November 29, 2011
In the second of our interviews with a Webstock ’12 speaker, we’re both honored and delighted to present Adam Lisagor in conversation with Merlin Mann. They cover such topics as Webstock, the New Zealand accent, what it is Adam does, how he works and much, much more.
Thanks to both Adam and Merlin and enjoy the listen.
I’m sharing this here because, in addition to exposing more people so Sandy’s sexy voice (and “deeply gifted body of work,” or whatever), it gives me the opportunity to add some links and show notes. Which I’m working on right now.
Thanks a million to Mike at Webstock and Adam at…Adam, I guess…for honoring me with the chance to do this. Sandy’s a good human and a super-interesting talent. Catch him now, because he getting all famous, and soon you’ll find yourself saying you knew him when.
November 1, 2011
On strength and tolerance.
Dan and Merlin talk about the many facets of strength, including the complexity of knowing what to be strong about, to whom, and when. It’s about way more than nailing the “clean and jerk” or yelling at Sips-His-Coffee-Really-Loud Guy. It’s also about accepting all the things they just can’t stand about you.
Also covered: the inescapability of Italian disco, maintaining an unassailable lawn, confronting skinny ladies in heels, negotiating D-minus hip-hop, and finding the will to spelunk all the way down the personal productivity stack.
July 26, 2011
Very pleased and honored to return to Colin Marshall’s wonderful Marketplace of Ideas. My 2009 visit with Colin remains my favorite interview anyone’s ever done with me.
Many thanks to Colin for bringing me back.
Colin Marshall talks to Merlin Mann, thinker, writer, and speaker on time, attention, and creative work. Following up on his June 2009 visit, he’s back on the show to talk about a great many things, not least his new podcast Back to Work with Dan Benjamin, a program about productivity, communication, barriers, constraints, tools — and, nearly always, fear. The conversation also ventures into other, unusually personal topics, including dealing with entrepreneurs, trying not to hate the internet, and having one hundred dollars in the bank.
Direct download: MOIMerlinMann_2.mp3
April 22, 2011
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.
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 wrong bed. There are limits to the physical comforts you can offer a woman who’s determined to stay by her husband’s second hospital bed until it’s time.
But she was there that whole time. Up to the last time my sweet Dad ever said anything to anyone.
As he laid in that second hospital bed, I’m told that the last thing my Dad said to anyone was something he said to my Mom. He told my Mom:
Take care of The Big Guy.
That was me. I was “The Big Guy.” My Dad always called me “Big Guy,” and I always loved when he said that. It made me feel strong. It made me feel tall. It made me know that my Dad and I were best pals.
I still love knowing I was my Dad’s best pal.
I don’t specifically remember the day our particular clutch of burly rental guys came out to remove the first hospital bed from our living room. I do remember thinking it was weird how quickly the space filled with huge floral arrangements, covered dishes and casseroles, and a pack of outdoorsy men with giant red hands who were new to sobbing inconsolably in front of each other.
But, that hospital bed had been heavy. Really heavy. And even though the bed’s wheels had been thoughtfully nested in plastic casters, the raw tonnage of the iron motherfucker left permanent dents in our ugly, broccoli-green carpeting. Six breadplate-sized dents that were still there a year and a half later on the day my Mom and I moved out.
We didn’t need a house that big for just the two of us. Plus, the living room wasn’t much fun to hang out in any more.
Way too big. Way too big.
I don’t currently have a hospital bed. I have a modest but very comfortable regular bed in a regular bedroom where I sleep with my regular wife. She’s my favorite part of the bed.
To my knowledge, our modest but very comfortable bed is not fitted with a shitty little crank. Which is nice for everyone.
And, every single morning at almost exactly 6:00 AM Pacific Time, my three-year-old daughter wakes up, jumps out of her crank-free, regular, big-girl bed, tears out of her regular bedroom, and—even before she gets her hot milk or takes off her pull-up or tells us to turn on Toy Story 2—she dashes into our regular bedroom, runs up to our regular non-hospital bed, and screams, “DAD-dy! DAD-dy! DAD-dy!” until I wake up and say, “G’mornin’, Sweet Bug! Did you have nice sleeps?”
Sometimes she tells me whether or not she had nice sleeps. Often as not lately, she tells me to make her hot milk and turn on Toy Story 2. Both of which I’m totally fine with.
Thing is, she screams “DAD-dy!” like the most impossibly great thing in the world has just happened. Every single morning. Right by my bed. Without a crank in sight.
And, you know what? Something impossibly great has happened.
