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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.


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?

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Net Net: Drill down with 'Corporate Ipsum' widget

Corporate Ipsum - Dashboard - Developer

As we all learned from Equus, we don't get to choose the things in life that fascinate and repel us, and, in retrospect, if I could have chosen to avoid the avalanche of empty businessspeak I've been exposed to over the past dozen or so years, I certainly would have. Alas, I could not. And, so here I am, alternately repulsed and amused by the twisted patois of nonsense that passes for communication in offices and boardrooms today.

If you share this sad affliction, you may enjoy the pleasures afforded by the Corporate Ipsum Dashboard widget, cleverly (and pointlessly) designed to generate paragraphs and paragraphs of empty insight for your next pitch, presentation, or VC meeting.

In one instance, this paradigm-shifting functionality was a solution-provider for the following bit of kimono-opening stone soup:

Synergistically engage cross-media human capital for out-of-the-box convergence. Objectively generate fully tested meta-services via market-driven sources. Interactively underwhelm long-term high-impact convergence rather than future-proof convergence.

At the end of the day: awesome. Sand Hill Road, here I come!

Many thanks to jwines' bookmarks on del.icio.us

NYT: New data on the problems of "multitasking"

Slow Down, Multitaskers, and Don’t Read in Traffic - New York Times

'The Myth of Multitasking' by timothymorgan on Flickr

Yesterday's New York Times front page ran an article pulling together the results of several recent studies looking at how interruptions and attempts to multitask can affect the quality of work as well as the length of recovery time.

Here's one bit that really grabbed me:

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

“I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois, of a paper on the study that will be presented next month.

And, from a PDF of another of the studies cited ("Isolation of a Central Bottleneck of Information Processing with Time-Resolved fMRI"), here's a telling snippet from the article's abstract (yes, most of the rest of it is well over my head):

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The War of Art, and JoCo on becoming a "true person"

007: Interview: Jonathan Coulton, Part 2 | The Merlin Show

I first heard about The War of Art from David Allen during our GTD podcast series last year. I finally picked up a copy a couple months back and read it in an evening. Like a lot of self-help books, it's longer than it needs to be (and it's not actually very long to begin with), but it does make some great points about what its author calls "resistance."

Resistance can be thought of as anything that pulls us away from doing the work we know is most important to us. It takes many forms (including procrastination, fear, distraction, and negative self-talk), but the effect is often similar: we find or permit all kinds of barriers to keep us from becoming the person we want to be, or from completing the thing we really want to make. Whether that's being a published author, a composer, a playwright, or a painter, our impulse to create constantly battles an impulse to do something else, or to do nothing -- to not upset our weirdly comfy stasis.

This book came up twice in my recent interview with Jonathan Coulton; both in part one and today's recently released part two. Jonathan strikes me as someone who has, so far, succeeded at talking down the resistance he'd faced, and now he's doing what he's great at, and, in his words, he's working hard to become the kind of "true person" that he wants to be for his daughter.

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Jason Goldman on sliding-scale obstacles

Goldtoe Lemon.Nut: The 170-day Weekend

Goldman's back from taking a few months off, and shares a nugget that I like a lot:

When you have fewer responsibilities, those you do have take on a disproportionately larger weight. I found that no matter how little I actually had to worry about, I'd find some task or obligation that would become the "one big thing" nagging at me from void. Sometimes this one big thing would be laundry. The point is that you can always identify one obstacle in your life that, if removed, would make everything better (an annoying co-worker, a bad debt, a rash). Turns out this probably isn't true at all.

Amen, brother, and cf: 83 Problems.

[ via Nelson Minar's Linkblog ]

“I answer an e-mail once every 6.66 minutes”

Where Work Is a Religion, Work Burnout Is Its Crisis of Faith -- New York Magazine

This enjoyable article on burnout includes a bit that I love (and sympathize with):

Woo hoo. Re: An appendix to the principles of Jewish Buddhism. Saying hi. Re: Hey pal. Burnout. WHEN are we eating? Open Enrollment Info. Quick q. Arrrrrrrrrrgh.

You are looking at nine e-mail subject lines I received in a one-hour period last week. It was then that I realized I answer an e-mail once every 6.66 minutes. The very thought of committing this fact to paper has kept me crippled for several seconds. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing my boss should know.

One has to wonder whether the developments of a high-speed world haven’t made burnout worse. First, the obvious: With the advent of e-mail, cell phones, laptops, BlackBerrys (or “CrackBerrys”—the argot here seems extremely apt), and other bits of high-speed doodadry, it has become virtually impossible, in senses both literal and metaphorical, to unplug from our jobs. As Schaufeli, the Dutch researcher, notes, one of the strongest predictors of burnout isn’t just work overload but “work-home interference”—a sociologist’s way of saying we’re receiving phone calls from Tokyo during dinner and replying to clients on our BlackBerrys while making our children brush their teeth.

I suspect that children will eventually support some kind of thin-client email-to-affection gateway. From an evolutionary standpoint, it may be the only solution that scales.

Remember names at meetings by making a map

Meeting Tip: Learning Names | Gurno.com

As someone who suffers from frequent encoding errors and buffer overflows, I love Adam's idea to start a meeting by mapping the name and location of each attendant, along with their title, etc. Adam writes:

Step 1 - Reconnoiter

Draw a quick map of the table/layout of the meeting. Place yourself on it, to give yourself a reference point.

Step 2: The Combatants

As people introduce themselves around the table, fill them in. If you feel last names are necessary add those too, but don't do it at the expense of writing down someone else's name. You can guess at the last names later. If you miss one, leave it blank and fill it in as soon as you can - if someone else refers to them, etc, etc.

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Dave Cheong on staying focused at work

18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

In this post from last August, Dave Cheong pointed out some of the hazards of working in a cube farm, and he proposes some handy tips for wresting back your attention from a room full of interruptions and distractions. I think a few of these tips are big winners.

Allocate time slots colleagues can interrupt you...Instead of having people stop by your desk every 10 mins and asking you questions, let them know of a time in the day, say between 2-4pm you can be interrupted. At all other times, you can really get some work done...

Apply time boxing...Instead of working at something till it is done, try working on it for a limited period, say 30 mins. By that time, the task is either completed or you allocate another time slot, perhaps in another day, to pick it up again...

Find the best time to do repetitive and boring tasks...For example, I’m more alert at the start of the day, so it’s better to work on things which require brain power early. Working on boring tasks that can be done via auto-pilot are better left towards the end of the day when I’m usually tired.

I realize that many of these ideas assume a lot of autonomy and control over your work day as well as how you conduct it -- obviously not every career is conducive to the enforcement of what amounts to "office hours" -- but I think that's kind of the point as well as the irony and the big, bottom-line challenge.

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Crossword-maker Merl Reagle on index cards

YouTube - The Hipster PDA in Wordplay

In the Will Shortz crossword puzzle documentary, Wordplay, Merl Reagle discusses how he uses index cards to collect and track ideas on the go.

[ via: The Hipster PDA in Wordplay - Lifehacker ]

I love two things in particular about this.

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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