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A bunch of tricks, hacks & other cool stuff. A weblog by Merlin Mann


Instapaper 4: Deciding to Read

Mon, 17 Oct 2011 19:37:45 +0000

Introducing Instapaper 4.0 for iPad and iPhone The lede here is that my pal, Marco, has just released the stellar new 4.0 version of his Instapaper suite. This is fantastic news, and–as if you needed one more of Marco’s beta testers to say so–I do sincerely hope you’ll mark the occasion (and support his hard work) by purchasing the Instapaper iOS app(s). I promise you’ll be treating yourself to a massive update to an already excellent product. Now, it’s fortunate and appropriate that you’ll be hearing this advice at length from a lot of people this week. Because, if it’s not already obvious, Marco’s little app (and its associated services) enjoys a rabid fanbase of sundry paragraph cultists who are as eager as I am to spread the word; and, yes, we do want you to join the Reading Nerd cult. But, I also want to mark the occasion by adding a few thoughts on exactly what Instapaper has done, and continues to do, for me. (As you may already know, I’m a big Marco fan.) Thing is, I want to tell you how Marco has made a magical machine for people who have decided to read. Long-Time Fan For years, Instapaper has been one of the best made, most used, and most beloved apps in my iOS ecosystem. It’s always lived on my iPhone’s home page, and, as you can surmise, that’s because I use Instapaper a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Specifically, I use Instapaper a lot because it helps me do four things extremely well. Four things that work together to make my life a little better. In that typically annoying mixed order I can’t seem to stop doing, here goes. 2. Deciding WHEN to read Second, and most obviously, I use Instapaper maybe five to ten times a day to catch up on my reading. Which is great. This is what Instapaper is actually for, right? You read stuff. Long articles, smaller features, short books, big piles of documentation, and really just anything that I would like to read…later. More saliently, these are things that I have decided to read. This decision part’s important, but more on that in a couple minutes. But, how does all this “stuff” I’ve decided to read get in to Instapaper? 1. Deciding WHAT to read See, this is the really important first part. Because as much as I use Instapaper for all manner of reading, its use as an ephemeral destination for mostly ephemeral content wouldn’t be nearly so useful if I didn’t have so many ways to collect all that stuff. So, that flexibility in collecting material is where I end up using some form of Instapaper dozens of times each day. Examples? I have a bookmarklet for adding items to Instapaper in 4 browsers on 7 devices. I have (and use the hell out of) the “Send to Instapaper” services that are built in to everything from Google Reader to Reeder to Flipboard to Instacast to Tweetbot to Zite to you name it. I can automate in or out of Instapaper with If This Then That, I can email items directly to Instapaper–hell, I can even just copy a URL from iOS Safari, and paste it directly into the motherscratching Instapaper app. Suffice it to say, there are many ways to get “stuff” into Instapaper. E.g.: But, that banner dump only tells part of the story. Yes, a big part of this is about ubiquity and ease-of-use. But, the practical result is that all those little entrees to Instapaper are available to me everywhere I might need them, and they each represent a single little click that silently adds an item of “stuff” to my Instapaper pile. Each button is one more simple opportunity for me to decide to read. 3. Deciding WHERE to read Now, the third part of this magic is less immediately obvious, not least because the reading experience of the Instapaper iOS apps is, for my own purposes, perfect. But, there’s more. Because, all that support for getting stuff into Instapaper is mirrored by an endless number of ways to get stuff back out. To, in fact, read. That thing I decided to read is now everywhe[...]