Because an annoying, rambling, disagreeable little man like me gets to have this alarm clock in piggy-patterned footie jammies run up to a regular, crank-less, healthy-Dad, non-hospital bed and make him feel like he’s The Greatest Thing in the Universe.
Just like I think she’s The Greatest Thing in the Universe.
Just like I thought my Dad was The Greatest Thing in the Universe.
And, although I’m confident that I will always think my daughter is The Greatest Thing in the Universe, I’m also all too aware that this feeling will not always be reciprocated in quite that same way or with quite that same enthusiasm that we both enjoy right now.
She won’t always run to my bed in footie jammies.
I’ll only get that particularly noisy and personalized wake-up call for a little while. And, I only get a shot at it once a day. At almost exactly 6:00 AM Pacific Time.
Then one day? I won’t get it any more. It will be gone.
Many mornings over the past six months or so, at almost exactly 6:00 AM Pacific Time, I was not in my regular bed. I was not even at home. I was sitting in another building, typing bullshit that I hoped would please my book editor. Who, by the way, is awesome.
And, if I noticed what time it was, I’d always wonder whether my daughter had run into our bedroom yet.
I’d wonder whether she had seen my side of the bed empty again. And, when I thought about my empty spot on the bed and how disappointed she’d be to scream “DAD-dy! DAD-dy! DAD-dy!” then see I’m not even there, I’d die a little.
I’d die a little, because as I thought about her, I’d think about my Dad. And as I thought about my Dad, I’d start thinking about hospital beds with cranks—then on to dents, and covered dishes, and rooms full of sobbing outdoorsy guys, and so on.
But, by then it might be 6:10 am Pacific Time. And I didn’t have time to think about my family. Not now, right? No, I had to keep working. I had to stay in that other building and keep typing bullshit that I hoped would please my editor. Who is awesome.
So, I’d type and type. I’d crank and crank. I’d try and try. I’d want very much to go home, make hot milk, and watch Toy Story 2. So much, I’d want this.
Anyhow, this has been my on-and-off job for the past two years. I type. And, I try to type things that will help and comfort people, but mostly I try to type things that will please my editor. Who is awesome.
Sometimes I do my job at 6:00 AM Pacific Time. Sometimes I do my job at 5:30 PM or 11:30 AM or really any time in between. Sometimes I do my job while my family goes to birthday parties and holiday dinners and a couple vacations and I don’t even know how many (non-Shakey’s) pizza nights—all without me. Without Dad.
In fact, a depressing amount of the time—really up until this week—I would do my job until I hadn’t the slightest idea what time it was or what bullshit I was typing or what my crank was ever meant to be attached to in the first place.
But, even when my shitty little crank was not attached to anything, I did keep cranking. Because, Dads do their job. It’s what they do.
They crank. They crank and crank and crank and crank.
Sometimes the cranking made something special that will be really useful to people who badly need the comfort and help. But, a staggering amount of the time, my cranking has produced joyless and unemotional bullshit that couldn’t comfort, help, or please anyone. Especially my editor. Who is awesome. There’s no point in doing anything if it doesn’t eventually please my editor. Who is awesome.
This has constantly hung over my head. For two fucking years.
But, this has been my job. It’s a job I often did late. It’s a job I often did poorly. And, it’s a job where I often didn’t pull my load or live up to even my own expectations and standards. Which is far from my editor’s fault.
She’s been awesome.
Anyhow, I’ve tried to do my job. But, I’ve often failed.
I’ve sometimes failed to make things that will help and comfort people. And, God knows I’ve failed to please my editor.
And, worst of all, more often than my heart can bear at 2:34 pm Pacific Time on Friday April 22nd, I know I’ve failed to be home for several of my daily shot at “DAD-dy! DAD-dy! DAD-dy!”
It’s now become unavoidably clear to me that I’ve been doing each of these things poorly. The job, the making, the pleasing, and, yeah, the being at home. And I can’t live with that for another day. So, I’ve chosen which one has to go. At least in the way it’s worked to date. Which is to say not working.
I’ll let you guess which.
Because, that? That choosing? That’s what my book needs to be about. Not about pleasing people. Not about cranking on bullshit. Not about abandoning your priorities to write about priorities.
My book needs to be about choosing a hard thing and then living with it. Because it’s your thing.
But, that part’s gone missing for just a little too long now. Certainly not missing from my handsome and very practical rhetoric—it’s been missing from my actual life and living. In a quest to make something that has increasingly not felt like my own, I’ve unintentionally ignored my own counsel to never let your hard work fuck up the good things. Including those regular people. Including, ironically, the real work. Including any good thing the crank is supposed to be attached to.
