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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43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

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:

  • fixing a small, stupid problem that's been driving you nuts for years
  • finding ways to reconnect with people who are important to you
  • getting help to start a group or even a new business that would do Good Things
  • learning a skill -- like a programming language or accreditation -- that will give you more career flexibility
  • volunteering someplace important to you, taking a dance class or learning CPR or sign language
  • planning baby steps in the direction of some Huge Life Change™ that you've always been curious about exploring

Bottom line? Find something that gets you really excited and makes you feel energized and hopeful about the prospects in your life. Pretend for a moment that you can finally scratch an itch that you may never have acknowledged until now.

Now the fun part. Officially pick one project from Column A to set aside and one from Column B to start. Excise something stupid, and undertake something cool. Go through whatever motions in your job (or "your system") that would shelve or delete the oldie and promote or highlight the new one. Yay! New project. You win.

So, the point here is not to go out and quit your job, join a socialist mime troupe, or start dressing like a hippie -- the trick is just to make a couple conscious decisions about using your time for the things that really matter to you. And to start becoming more aware of the time you (maybe unconsciously) spend thinking about dumb, pedestrian, and ultimately unnecessary stuff. (Hint: for most of us, the answer to that is "a LOT.")

I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one crufty project you can get off your plate and out of your mind without incident; and I'd be just as surprised if you couldn't replace the space on that shelf with something much cooler that brings fresh energy and perspective to everything you're working on right now. Make the time to do something that's worthy of your attention.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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