Fri, 22 Apr 2011 21:38:56 +0000

1. Nothing wrecks your living room decor quite like a giant, rented hospital bed. The one my Dad laid in for a couple months in the fall of 1974 was an alarmingly stiff and sturdy affair, the frame of which was forged of impossibly heavy iron, with half a dozen jaggy coats of putty-flesh latex paint doing a shit job of concealing the dings and dents kissed by dozens of clutches of burly rental guys trying to navigate unaccommodating residential doors. Jammed cattywampus between a teddy-bear brown sectional, an antiqued rococo credenza, and what had until recently been my Father's favorite armchair, the hospital bed left little room for easy socializing, let alone aesthetic speculation. This was a living room where a very ill person would mostly die soon. The hospital bed's defining feature was the theoretical ease with which the human trunk slumped in its top half could be raised or lowered by turning a shitty little crank at the foot of its lower half. Like the bed itself, the shitty little crank was ugly and obtrusive and hard to live with. Mom and I tripped over the crank a lot. The theoretically useful but ultimately shitty little crank made the hospital bed look like those old-timey cars we'd see in the bad silent movies they showed down at Shakey's Pizza. Mom and Dad despised the saltines-and-ketchup style of pizza served at Shakey's. To them, LaRosa's over on Cheviot had way better pizza plus a pretty good jukebox. But, I really liked Shakey's. They gave away cool styrofoam boater hats with a red paper band that said, "Shakey's Pizza Parlor." Which I thought looked smashing. So, they used to take me to Shakey's. In practice, the hospital bed's shitty little crank functioned mostly as a recalcitrant and pinch-inducing mechanism for eroding my father's dignity. Dad would lay in the hospital bed that filled our living room while my Mom slowly cranked. He'd try to make jokes. (Dad had always been the funniest person any of his friends knew.) The hospital bed creaked. Mom cranked. Dad's tired upper half would haltingly rise and bob with reluctant help from the bed's upper half. Mom sweated at the crank. Dad laid there and watched. Dad couldn't help. He watched. He was in the hospital bed. Mom did all the cranking. Dad watched. He watched while his wife turned a shitty little iron crank, trying impotently to make her best friend just a tiny bit more comfortable as his body worked to finally finish eating itself. But, he couldn't help out. I think he wanted to help out. But, he couldn't help out. She couldn't really help my Dad. My Dad couldn't really help her. But they sure tried. She cranked and cranked. I was seven. I didn't know how to help anyone. 2. The last time I saw my Dad, he was in a different hospital bed. That one was a much more functional and aesthetically appropriate unit neatly fitted into an overlit semi-private room in the highly-regarded Jewish Hospital located on E. Galbraith Road. We weren't Jewish. We were just sick. Frankly, I forget what the crank on the second hospital bed looked like, but I seem to recall that it worked just fine. This was maybe a week before my Dad died. From what I can gather, he and my Mom had wanted to time things so that I could be with him as long and as late as possible--but not so late that I'd have to see him in the kind of condition I have to assume he was in during the full week he was too ill for his boy to visit him. Pretty bad condition, I'm guessing. In the almost forty years since Dad's last week in any hospital bed, my Mom and I haven't talked much about it. If there are things to say about that week, I'm not sure even forty years is long enough to prep for them. I know I'm still not ready. I should ask my Mom if she's ready. She was forty then. Just under half her life ago. What I do know is my Mom lived by that second hospital bed most every minute of Dad's last week. Just like she'd been by the first hospital bed in her living room for the months before. Only now she was the one sleeping on the[...]

Scared Shitless

Mon, 28 Mar 2011 14:51:05 +0000

Merlin Mann - "Scared Shitless: How I (Mostly) Learned to Love Being Afraid of Pretty Much Everything" Download MP4 Video of "Scared Shitless" This is the video of a talk I did last month at Webstock in Wellington, New Zealand. It's pretty different from a lot of stuff I've done. It's about being scared. As I mentioned on Back to Work, Webstock is—what? Well. Webstock is unique. Truly. If you get the chance, you should go. Really. I could not and would not have done this talk in this way had I had not been so inspired (and, frankly, so terrified) by the awesomeness of the other speakers, by the quality of their talks, and by the astounding graciousness and empathy of the audience that this particular event attracts. Tash and Mike and their crackerjack team have made something really special here. I'm honored that they even invited me, and I'm insanely grateful for the care and hospitality that they showed to the speakers and to the attendees at every step of the way. Seriously. Thank you. So, yeah. I did something really weird at Webstock. Weird for me and, honestly, just plain weird for "a talk." I'm not sure if it succeeded. But, I did the best I could to make myself (along with some really heroic friends and fellow speakers) into a legitimate guinea pig for a concept that means the world to me: You can be scared and still do it anyway. Regardless of whatever it is. And, you can. No. Really. You. You can do this. You can run toward the shitstorm, let it cover you with shit, but, still never let it stop you from running. Because, like Crazy Bob says: "They can't eat you." And, they can't. And, they won't. Okay? Well, okay, then. ”Scared Shitless” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on March 28, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]

Nerdiest Interview Ever: MPU Workflows Part II

Sun, 27 Mar 2011 20:34:26 +0000

MPU 046: Workflows with Merlin Mann II « Mac Power Users Download MP3 Huffduff It I have the life that I have because I've made a lot of weird decisions, and they've worked out well. Not gonna lie to you. I'm a huge nerd. Surprised? Yep. I can recite big chunks of The Big Lebowski from memory. I can argue for an hour on the merits of Dick York over Dick Sargent. And, I can—and frequently do—catch myself thinking Catwoman, Batgirl, Princess Leia, and Emma Peel should have a light-hearted pillow fight that ends with an hour of genial french-kissing. Pretty much like you, probably. I dunno, maybe your version includes Kitty Pryde. Po-tay-to/Po-taht-o, right? Perhaps most saliently, by virtue of having spent a solid 2,399 days as a Fake Productivity Guru, I have been provided with an unquestionably Janusian monkey's paw of a gift; I now know a lot about workflows. Nerdy, nerdy workflows. I can tell you a few things that almost always work, I can tell you a handful of things that almost never work, and—best or worst of all—I can tell you thousands of things that might work. Sometimes. Maybe. Kinda. For some people. For now. And, at the risk of gay-marrying my arrogance to my hypocrisy, I can tell you that I also know enough about the unholy diarrhea of potential options for Theoretical Productivity to share two big patterns: Getting your workflow right matters. Getting your workflow right to the exclusion of the actual work is a fool's game. But. Managing to get the most useful and most elegant and least fiddly mix of 1 and 2 right is super-hard. Especially for nerds. Especially for me. So, as I type this today, I believe there can be no greater testament to these claims—or, at least, no greater place to test the veracity of these claims for yourself—than in this TWO AND A HALF HOUR-long interview for Mac Power Users. It is reeeeeeeeally nerdy. Almost intolerably nerdy. Just…overwhelmingly nerdy. But, man, is it ever really good, and really fat with the most insanely granular details of How I Work. Lo, even these 928.5 days after officially retiring from productivity pr0n, my desire to not "vend stroke material for your joyless addiction to puns about procrastination and systems for generating more taxonomically satisfying meta-work" is tempered by a (widely under-reported) practical streak. Yes: I continue to despise empty advice about rearranging deck chairs on The Titanic. But, yes: I do also still very much enjoy talking about how all the tips and tricks can or can't work in the context of work you care about. That matters. It really does. So. Here goes. A one hundred and forty six minute-long, Joyce-ian amble through the Big Stuff and the Little Stuff. David and Katie were very patient. How I name text files. Why I break iOS apps. Why I love the letter "x." Why I won't row out to islands any more. How a 115,000 word book manuscript is "like a house full of confederate money." How "The Cloud" broke in New Zealand. How I use MultiMarkdown, Scrivener, TextExpander, OmniFocus, TextMate, Notational Velocity, Dropbox, and an explosive combination of Elements, Notesy, Nebulous, Simplenote, CF Outliner, iThoughts, Instacast, Good Reader, and wow wow wow. How I try not to fiddle—how I sometimes succeed and often don't. But, how I try. Anyhow. There you go. A perfectly nerdy bookend to last year's first Magnum Opus MPU interview on these same topics, Mac Power Users Episode 46 is just insanely nerdy. And, what have you. I hope you like it. I hope it's useful. I hope you don't use it to replace real work. And, as ever, I really hope Batgirl starts having more sexy pillow fights. Enjoy. And, God save you. MPU 046: Workflows with Merlin Mann II « Mac Power Users Download MP3 Huffduff It ”Nerdiest Interview Ever: MPU Workflows Part II” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on March 27, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed f[...]


Sat, 05 Feb 2011 22:54:51 +0000


So, yeah. I'll be speaking at Webstock pretty soon. Which is insanely intimidating.

I think I may have my topic.

(image) Fear” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on February 05, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?"


Video: John Roderick on String Art Owls, Copper Pipe, and Bono's Boss

Fri, 21 Jan 2011 18:51:26 +0000

[jump to video] Long story (not very) short? One night in 2003--after killing it in front of audience of about 30 lucky people in Oakland--The Long Winters needed a place to crash, and my wife and I were happy to oblige.  So, they drove their Big Stinky Blue Van over the bridge, slept on our floor, and by breakfast the next morning, it'd become clear to me that I'd provided lodging to a man who was not only very likely a member of my karass--he was also one of the smartest bullshit artists I'd ever met.  Almost eight years later, although I don't see him nearly as much as I'd like, I still count the guy as one of my best pals ever. That's John Roderick. And, I think you need to know about him. John doesn't read this site--he's more of a Twitter person--so I don't risk feeding his astounding excess of dignity by saying he's one of the most gifted writers and bon vivants of our generation. He's just the best. In large part because he's congenitally incapable of suffering bullshit. This was never more apparent than the Saturday morning in 2007 when we sat in my back yard and talked about a lot of stuff. Playing guitar, advertising on the web, the evil work of promoters, and why everyone is always trying to shortchange everyone on copper pipe.  That talking became a four-part interview I ran on the late and occasionally lamented The Merlin Show, and, to this day, it's one of my favorite things I've been lucky enough to post to the web. So, y'know how I'm definitely "not for everyone?" Well, John is really "not for everyone." He's opinionated and arrogant and undiplomatic and unironically loves Judas Priest--meaning everyone will find at least one thing not to like about him. Despite being hairy and enjoying laying on your bed, John is not exactly a teddy bear.  But, John's also right a lot. And, he never sands off the edges of his personality or opinions to make you theoretically "like" him. Which, it will come as no surprise to you, is a big reason I love the guy more than a free prime rib dinner.  So, why the jizzfest about that awful jerk, John Roderick? Because, as I noted the other day on the Twitter, in our first episode of Back to Work I misattributed a line that should have been credited to John. Which in itself is unimportant, except inasmuch as finding that link to correct the error got me watching our 50-some minutes of chatting again. I also received some at-responses and emails that reminded me how much people enjoyed our chat.  But, really it made me realize how much that rambling morning in my back yard still resonates so much with stuff I care a lot about. Independence. Agency. Directness. And, never apologizing for wanting to get paid. Also, guitars and talkative hippies. So, anyway. John.  I edited all four parts of the video into one big (streamable/downloadable) movie that should make it way easier to watch at a sitting. Should that interest you. Which it may not. Which, as ever, is totally fine, and kind of the point. But. If you like Dan and my new show (and, seriously—God bless you magnificent bastards who helped briefly make B2W the most popular podcast in the world [gulp]), I think you'll really like this interview a lot too. I hope so, anyway. Thus, submitted for your disapproval, permit me to present my four-year-old visit with the acerbic, opinionated, and reportedly unlikeable bullshit artist whom I respect and adore more than just about anybody.  Meet Hotrod. src="" width="521" height="293" frameborder="0"> Vimeo Page Direct Download Link (589 mb, requires login) ”Video: John Roderick on String Art Owls, Copper Pipe, and Bono's Boss” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on January 21, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]

"Back to Work" - Merlin's New Thing with Dan Benjamin at

Tue, 18 Jan 2011 16:15:15 +0000

[update 2011-01-18 @ 16:07:40: We're up!] 5by5 Live Before Christ was a corporal, Dan Benjamin was already a bit of a hero to me. Since the early aughts–long before his insanely great podcast network–Dan’s Hivelogic Enkoder was saving us millions of spam messages. His thoughtful tutorials on OS X (including unmissable advice on doing sane installs of MySQL and Rails, among others) are among the best on the web. His CSS has been widely stolen and reused without acknowledgment by thieves as diverse as other people and me. And his polymath posts on everything from Buddhism to The Paleo Diet to how to record a “Double-ender” have shown a charming combination of curiosity and empathy that, amongst numerous other reasons, clearly makes Dan a better human than me. A propos of nothing, Dan’s also the guy who conducted one of (mp3) the three best interviews with me in which it’s been my good fortune to participate.1 Today, I’m honored to say that Dan and I are starting a thing together. If it suits you, drop by in about 35 minutes–at Noon Eastern/9am Pacific–to find out what we’re up to. I think it might be good. I’ll just say I’m as excited about this as I’ve been about any new project I’ve started in the past year or so. Anyway. You can judge for yourself. Whether you can tolerate me or otherwise, definitely do not miss the work Dan’s doing at 5by5. Because it really is outstanding and very polished stuff. As for our thing? My own goal, to paraphrase a bit from that interview with Dan, is to help you get excited, get better–and then?–Back to Work. More soon. Thanks. Favorite interviews. Just for the sake of completion, my all-time favorite interview was conducted by Colin Marshall for The Marketplace of Ideas (mp3); Dan’s “The Pipeline” eppy with me was a close second; and David and Katie’s recent nerderrific interview on my Mac workflow (mp3) on Mac Power Users has turned out to be a lot of peoples’ favorite thing I’ve done in years (love LOVE David’s stuff). ↩ And...we're up Back to Work | Ep.#1: Alligator in the Bathroom Download MP3 of "'Back to Work,' Ep. 1" In the inaugural episode of Back to Work, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss why they’re doing this show, getting back to work instead of buying berets, the lizard brain, and compare the Shadow of the Mouse to San Francisco, and eventually get to some practical tips for removing friction. It's a start. Sexy Audio RSS Feed Sexy Subscription via iTunes Episode Links Welcome to, home of Brett Terpstra and his nerdery carlhuda/janus – GitHub practically efficient — technology, workflows, life MacSparky – Blog The Brooks Review And now it’s all this Dan Rodney’s List of Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts & Keystrokes 43f Podcast: John Gruber & Merlin Mann’s Blogging Panel at SxSW | 43 Folders waffle software · ThisService One Thing Well html2text: THE ASCIINATOR (aka html2txt) The Conversation #27: Missionless Statements – 5by5 ”"Back to Work" - Merlin's New Thing with Dan Benjamin at” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on January 18, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]

No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome

Mon, 17 Jan 2011 20:10:32 +0000

title="YouTube video player" class="youtube-player" type="text/html" width="520" height="420" src="" frameborder="0"> Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be. Because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. […] Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. None of us should ever have to face death to accept the inflexible and, too-often, novel sense of scarcity that it introduces. In fact, it'd be great if we could each skip needing outside permission to be awesome by not waiting until the universe starts tapping its watch. A simple start would involve each of us learning to care just a little more about a handful of things that simply aren't allowed to leave with us--whether today, tomorrow, or whenever. Because, I really believe a lot of nice things would start to happen if we also stopped waiting to care. A whole lot of nice things. If that sounds like fancy incense for hippies and children, perhaps in a way that seems frankly un-doable for someone as practical and important and immortal as yourself, then go face death. Go get cancer. Or, go get crushed by a horse Or, go get hit by a van. Or, go get separated from everything you ever loved forever. Then, wonder no longer whether caring about the modest bit of time you have here is only for fancy people and the terminally-ill. Because, the sooner you care, the better you'll make. The better you'll do. And the better you'll live. Please don't wait. The universe won't. ”No One Needs Permission to Be Awesome” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on January 17, 2011. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]

Resolved: Stop Blaming the Pancake

Fri, 07 Jan 2011 16:22:44 +0000

In a classic bit from an early Seinfeld, Jerry and Elaine are at the airport, trying to pick up the rental car that Jerry had reserved. As usual, things go poorly and get awkward fast: Seinfeld - "Reservations" JERRY: I don't understand...I made a reservation. Do you have my reservation? AGENT: Yes, we do. Unfortunately, we ran out of cars. JERRY: But, the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the reservation. AGENT: I know why we have reservations. JERRY: I don't think you do. If you did, I'd have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation--you just don't know how to hold the reservation. And, that's really the most important part of the reservation...the holding. Anybody can just TAKE them. [grabs chaotically at air] And, how weirdly similar is that to our conflicted relationship with New Year's resolutions? In Seinfeldspeak? See, you know how to make the resolution, you just don't know how to keep the resolution. And, that's really the most important part of the resolution...the keeping. Anybody can just MAKE them! Oversimplified? Probably. But, ask yourself. Why this? And, why now? Or, why again? Welcome to Resolvers Anonymous: I'm 'Merlin M.' A few years ago, I shared a handful of stories on the failures that have led to my own cynicism about the usefulness of life-inverting resolutions. Because, yeah, I've historically been a big resolver. Here's what I said when I first suggested favoring "Fresh Starts and Modest Changes" over reinventions: Download MP3 of "Fresh Starts & Modest Changes" Five years on, I think I probably feel even more strongly about this. Partly because I've watched and read and heard the cyclical lamentations of folks who decided to use superficial totems (like new calendars) as an ad hoc coach and prime mover. And, partly because, in my capacity as a makebelieve productivity expert, I continue to see how self-defeating it is to pretend that past can ever be less than prologue--that we can each ignore yesterday's weather if we really wish hard enough for a sun-drenched day at the beach. It simply doesn't work. Companies that think they'll be Google for buying bagels. Writers who think they'll get published if they order a new pen. Obese people who think they'll become marathon runners if they pick up some new running shoes. And, regular old people with good hearts who continue to confuse new lives with new clothes. Has this worked before? Can you look back on a proud legacy of successful New Year's resolutions that would suggest you're making serious progress by repeatedly making a list about fundamental life changes while slamming prosecco and wearing a pointy paper hat? My bet is that most people who are seeing the kind of change and growth and improvement that sticks tend to avoid these sorts of dramatic, geometric attempts to leap blindly toward the mountain of perfection. I'll go further and say that the repeated compulsion to resolve and resolve and resolve is actually a terrific marker that you're not really ready to change anything in a grownup and sustainable way. You probably just want another magic wand. Otherwise you'd already be doing the things you've resolved to do. You'd already be living those changes. And, you'd already be seeing actual improvements rather than repeatedly making lists of all the ways you hope your annual hajj to the self-improvement genie will fix you. Then, of course, we make things way worse by blaming everything on our pancakes. Regarding "The First Pancake Problem" Anyone who's ever made America's favorite round and flat breakfast food is familiar with the phenomenon of The First Pancake. No matter how good a cook you are, and no matter how hard you try, the first pancake of the batch always sucks. It comes out burnt or undercooked or weirdly shaped or [...]

A Sandwich, A Wallet, and Elizabeth Taylor's Cousin

Thu, 04 Nov 2010 22:31:36 +0000

Being a Parable for the Edification of Independents Seeking Independence THE PARABLE THE OSTENSIBLE CUSTOMER enters a deli and saunters up to the counter. The deli is tended by its rakishly handsome owner, THE SANDWICH GUY. "Hi," says The Sandwich Guy. "What looks good to you today?" "Slow down," says The Ostensible Customer, as THE LUNCH RUSH starts trickling in. "Lots of delis want my business, so, first I need to really understand what you can do for me." "Well," says The Sandwich Guy, "I guess I can try to do what I do for everybody here and make you a customized version of any of the 15 awesome sandwiches you see on my menu. What're you hungry for?" "Easy, easy, Ricky Roma! Before I make any decisions here I'm going to need to know a lot more about my options. Why are you so obsessed with 'what I want?'" "Okay, sorry," says The Sandwich Guy, uneasily eyeing the growing queue of The Lunch Rush now piling up behind The Ostensible Customer. "What else can I do to help here?" "That's better," says The Ostensible Customer. "Let's start by sitting down for a couple hours and going over all the ingredients you have back there." The Sandwich Guy laughs congenially and hands The Ostensible Customer a menu. "Friend, I can make you whatever you want, but, if it helps, the 15 sandwiches listed here show all the ingredients--right there between the name and the price..." "Whoa, whoa, whoa! The price?!? Already you're reaching for my wallet? Jeez, I barely just arrived." The Lunch Rush is getting restless and grumbling audibly. "Well. You know. I do sell sandwiches for a living," says The Sandwich Guy. "Did you have a certain budget in mind for your lunch?" "Oh, God, no. I'm nowhere near that point yet. I still need to learn a lot more about how you work, and so, obviously, I have no idea what I want to pay. Obviously." "Okay," says The Sandwich Guy, "but...I can't do much for you here without knowing either what you want to eat or how much money you want to spend. You get that, right?" The Ostensible Customer is miffed. "Listen, here. What I 'get,' so-called Sandwich Guy, is that you're not going to rush me into some tricky lifetime sandwich commitment until I understand precisely who I'm working with. And, so far, I do not like what I see. Still. I intend to find out more. So, meet me in Canada tomorrow to talk about this for an hour." The Lunch Rush begins waving their wallets as they lob their completed order forms at The Sandwich Guy's face. "Sorry," says The Sandwich Guy. "I can't do that. How about I just make you a Reuben. It's really good, it's our most popular sandwich, and it only costs eight bucks." "WHAT! EIGHT DOLLARS! 'Dollars' with a 'd?' That's way too much!" "I thought you didn't have a budget," says The Sandwich Guy. "Well, I don't. And, besides, I don't really 'need' a sandwich at all. Now, kindly fly to Canada." "That's not going to happen, sir." "Also," says The Ostensible Customer, "if I do decide to get a sandwich from you--and it's looking increasingly less likely that I will--I'll absolutely expect your deeply discounted price to reflect the fact that I'm not particularly hungry right now." The Lunch Rush begins lighting torches and chanting a guttural chant, not unlike the haunting overtone singing of Tuvan herdsmen. "Look," sighs The Sandwich Guy, "it sounds like you need a little more time. Here's a free Coke and a complimentary bowl of pickles. Please have a seat, take all the time you need, then just come on up whenever you're ready to order, okay?" "‘READY?!?’ TO...‘ORDER?!?’ Are you out of your mind?" "Mmmm...apparently." Presently, The Ostensible Customer turns beet-red. "This is an outrage! I can't even imagine how you stay in business when you treat your customers like this." The Lunch Rush grows silent as T[...]

Video: "Broken Meetings (and how you'll fix them)"

Wed, 06 Oct 2010 19:40:08 +0000

src="" width="521" height="345" frameborder="0"> A couple weeks ago, my pals at Twitter were kind enough to invite me in to visit with their (rapidly growing) team. The topic was meetings, so I used it as an opportunity to publicly premiere a talk I've been presenting to private clients over the past few months. I hope you'll enjoy, Broken Meetings (and how you'll fix them). Slides: Supplementary links and commentary forthcoming, but I wanted to go ahead and post the talk as quickly as the video was available. Special thanks to Michelle, Jeremy, and the crackerjack Twitter crew for a swell afternoon. I really like this talk and sincerely hope you will find it useful in helping to un-break your own meetings. ”Video: "Broken Meetings (and how you'll fix them)"” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on October 06, 2010. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]

“Distraction,” Simplicity, and Running Toward Shitstorms

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 23:49:56 +0000

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience. —Albert Einstein, “On the Method of Theoretical Physics” (1934) Context: Last week, I pinched off one of my typically woolly emails in response to an acquaintance whom I admire. He’s a swell guy who makes things I love, and he'd written, in part, to express concern that my recent Swift impersonation had been directed explicitly at something he'd made. Which, of course, it hadn’t—but which, as I'll try to discuss here, strikes me as irrelevant. To paraphrase Bogie, I played it for him, so now I suppose I might as well play it for you. (n.b.: Excerpted, redacted, munged, and heavily expanded from my original email) There are at least a couple things that mean a lot to me that I'm still just not very good at. Make nuanced points in whatever way they need to be made; even if that ends up seeming “un-nuanced” Never explain yourself. I want to break both these self-imposed rules privately with you here. [Editor’s Note: Um.] Because, I hope to nuance the shit out of some fairly un-nuanced points. And, to do that, I'll also (reluctantly) need to explain myself. But, here goes. First [regarding my goofing on “distraction-free writing environments”] I think there are some GIANT distinctions at play here that a lot of folks may not find nearly as obvious as I do: Tool Mastery vs. Productivity Pr0n – Finding and learning the right tools for your work vs solely dicking around with the options for those tools is just so important, but also so different. And, admittedly, it’s almost impossible to contrast those differences in terms of hard & fast rules that could be true for all people in all situations. But, that doesn’t make the difference any less qualitatively special or real. Similarly… Self-Help Vs. “Self”–“Help” – Solving the problem that caused the problem that caused the problem that caused the symptom we eventually noticed. Huge. Arguably, peerless. Viz.: How many of us ignore the actual cause of our problem in favor of just reading dozens of blog posts about how to “turbocharge” its most superficial symptoms? Sick. Focus & Play – Yes, focusing on important work is, as Ford used to say, Job 1. But, that focus benefits when we maintain the durable and unapologetic sense of play that affords true creativity and fosters an emergence of context and connection that’s usually killed by stress. BUT. Again, what conceivable “rule” could ever serve to immutably declare that “THIS goofing-off is critical for hippocampal plasticity” vs. “THAT goofing-off is just dumb, distracting bullshit?” Impossible. Because drawing those kinds of distinctions is one of our most important day-to-day responsibilities. Decisions are hard, and there’s no app or alarm gadget that can change that. Although, they certainly can help mask the depth of the underlying problem that made them seem so—what’s the parlance?—“indispensable”. Think: Elmo Band-Aids for that unsightly pancreatic tumor. Reducing Distraction through Care (Rather than braces, armatures, and puppet strings). Removing interruptions and external distractions that harm your work or life? Great. Counting on your distraction-removal tool to supplement your non-existent motivation to do work that will never get done anyway? Pathetic. Frankly, this is a big reason I'm so galled when anyone touts their tool/product/service as being th[...]

My Faith in Nerds: Stronger Than Any Gelatinous Cube

Fri, 10 Sep 2010 20:01:57 +0000

dConstruct 2010: Merlin Mann - "Kerning, Orgasms & Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks" (NSFW) ME - Kerning, Orgasms And Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks on Huffduffer Download the audio | Huffduff it Let's be honest. I don't go...mmmm...places very often. I sit in this chair. I go to the Safeway with my daughter. Sometimes, I take the train downtown to get a haircut. I check the mail. But, by and large, like most nerds, I'm without question, a bit of a shut-in. Which makes it more than a little ironic that my first trip off the North American continent brought me all the way to Brighton, England's wonderful dConstruct Conference. Which wonderful conference placed me inside a very royal complex, alone on a very large stage, 90 seconds after being informed I'd better be entertaining, because I'd be conducting my oration on the same spot where, a scant 36 years earlier, ABBA had become international stars by singing an up-tempo number about giving up. So, y'know. No pressure. Commanded to this location by two of my web heroes, I was told I could speak about whatever I wanted. So, wow, to quote the ladies of ABBA, how could I ever refuse? Thus, I stood on that stage for over 35 minutes, rambling to 800 talented, creative people about Dungeons & Dragons, japanese toothpicks, torrenting Photoshop, as well as what I used to find myself doing after a long evening of shooting mutants in Stargate.1 But, mostly? Yes. Mostly, I stood on a stage thousands of miles from the chair from which I barely move, and I told a lot of really smart people that they were nerds. I also told them they should get out more. I swear: it made sense at the time. Some Serious Talent My talk about the challenges and opportunities of being a giant nerd seemed well received. Honestly, I'm very happy with how it turned out. But--oh, brother--was I ever up against some heavy hitters. Serious Lou Gehrig shit. I'll leave it to other, more eloquent folks to tell you what a wonderful day this was. But I will very much suggest you learn this for yourself by listening to the audio of the fantastic talks. Because every one of them is a corker. Additionally, like I said, Tom Coates put on one of the loveliest slide decks it's ever been my pleasure to see (56MB PDF). Great speakers, great hosts, wonderful attendees (who aren't above buying a yank a pint [thanks, everybody]). And, Thanks, dConstruct I have to admit, I'm kind of over conferences as a thing, which makes it even more crazy when I go to one, and it blows me out of the water with the care and quality of the event, the speakers, and the attendees. dConstruct was absolutely one of those blown-out-of-the-water events. (photo: As I learned over and over again--yes, like me--these folks are nerds. But, brother are they ever talented nerds who care and care. Which I just love so much. I'll take a nerdy bunch of fontdorks and cellists over a splashy mega-conference full of VC pitches and skanks pushing free Red Bull anytime. Anytime. dConstruct was simply a top-notch operation from end-to-end, and I'm insanely grateful that I was invited to participate. Thanks, Clearleft. And, you, the reader? If you get the chance next time, go. Heck, I might even leave this chair and go there, myself. Maybe. I suppose when Dr. Who's over, I could just let these 20-sided dice decide for me. Lemme see...what's my Armor Class and Hit Points...? Listen for Yourself2 dConstruct Podcast MARTY NEUMEIER - The Designful Company The Designful Company on Huffduffer Download the audio | Huffduff it BRENDAN DAWES - Boil, Simmer, Reduce Boil, Simmer, Reduce on Huffduffer Download the audio | Huffduff it DAVID MCCANDLESS - Informat[...]

Watching the Corners: On Future-Proofing Your Passion

Tue, 18 May 2010 00:59:56 +0000

On May 16, 2010, at 10:02 AM, "Xx" wrote: You mentioned you gave a talk at Rutgers about future proofing your passion. Is this available as a podcast? I'd love to listen! This poor kid emailed me to ask a really simple question. And I went and saddled him with the world's most circuitously long-winded answer. Surprise, surprise. Hey, Xx, Thanks for the note, man. No I'm sorry its not up as audio AFAIK. FWIW, it's a talk I'm asked to do more often lately so I wouldn't be surprised if it turns up sooner or later. Since you were kind enough to ask, the talk—which comes out super different each time I do it— consists of a discursive mishmash of advice I wish I'd had the ears to hear in the year or five after graduating from college: primarily, that we never end up anywhere near where we'd expected, and that most of us would have been a lot happier a lot faster if we'd realized that we were often obsessing over the wrong things—starting with how much the world should care about our major. ("Liberal Arts," with a concentration in [ugh] "Cultural Studies," thanks.) The talk started as a way to encourage students to learn enough about what they care about that any temporary derails and side roads wouldn't scare their horses too badly. But, today, I see it as something a lot bigger that's demonstrably useful to anyone who hopes to survive, evolve, and thrive in this insane world. A handful of bits I'm (obviously) still synthesizing into something notionally cohesive: My Kingdom for Some Context! For myself, I wish I'd known the value of developing early expertise in interesting new skills around emerging technologies (rather than just iteratively pseudo-honing the 202-level skills I thought I "understood"). Alongside that, I wish I'd learned to embrace the non-douchier aspects of building awesome human relationships (as against "networking" in the service of landing some straight job that, as with most hungry young people, locked me into a carpeted prison of monkey work at the worst time possible). Also how I wish I'd paid more attention to events, contexts, relationships, and change that were happening outside my immediate world —rather than becoming, say, the undisputed master of fretting about status, salary, and whether I was "a success" who had "arrived". Hint: I was not a "success," and I had not, by any stretch, "arrived." To my mind, "success" in the real world is much more the equivalent of achieving a new personal best; it's not about whether you won the "Springtime in Springfield SunnyD®/Q105™ 5k FunRun for Entitilitus," and got a little ribbon with a gold crest on it. Truly, pretty much anyone who feels they've "arrived" anyplace is about to learn a) how much more they could be doing outside the narrowness of an often superficial ambition and b) the surprising number of things they had to give away through the opportunity costs and trade-offs that lead up to every theoretical milestone. It's a real goddamned thistle, and it's more than a little depressing. Do You Still Really Want to be a Fireman? [N.B.: I really hope you're taking bathroom breaks here, Xx] Related, I think this is about how being an adult is not only unbelievably complicated in ways that you can't begin to imagine—that it's frequently defined by impossible decisions and non-stop layers of "hypocrisy"—but that there's an invisible but entirely real risk to doggedly chasing the theoretically laudable notion of "following your dream." Especially if it's a dream you first had while sleeping on Star Wars sheets in a racecar bed. Not because it's a bad idea to want things or to have ambitions. Quite the opposite. More because, for a lot of us, the "[...]

Video: Merlin's Time & Attention Talk (Improvised Rutgers Edition)

Tue, 27 Apr 2010 19:57:09 +0000

Video: Merlin Mann - "Time & Attention Talk (improvised)" Audio (mp3): "Merlin Mann - 'Rutgers Time & Attention Talk'" This is a talk I did at Rutgers earlier this month. I kinda like it, but for a weird reason. Something something, perfect storm of technology Ragnarok, and yadda yadda, I had to start the talk 20 minutes late with no slides. Nothing. So, I riffed. And, I ended up talking about a lot of the new stuff you can expect to see in the Inbox Zero book—work culture, managing expectations, the 3 deadly qualities of email, and one surprising reason email's not as much fun as Project Runway. Some people liked it. I think. I liked it. I hope you do, too. Here's the slides I would have shown. ;-) Who Moved My Brain? Revaluing Time & Attention Many thanks, again, to my great pal, Dr. Donald Schaffner, for bringing me in for this visit. I had a great time and met some fantastic, passionate people. Much appreciated.   Hey—know anybody who should hear this talk? Hmmm? I’ll bet. Lucky you, you can hire me to deliver this or any of my other talks to the time- and attention-addled people you work with as well. Current topics include email, meetings, social media, and future-proofing your passion. Drop a note if you have an upcoming event where you think we two might be a good fit. update 2010-04-27_13-50-00 Apologies—my friends at Rutgers (inexplicably) have placed this video under lock and key. Fortunately, I have a lock-picker called Firefox. Samizdat video available soon... update 2010-04-27_14-42-24 Yay, fixed! Many thanks to my hero, Jesse Schibilia. ”Video: Merlin's Time & Attention Talk (Improvised Rutgers Edition)” was written by Merlin Mann for and was originally posted on April 27, 2010. Except as noted, it's ©2010 Merlin Mann and licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0. "Why a footer?" [...]