So, I’m done fucking that up. I’m done cranking. And, I’m ready to make a change.
I’m not sure precisely what that change will look like, but, at the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, I have a pretty good idea that this particular performance of “Edelweiss” you’re enjoying right now may immediately be followed by a dramatic chase, a hopeful escape attempt, and only if I’m extremely lucky, maybe an eventual stride over the Alps.
As I’ll explain in a minute, it most likely means I don’t have My Book Contract any more.
Who knows? We’ll have to see.
All I know is tonight’s Friday. And, that’s Daddy-Daughter Night.
And, my book agent says my editor (who is awesome) will probably cancel My Book Contract if I don’t send her something that pleases her…today. Now. By tonight. Theoretically, I guess…uh…this.
See: my agent very helpfully suggested I send my editor a chapter full of “email stuff.” My editor really likes “email stuff.” And, it was theorized by my agent that sending this “email stuff” might please my book editor just enough that she might not cancel My Book Contract. For now.
Well. If you’ve made it this far, you, like my editor (who is awesome), will have realized that this is not a chapter of “email stuff.”
It’s a very long, wooly, histrionic, messy and uncomfortable story about hospital beds, piggy jammies, and styrofoam hats. I seriously doubt it will please my editor. Who is awesome.
So, no, I really hope she doesn’t cancel My Book Contract. But, it does occur to me that said contract is the last and only thing my publisher has to intimidate me into doing things I don’t want to do. Things I think will harm my book, my integrity, and my life.
Once that threat is made good, the game ends. They can sue me and yell and stuff. Which would suck, but at least no one would be demanding my book have fucking pussy willows on the cover. Which, as I sit here, feels more and more unbearable to me.
In any case, I don’t control anything that anyone does. It took a long time for me to really get that.
It’s such a funny thing. Threats—like hurricanes and rectal exams—are only scary until they arrive. Once they’re over, they’re just the basis for funny stories. But, you do nearly always survive them. And, if you didn’t survive? It wasn’t because of a lack of fear. Like I say, the universe doesn’t particularly care whether you’re scared.
Oh, well. I like my editor. She’s awesome. I hope she doesn’t cancel My Book Contract. I hope we keep working together.
But if it goes away today, tomorrow or further on? Well. As a favorite novelist of mine used to say: “So it goes.”
I’ll figure this out tomorrow. Or Monday. Or later. Tonight is Daddy-Daughter Night. And, no fucking way am I missing two in a row.
Now, as far as My Goddamned Book? Truthfully? Wanna hear the really complicated part?
This is not me quitting the book. No fucking way. This is me doubling down on the book—on my book.
I will finish my book very soon. Not because of (or in spite of) any contract, and not because of (or in spite of) any editor, and certainly not because of (or in spite of) any tacit demand for empty cranking.
I will finish my book because I want to finish it. Because it is very, very important to me to finish it.
But, again, let’s be clear— what I finish will be my book. And, it will be done my way. And, yes—you Back to Work fans knew this one was coming—my book will have my cover that I choose. It will not have fucking pussy willows or desert islands or third-rate kerning. It will be, to quote my editor (who is awesome), “messy.”
My book will help and comfort the people that I want to reach. And, yes, much like my editor, my book will be awesome.
I truly hope my book pleases her.
So, there you have it. An article that’s clearly not a chapter of “email stuff.”
Me? I’m off to prep for “Daddy-Daughter Night.”
And, tomorrow morning, unlike last Saturday morning and countless other days before it, at the crack of 6:00 am Pacific Time, I will be available in my regular crankless bed to ask my daughter whether she had nice sleeps. And I will tell her and my regular wife that I think they’re the Greatest Things in the Universe.
And, maybe after I make hot milk and watch Woody worry about cowboy camp, I may even think to myself about how proud my funny Dad would be of his pal, The Big Guy. For doing what needed to be done. To be someone special’s Dad for as often and as long as he can. Just like he did. Even when it gets hard.
Even when it gets really hard.
— 30 —
Thanks for listening, nerds. You’ll hear more when I hear more.
March 28, 2011
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:
And, they can’t. And, they won’t. Okay?
Well, okay, then.
March 3, 2011
Saturday, June 12th 2010 at Reno-Tahoe WordCamp
A talk for developers and bloggers, urging them to focus more on audience than tech.
Lands somewhere between “Something Something Social Media” and “HOWTO: 149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility!“—with, yes, a dollop of “Better.”
February 5, 2011
Feb 5 2010
Creative Work, Distractions, productivity
Asked and answered by the wonderful Frank Chimero:
Anonymous asked: ‘How do you maintain focus (on work, dreams, goals, life)?’
You do one thing at a time.
You might be amazed how many times—and over how many years—a given person can ask this same simple question, hear that same simple response, and still find themselves casting about for the great and arcane “secret” to achieving real focus.
But, this is pretty much it. Mostly.
Although, I must add one important “Step Zero,” borne of my own tedious experience.
Before you sweat the logistics of focus: first, care. Care intensely.
Specifically, if you discover, in frustration, that you’re pathologically incapable of doing one thing at a time, consider the possibility that you’ve been unknowingly trying to “focus” on two, twenty, or twenty thousand disparate things that you don’t really care that much about. Just consider it.
Because, in the absence of caring, you’ll never focus on anything more than your lack of focus. Think about it.
Think about those times when you really disappeared into challenging work. You had to tear yourself away, right?
Because, during those happy times you were fortunate enough to find yourself engaged with something that you cared intensely about, you probably started asking a really different sort of question.
A more transitive, muscular question that shows you own the attention that others may see as a bowl full of complimentary Jolly Ranchers, free for the grabbing.
That’s when you ask,
How many things do I need to shed, cancel, defer, drop, shank, or shit-can with extreme prejudice in order to singlemindedly focus on this one thing that I love?
In my experience (yes, as I said, hard-won experience), obsessing over the slipperiness of focus, bemoaning the volume of those devil “distractions,” and constantly reassessing which shiny new “system” might make your life suddenly seem more sensible—these are all terrifically useful warning flares that you may be suffering from a deeper, more fundamental problem.
Where’s the care?
For as long as you know in your heart that what you’re making or doing matters, and, consequently, for as long as you accept and embrace the immutable laws of scarcity, your options for maintaining focus will, like Frank’s perfect answer, remain stunningly obvious.
You “focus” on the one thing you care about, as you “unfocus” on everything else. If not for every minute of your life, at least for the time you set aside to pursue the thing that matters.
If that sounds fancy and oversimplified, then you “care” about too many things. Period.
My suggestion? Own your distractions, resist fiddly half-measures, and never for a minute allow yourself to believe that productivity systems, space pens, or a writing app that plays new age music while you stare at a blank page in full-screen mode can ever teach you anything about how to care.
That’s all on you.
So, first, care. Then, as you’ll happily and unavoidably discover, all that “focus” business has a peculiar way of taking care of itself.
October 6, 2010
Wah-lah. Love this talk at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco.
September 10, 2010
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 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.
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.
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.
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
- The Designful Company on Huffduffer
- Boil, Simmer, Reduce on Huffduffer
- Information Is Beautiful on Huffduffer
- The Power and Beauty of Typography on Huffduffer
- The Auteur Theory Of Design on Huffduffer
- Jam Session: What Improvisation Can Teach Us About Design on Huffduffer
- The Value Of Ruins on Huffduffer
- Everything The Network Touches on Huffduffer
- ME - Kerning, Orgasms And Those Goddamned Japanese Toothpicks on Huffduffer
July 30, 2010
DOWNLOAD AUDIO: MP3 (25.7 MB)
DOWNLOAD VIDEO: MP4
In this special episode, Dan Benjamin talks with two of his heroes, Merlin Mann and Jeff Veen about independence, free thinking, email, productivity, and changing your game.
June 3, 2010
Audio (mp3): “Merlin Mann - ‘Rutgers Time & Attention Talk’”
This is a talk I did at Rutgers in early April. I kinda like it, but for a weird reason. Owing to dire technical problems, I had to start the talk 20 minutes late with no slides. Nothing.
So, I riffed. For one hour and twenty minutes.
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.
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.
May 21, 2010
March 17, 2010
Here’s a quick, three-question interview I did for a swell Tumblr Eric Yoon runs called, “One Thing.” Neat idea, and as ever, I’m always happy for the opportunity to think out loud:
Q: There’s a saying, to pick one thing and do it well. What’s your one thing?
Merlin: If I do my job well, I get people excited about doing things they didn’t think they could do. As we get older, it’s not unusual for our idea of who and what we are to get a little stiff—calcified. Which is a bummer. I love when I can share my enthusiasm with someone, maybe make him or her laugh, and, on the best days, I help them realize we’re all weirdly capable of doing interesting and challenging stuff — as long as we quit just thinking and dive fearlessly into trying. Thinking is, for the most part, for suckers. In fact, I suspect you’d have an easy time finding people who agree that “not thinking” is something I’m kind of great at. :-)
Q: What do you like about what you do?
Merlin: Unfortunately, I’m both a terrible employee and a useless manager, so I love that I get to work for myself, and, more often than not, on my own. Since this leaves me wholly responsible for every failure (and the occasional, modest success) this can be existentially harrowing, but I’m at a point now where I can’t imagine having it any other way. I also love that what I do is so poorly defined. It means that, like my childhood beagle, Shorty, I can follow my nose, sniff out something interesting, paw and gnaw at it for a while — maybe even bury it for a few weeks — then come back and I’m just as excited as I was when I found it. Particularly dead birds, large bones, and ladies’ shoes.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Merlin: Sure. I think it’s fun to try having more interesting mistakes. We all worry about looking dumb or not succeeding completely, and that makes us timid. It’s a sane impulse, but I love the days when I ignore that impulse. For example, I’m unusually busy today and threw out most of my email at a pass. But, I saw this nice message, and I didn’t throw it away, and although this response is far from the best thing I’ve ever written, I’m really happy I jumped on it. Life’s full of weird shit like that. Which is awesome.
Thanks a million, Eric. Very happy you asked me.
March 16, 2010
DOWNLOAD AUDIO: MP3 (17.5 MB)
We discuss figuring out and focusing on your values, a new perspective on productivity, ignoring the lizard brain, doing what you like, rejecting novelty, serving the right audience, Picasso, cognition, action, self-discovery, mindfulness, buddhism, and the new book.
March 13, 2010
In our first “Workflows” episode we talk with Merlin Mann, or as David calls him, the “Hero of Nerds.” Merlin discussed how he uses his Mac for his work and the applications he uses to be more productive. This extra long episode is packed with geeky goodness.
Man, I talk fast. But, maybe that’s good, because David, Katie, and I cover a lot of ground in this 90-minute nerd-out. It was really fun to get to talk about how I write, process, and think, and basically handle most aspects of my work and life using my Macs and my iPhone.
Don’t miss the show notes for this one, because it’s chock full of links to the stuff we talked about. And, yeah, like Katie says, if at all possible, this is one you’ll want to listen to in front of your Mac. Because, there’s probably two weeks of stuff to try here. So, proceed mindfully; this is great stuff, but avoid the temptation to disappear into productivity pr0n!
March 11, 2010
Dan talks with Ken Fisher, founder of Ars Technica, Jane Quigley of Powered, Matt Haughey of MetaFilter, and Merlin Mann about ads, ad-blockers, running websites, and preserving your integrity.
This is Part 1 of a two-part episode.
I really enjoyed participating in Dan’s panel on web advertising and, by extension, the trade-offs you risk by making it your primary source of revenue.
And don’t miss Part 2 when it goes up, because Mike Davidson has some super-smart observations about how this stuff really works.
February 24, 2010
February 23, 2010
What is this?
So, the stuff below is basically what I was typing during the show, plus a bit of followup (very lightly cleaned up and appended after the recording).
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you dig this stuff as much as I do.
at 2010-02-23 10-43-29
Trying something different.
Watch, listen and reload as MacBreak Weekly does our first ever “All Picks” show. As the show progresses, I’ll post links, screengrabs and commentary here.
Streams live at http://live.twit.tv in 15 minutes (2pm EST; 11am PST)
See you soon.
Okay. Here goes nothin’
at 2010-02-23 11:41:37 -0800
Lordy, I think all of these are previous picks.
Anybody tried this Quicksilver app? :-)
Okay. Added auto refresh every 3 min. I think. Haven’t done this “HTML” stuff in a while.
On-Air Picks (and sidenotes)
Pick 1: Textmate
in the window…
Also shown, palettes for:
- “Select Bundle Item”
- “Go to Symbol”
recommended: Alex Payne — How I Use TextMate
Pick 2: Expandrive + Skitch
- ExpanDrive for Mac: Ridiculously simple SFTP/FTP/S3 drive access
- Skitch.com + Skitch = fast and fun screen capture and image sharing.
Hey, look! Expandrive!
Sidenote: Leo’s Pick - Evernote
Check out the text recognition
You’re soaking in it.
Pick 3: SanDisk SDSDPH-004G-A11 4GB/15MB Ultra II SD Plus Card
I freakin’ love this thing. SD card that flips into a USB drive. Boom
Pick 4: ScreenSharingMenulet
Pick 5: Pastebot
WOW. Didn’t get to as many as we hoped — but in the next few minutes I’ll add my other picks. Thanks for hanging out and be sure to send Leo your picks for the listener eppie, okay? Back in a few…
Merlin’s Other Picks
(Left out for lack of time)
- TextExpander: Mac Typing Shortcut Utility Saves You Time!
