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.


NYT on a Paperless World

Pushing Paper Out the Door - New York Times

Is it just me, or is the Times tossing softballs for organizational nerds on purpose? Today's story on the ways people are purging paper from their lives gives lots of ink (digital, of course) to our friend, the Fujitsu ScanSnap, and comes with the kind of grand statements that no trend piece should be without:

[M]any families may be closer to entering a paperless world than they realize. Paper-reducing technologies have crept into homes and offices, perhaps more for efficiency than for environmentalism; few people will dispute the convenience of online bill-paying and airline e-tickets.
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Palimpsest: the guide to a (mostly) paperless life

It seems that many of us otherwise computer-oriented geeks have a surprising and earth-unfriendly confession to make: we love paper. Notwithstanding the entirely digital nature of my own trade, for example, I'll freely admit that there is really nothing quite like the smooth glide of a mechanical pencil over a big sheet of crisp, white office paper to facilitate good writing and thinking.

I can't plan out a new piece of software—or write an essay for that matter—without first messily scribbling my ideas out as mind-maps or rough user-interface sketches onto paper. My brainstorms are too messy and flow too quickly for the computer to be able to accommodate my chaos, yet that early disorder is essential to crafting the order and structure that will follow.

And yet I used to have serious reservations about this tendency to spoodge my thought process onto tree carcasses. It wasn't until I finally learned how to get rid of paper, that I was able properly to embrace its use in my work.

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An Ass Pocket of iCal

A few posts back, I professed my love for paper. That affection runs deep already, but I stumbled onto a trick this week that makes me lust after the power of a sheet of 8.5" x 11" even more.

As I'm wont to do, I returned to the Lucky Charms, marshmallowy goodness of iCal recently to organize my stuff. I know it isn't perfect, but it's my comfort zone, and after flogging myself publicly over my tendency to switch systems, I decided to stick with the ol' July 17 icon for better or for worse.

In my paper post, I mentioned that I like to jot down a few tasks at the beginning of each day, to focus my energy. It's not GTD orthodoxy, but with a job like mine, I have to make a plan of attack or else it will be lost in a pile of board books and Legos. Normally this does the trick, but on days when I have lots of reminders, or appointments with accompanying notes, it can be tedious copying this all down. So one day this week, when I was in a hurry out the door, I decided to print out an agenda from iCal.

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TaskPaper 1.0 adds new features (and "fiddling" isn't one of them)

Hog Bay Software's TaskPaper was recently released in a completed 1.0 version (previously), and if you're the sort of person who casts about for a simple way to manage projects and tasks from a Mac, this just may be your app.

But, even more significantly, if you're not looking for a simple action management system -- if you're that particularly pathetic sort of character who's convinced that features like tagging, syncing, collaboration, graph paper generation, and the introduction of an onboard artisanal breadmaker are all that stands between you and getting your stuff done -- well, you may need TaskPaper more than anybody. Because, friends, TaskPaper is just about fiddle-proof, and, frankly, I know a lot of people who could benefit from that today.

Here's what a simple document looks like in TaskPaper:

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The Backs of Envelopes are Blank for a Reason

I wanted to piggyback off Merlin's post about paper yesterday because, A) I thought it was spot-on, and B) he scooped about 90% of what I wanted to write today. Nonetheless, he nailed something that sent me into a tizzy of note scribbling and bedtime brainstorming, about paper's sweet spot:

Still, for thinking, capture, and live collaboration, paper is one of the best friends you’ll ever have. And as long as we use it properly, it’s going to continue to enhance the creation of all downstream media.

This struck such a nerve because lately, I've become increasingly aware of how paper plays that role in my work. Like I said before, I'm the last person you should be listening to for advice on personal systems, but no matter what shape or form of digital doodads I'm using to hold my stuff, I always have some paper handy when I really want to get busy. Lately, it's been a Moleskine notebook, but it could be index cards, Post-It notes, or some good old fashioned college-ruled; it doesn't matter. My best work always comes out of sitting in front of the word processor with a pen and paper right next to me, ready for brainstorming, ad hoc project planning, and straight-up doodling.

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Making friends with paper (again)

Information R/evolution

I really enjoyed this video presentation by Michael Wesch on how we make, find, and share information in a world where we've shed the idea of paper as our sole medium for storage and communication -- where ideas can munge and mix freely, thanks to digital collaboration.


Now, of course, as a fan of paper for certain kinds of work, I always feel like jumping in at this point to defend our pulpy little friend from what sometimes turns into a blanket party.

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Psychotherapy for the Chronic Switcher

There's an obscure rule in baseball for a situation that rarely occurs, when an ambidextrous pitcher faces a switch-hitter. The pitcher has to declare which arm he's going to throw with before the at-bat and stick with it, else the batter could keep jumping back and forth to either side of the plate in an endless game of one-upmanship that would make Tony La Russa's head explode. The intent of the rule is obviously to keep the game moving, but it also saves the pitcher from himself; it forces him to pick his weapon given the challenge he faces, and just go with his best stuff.

I need a rule like this when it comes to picking the tools I use to manage my system for getting things done. I know my last post gave the impression that I'm almost proud of changing my system more often than Barry Bonds changes hat sizes, but deep down I'm rather ashamed. I need something to force me to go with my strengths, and just throw strikes the best I can.

Someone suggested that I think about what causes me to monkey around with my system as much as I do, and what, if any, elements stay the same. Then maybe as a means of public psychotherapy, the hive mind can help me identify my best pitch.

To start, let's look at the reasons why I switch:

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Confessions of a Chronic Switcher

My name is Matt, and I'm a chronic system switcher. Read through some of my old forum posts and bear witness to my shame. You'll see me talking about using text files and Moleskines; Treos and Pocket PCs; index cards and Hipster PDAs; iCal, kGTD, Backpack, Gmail, and Mail.app. There have been stretches when I made so many wholesale changes in how I Got my Things Done, shifting from digital to paper and vice versa, that I never needed to do a weekly review because I was picking through every scrap on my plate so often.

This is highly ill-advised behavior, I know. You're not the one who has to look the Staples clerk in the eye every other week when I pay for that armload of binder clips and gold star stickers ("They're for metadata," I say). And yet while I've tried every combination of bits and black ink known to man, I've never once felt like I was letting things slip through the cracks.

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David Seah on wall-based productivity pr0n

David Seah explores a treasure trove of lo-fi productivity pr0n, as provided by the vertical-surface-loving folks at Magnatag:

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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. »

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This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »