaplan, has begun a series on how he keeps his astonishingly overstimulated life together. The first installment mostly covers his environment and setup for home, work, and mobile computing.

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Fresh Start: Replace one project

If you don't have one already, draw up a list of all the projects that are on your radar screen right now -- all the active or dormant projects that will require some kind of task work (or even just mental bandwidth) by the end of this month. If you're doing Getting Things Done, you probably already have a list like this, but it might not hurt to just grab a piece of paper and do a fresh "mini-dump" of all the obligations and outcomes that are squatting on the edges of your brainpan.

Study your list, and think about the real value of everything you've theoretically undertaken. Any of these apply...?

  • something I feel obligated to do (but have no real interest in ever doing)
  • something that stalled long ago and could easily be removed
  • something that takes massive amounts of fuss for consistently annoying results
  • something I haven't seriously thought through yet
  • something potentially interesting that's very poorly defined right now
  • something I can't really do anything about for a while
  • something that's been on my lists so long that I just keep it out of sentimentality
  • something I could, quite frankly, just not care any less about

Got it? Good. Surprised at how much you actually have on your mind? You ain't alone, sister.

Okay, so now set that list down, and grab a fresh sheet of paper.

Without thinking too deeply about it, start jotting down all the things you'd love to be starting right now. Be reasonable; this isn't about fantasies of unassisted flight or basement alchemy so much as garden-variety growth, development, and fun. What are the things that, given the proper focus and time, would bring you the most satisfaction for the time you spend on it -- or could serve as a bridge to achieving higher aspirations you've been smacking down because you're "too busy" with other stuff?

Good candidates:

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Modest Change: Learn the qualified "yes"

This is something I've mentioned before, but since it's worked so well for me I think it deserves a place in our Modest Changes series.

I've had a habit over the years of allowing myself to get so busy that "no" becomes my default answer to practically every question -- this has been especially true when it came to helping with friends' projects or doing non-paying work for worthy causes.

Obviously, in many ways it's healthy to learn how to say no; you avoid over-committing by ensuring that you've thought through all the work on your plate and then never take on new commitments without knowing there's room to spare.

The good news is that there's actually an even healthier middle path between "Sure. Anything you say" and "No way. Never." I call it "the qualified 'yes.'"

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Modest Change: Cancel something

Our first modest change is to cancel something.

Think about all the things you've invited or allowed into your life in the past couple years (check all that apply):

read more »



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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