- Edirol R-09HR
- Sleep Cycle alarm clock
Gotta dash, but I’ll try to work on this more tonight. Hope this is useful! (Leaving comments open for a while in case you wanna chat, say hey, or nominate other apps you like)
February 16, 2010
February 3, 2010
In his role on “The Daily Show,” Hodgman has offered insight and commentary on art authentication, presidential candidate style, hurricane season and mixed martial arts. Hodgman’s latest book, More Information Than You Require, deals with more of the esoteric, charming and just plain eccentric topics that catch the author’s fancy. John Hodgman appeared in conversation with Merlin Mann on November 7, 2009.
Unfortunately, CA&L does not produce a podcast or otherwise make their audio available outside of terrestrial radio broadcast via member stations [sad trombone]. Therefore, I’m sharing it here via mp3 for the enjoyment of you, the extraterrestrial internet listener.
And I do think you will enjoy it. Because John is a hilarious man — my job that night was mostly to stay out of his way, which I mostly did.
And, yes, much to the audio editor’s credit, you will hear the sound of a Former Literary Agent and Minor Television Personality kicking a persimmon off my head. Without training. Without stretching. Without a truss or use of CGI. Truly, I cannot believe he nailed it.
And that, as they say, is all.
January 22, 2010
I talk with Seth Godin, whose new book, Linchpin (Kindle, Hardcover, Worldcat, ISBN), comes out today. Topics include, “The Lizard Brain,” Bob Dylan, protecting the well, and beating back the fear and resistance that drive mediocrity.
- Episode details
- The Linchpin Posts on Squidoo
- Get Linchpin:
By the way, here’s Seth’s lizard brain video mentioned in this episode:
December 14, 2009
A few months ago, Seth Godin asked about 70 people to talk about a word or phrase related to their own idea of What Matters Now. He collected them all into one big ol’ file, and now you can download a PDF of all those contributions, including pieces by folks like Elizabeth Gilbert, Kevin Kelly, Steven Pressfield, and, improbably enough, yours truly.
My essay’s called, Enough.
Sometimes, I forget to eat lunch. So, 3:30 arrives, and I attack an infant-sized hillock of greasy takeout. I inhale it, scarcely breathing, a condemned man with minutes ‘til dawn.
Two minutes after stopping, yes; I feel like I’m going to die. Filled with regret and shrimp-induced torpor, I groan the empty promise of the glutton: “never again.”
What happened? How’d I miss when I’d had enough?
I wonder the same thing about folks who check for new email every 5 minutes, follow 5,000 people on Twitter, or try to do anything sane with 500 RSS feeds.
Some graze unlimited bowls of information by choice. Others claim it’s a necessity of remaining employed, landing sales, or “staying in the loop.” Could be. What about you?
How do you know when you’ve had “enough?”
Not everything, all the time, completely, forever. Just enough. Enough to start, finish, or simply maintain.
Unfortunately, foodbabies only appear after it’s too late. And, if your satiety’s gauged solely by whether the buffet’s still open, you’re screwed. Like the hypothalamus-damaged rat, you’ll eat until you die.
Before the next buffet trip, consider asking, “How do I know what I need to know — just for now?”
Then savor every bite.
Wanna read more of these? Download the PDF of What Matters Now, or view it here using this squirrely widget from that totally annoying Scribd site.
[[via](http://www.43folders.com/2009/12/14/enough “Enough | 43 Folders”)]
November 25, 2009
Merlin’s interviewed by Michael Bungay Stanier on the topic of “Finding Your Great Work.”
Here’s a confession. I want to be able to think like Merlin Mann.
He’s really smart on the topic of productivity, and in fact some part of his success comes from 43Folders.com which is a reference to David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. But his work is not just about productivity. It’s about creativity and purpose and striving to stay human and sane in a busy and distracting world and doing work that matters, doing Great Work. And he does all of this in funny, provocative, iconoclastic way.
In fact, writing this introduction and listening to the interview again has already provoked me to shift some of my own commitments in an effort to, as he puts it, “identify and destroy small return bullshit. Shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful.” Great stuff indeed, and this is a wise and funny interview.
In our conversation we talk about:
How the present is a “remedial course for the future” - and the pros and cons of those ‘creation myth’ stories of where people find clues for their Great Work
The importance of an open heart and just where that might lead you
The connection between productivity and creativity
The two levels of prioritization (and how freeing it is to know that)
And quite a bit more
November 20, 2009
My talk at Phoenix WordCamp 2009.
