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.


Managing around interruptions

Being organized means marshalling resources - The Boston Globe

Cindy Krischer Goodman's recent article on time management for the overcommitted and overwhelmed contains a gem from Stephanie Winston, who points out how senior executives learn to manage around the interruptions in their lives:

To do this, she says, start by blocking an hour or half-hour each day as power time to accomplish priorities. That may mean coming in early or hiding in the cafeteria to escape interruptions.

Break tasks into 10-minute segments; when you get interrupted, jot a phrase or cue to bring you back into the task later. When people drop in or call, give them your full attention, she suggests.

I think this is one reason why I like getting up early; time like that is so much easier to claim and defend before the world's demands start banging down your door.

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:

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2 OS X timers to watch: Flextime & Meridian

An alarmed timer is one of the most simple external systems you can employ, and many of us distracted geeks have come to rely on them as a way to improve concentration, redirect attention, and bitch-slap procrastination. Why make your brain be the time-keeper and scold when you can just make some little robot do all the heavy lifting for you? Exactly.

Lucky for the Mac-scented timer geeks out there, this is an area of software development that seems to be flourishing lately, with sexy little apps like Minuteur and Dashboard widgets like ProdMe arriving on the scene to ride herd on the wandering mind.

Further, in the past week, I've stumbled across a couple more new apps that look like promising additions for the time-addled brain -- and, I'm happy to note, they look especially useful for fans of the (10+2)*5 dash.

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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:

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HOWTO: Flag "penciled-in" events in iCal

As I've mentioned before I like using iCal's invitations to share appointments with people -- especially since this lets them easily respond to let me know whether they 1) will attend, 2) won't attend, or 3) are just "tentative." Unfortunately, there's no analogous tentative flag for the (seemingly endless) number of appointments and event I want to just pencil-in -- you know, those times when you want to make sure to block out time for a call or lunch, but are waiting on confirmation from folks who don't use iCal (or for whom it makes no sense to pester with an invitation). My workaround -- yes, like many of these things -- is really simple.

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Megazoomer: Full-screen mode for Cocoa apps

ianhenderson.org - megazoomer

Speaking of full-screen functionality, lots of people have been writing to mention Megazoomer, a free, SIMBL-based bundle that fakes full-screen mode within any Cocoa app, including Safari and Textmate.

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WriteRoom: Free full-screen writing app for OS X

WriteRoom | Hog Bay Software

O, how we distraction-prone people pine for persistent and ubiquitous full-screen mode. And it looks like the good folks at Hog Bay have come up with an elegant freeware app to help save the beleaguered writer from him or herself.

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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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NYT: Mixed blessings of workplace tech

Attention- Juggling in the High-Tech Office - New York Times

NYT talks with Ed Reilly of the American Management Association on technology's "double-edged impact in the workplace."

Q. Do all the distractions mean that people don't have time to think deeply about what they're doing?

A. There is certainly some indication that in middle to upper management, that can be a problem. If you don't properly organize your thinking and your time, you can end up concentrating on the urgent rather than the important. You can get tied up being a traffic cop in terms of answering e-mails, when in fact those things can be answered later. Management, particularly the more senior management, needs time to think.

Q. If people have a sale happening on eBay, are using several e-mail platforms and their cellphones and their office lines, does that fracture their attention span?

A. Absolutely. When people switch gears and move from one process to another, our brains require some amount of time to begin thinking about something else. Forget the amount of time you actually spend browsing on the Internet and reading things you don't really need to read for your job. Just the fact that you're switching back and forth means you're not organizing your time correctly.

Q. What impact do the distractions have on working-level people?

A. There's a curious anomaly. These tools produce more productivity. But it doesn't imply that everyone is working at maximal effectiveness. There's a general consensus that managing the quality and quantity of work from knowledge workers has proven to be more difficult than managing the work-study processes that added so much productivity to the industrial age. For example, you can assign people to customer relations jobs. They will, if you make them, respond to, say, 120 inquiries a day. The real question is whether they take a few more minutes to think about what the customer really wants and try to be responsive.

For my money, though, this one is the quote of the week:

Companies go to great lengths to set up lists of authorized approvals, meaning who can approve what size of purchase. But you will find that people who are not authorized to spend $100 on their own are authorized to send e-mails to people and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of company time.

Paul Stamatiou on Mac productivity

PaulStamatiou.com » Why I’m More Productive on a Mac

Paul Stamatiou lays out some of the ways his Mac helps him be more productive.

There is a reason why I’m always that guy using one of the few Macs stranded away from the sea of PCs in the library. It’s not because Apple’s OS X is superior to Windows in terms of stability and speed, but more along the lines that OS X lets me be extremely productive with several key features. I am adept in utilizing each system to its potential, having used both for years on end. Macs just let me do more. Here’s why.

Paul's hit parade includes:

  • Exposé (and some clever "corner" usage)
  • Dashboard (he uses it as a ready toolbox for various small tasks)
  • Spotlight (finding based on short strings of file names)
  • Quicksilver (well -- practically everything else ;-) )



An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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