October 23, 2009
- Video: Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now) - Vimeo [NSFW]
- MP3, Audio Only: Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now) [NSFW]
Here’s a video I made about a video I made. Consequently, it’s also about writing a book, fake self-help, the long road to developing expertise, and the ups and downs of repeatedly asking the world to tell you who you are.
The video is long. As usual. This is how it works.
I’d had this fancy idea that I’d do a DFW-style dump of annotations about what I talk about over these 40 minutes, and I might add that later, but for now here’s all you need to know:
Dish soap cleans dishes; Stuart Brown says everybody needs Play; Rands has a cave where he doesn’t multitask; The Dreyfus Model has five stages; Andy Hunt wants you to Think & Learn Pragmatically; my pal, Sean Hussey helped me figure some of this stuff out.
And, oh, what the heck. Here’s how to supercharge your zen turbocharger with “5 Surprising House Hacks!” [even more NSFW]
[Index Card Photo: Inbox Zero Tumblr]
September 18, 2009
It’s about Inbox Zero. I’m excited about it.
September 11, 2009
Merlin’s interviewed by Jason Jones about productivity in the world of academics.
Launch week at ProfHacker continues today with our very first podcast, which features a very special guest: Merlin Mann, of 43folders, Inbox Zero, and the comedy podcast troupe You Look Nice Today! A Journal of Emotional Hygiene. Mann first became internet-famous for 43folders.com, which began as a site for Mann to explore David Allen’s Getting Things Done (43 folders = the number of manila folders to keep organized every day in every month) and to wrestle with productivity in general. Over time, it evolved into a different kind of site, as Mann began to think more and more deeply about how to make the time, and sustain the attention, necessary for creative work. Inbox Zero began as an approach to e-mail–turn off the damn autocheck on your e-mail!–and, like 43folders, evolved into an approach to attention.
Mann’s essay, “Better” (posted to Kung Fu Grippe, his personal blog), nicely summarizes his approach:
And, to be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do alll that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:
identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
demand personal focus on making good things;
put a handful of real people near the center of everything.
All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.
His basic approach is to think about electronic communication, meetings, and such-like from the first-person transitive. I can control this, and so I’ll take what steps I can, and de-cathect from others.
Mann is one of the funniest, shrewdest, most humane thinkers about the cognitive load that new web and mobile technologies have imposed on many of us–largely without compensation.
Merlin Mann also made the most awesome video about steampunk that is imaginable. (I’m a Victorianist. Can’t help it.)
He was kind enough to speak with me by phone in the last week of August. We talk about e-mail, meetings, how Twitter is like teaching, whether you should bother with tweaking productivity skills, one small change you can make that would pay off dramatically (and another for undergrads!), and how ProfHacker can avoid being like a snake masturbating. My two favorite moments: his quick joke about ‘availability heuristics,’ and his point that if everyone needs to win “the problematizing game,” then you’re in a world of hurt.
This what ProfHacker aims to do: Not just more, which is crazy. Let’s do it better. (“Let this be my annual reminder / that we can all be something bigger.”)
August 3, 2009
Buffering [Sonny Payne]
When I was a percussionist in high school, we were responsible for keeping the jazz band, full orchestra, concert band, and marching band in time, and we did so through a haze of marijuana and hormones and passed-down stories of some guy’s uncle who saw Gene Krupa perform a 12-minute solo using every part of a high hat while eschewing the rest of the kit. And to this day, when I see videos like this, I get an urge to skip class and go make out with a bassoonist in a sound-proof practice room. After all, life is short, and lunch period is even shorter.
Did you read that? That was swell. One hundred five words. Less than half a page.
That’s all it took for this person (whom I’m pretty sure I’ve never met) to make my day. Now I want to follow this person or star this person or favr this person or whatever the fuck au courant verb box I need to mash on in order to see more things like that.
Yes, I realize I am — already, again, seemingly forever — carrying on like that weird relative who always smells of gin and Starlight mints as he threatens to “set you up with a sweet Doobie Brothers mix.” I love Starlight mints, but please don’t misunderstand me:
I genuinely enjoy looking at oversaturated pictures of coltish women I’ll never meet. I’m always game to make fun of “improperly” punctuated “signs.” And God knows I love reading (and posting) elliptical quotes from famous books I never finished reading. Stipulated.
But, brother. Do I ever wish more people would write little stories like Buffering’s. It’s just so wonderful. You know?
I mean, Jesus Christ, people, LOOK. We have keyboards! Literally right in front of us. Right this second.
You have one, too, right? See it? Really look. No, look down. Down there. No, not that. That’s your enormous energy drink. No, not that either. That’s your ironic Garfield lamp.
Okay, here: Remember last week when your phone battery croaked, but you were frantic to tell something called a Facebook wall that you were “yeah still po0opn lots since teh yuck tacoz rofl bt OTOh fuck yeah top up my side salad for xtra dollar bitch!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Remember that? Okay, good. That. That was the keyboard that you were using then. It’s the keyboard that helped make the Facebook wall get your words on it. That was the clackity noise. That was the keyboard.
Please use that keyboard to talk about your life sometimes.
Your real life. Not just the canned version of life on which we slap adhesive labels like happy or sad, poor or rich, employed or unemployed, “eating lunch” or “hatin’ life”, “it’s complicated” or “serial entrepreneur,” “meh” or “whatever.”
Tear off your fucking labels.
Tell me something that happened. Use the names of people you’d forgotten about, and say what you’d thought would happen but didn’t. Write down what part of the song was playing when you slammed the door only to realize you had to go back inside for your car keys. Can you remember when you were still little enough to hide under the kitchen sink where it smelled like ammonia and Comet and old sponges? What was the color of the clunky old car your Dad would let you help steer. What brand did he smoke?
My Dad smoked Winstons, from a red and gold pack that never seemed to empty. Lots and lots of Winstons. And, I loved when my Dad would let me help steer the vomit-green Pontiac with the plastic seats down the maniac curves of Boomer Road. I’d sit on his lap in this giant, ridiculous automobile, with cigarette smoke swirling around our heads and out the cracked window, listening to a Reds game on WLW, laughing and steering.
My Dad had the same name as me and he never should have smoked as much as he did. And, I swear to God, thirty-five years later, I can still see his big hands on the wheel, and still smell those Winstons, and still hear Joe Nuxhall’s call, as Pete Rose stretches another double into an impossible head-first triple, and as I type this, I’m just remembering that whenever we were pulling out of my Grandparents’ driveway, my Dad would always flip the vomit-green Pontiac’s lights on and off three times. Blink. Blink. Blink.
That’s how we said goodbye.
Okay, so, that’s what was in my keyboard just now. I didn’t know it was in there when I sat down to compliment Buffering on his 105 words that made me think about how I love little stories. This is why writing is fucked up and awesome and makes a 42-year-old man cry about cigarettes and Pete Rose and an ugly green car on a perfectly temperate Sunday afternoon.
Your keyboard will have different things in it than mine does, of course. But, it’s impossible to know what’s in there until you’ve made the clackity noise for a few minutes. You think you know what’s in there. But you don’t. It’s not your brain that makes the clackity noise, it’s your fingers.
Your brain helps you to breathe and to buy beer and to pretend to understand Kant and to use Spanish to ask the hot waitress for “mas salsa,” and, thank God, your brain is a boon companion at helping you avoid deadly attacks by bears, monsters, and SEO marketers.
But, your brain’s a piece-of-shit writer. I know this, because mine is too. So, let me assure you that there’s no point in waiting for your brain to start making the clackity noise for you. It can’t. That’s all on you, and on me, and on each of our extant fingers.
Weird thing is I still have to relearn this every single day. Hand to God. The only way I can tell I’m relearning this is I notice that the keyboard has been making the clackity noise for several contiguous minutes. I see that words have started to come out and sometimes they’re good and almost always they’re not and increasingly I’m not all that worried about it either way.
I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself. On the other hand, if there’s no clackity noise, no writing. No little stories. The stories may be in there, alongside God knows what else, but there’s no way to know. You must make the noise.
You can totally do this. I know you know that. I mean to say, I know you know you know that you own a fucking keyboard and understand how to use it.
But, you do need to be reminded of what that keyboard can help you make. I need to be reminded. Everybody needs to be reminded. Just because we know it doesn’t mean we’re actually making the clackity noise happen. Far from it.
Maybe just try it. You don’t even have to show anyone. Make the clackity noise until a little story falls out. Just a little bit and just for a little while. Just until you notice one tiny, dumb, pointless story that the keyboard wanted you to remember.
Today, the clackity noise helped me remember my Dad. I wonder who’s in your keyboard and what brand he’s smoking.
Anyhow. Thanks, Buffering.
Yep. Little stories are the internet’s native and ideal art form.
Apart from the coltish women, the email from old friends, and the low-bit WAV files of Dr. Who quotes, I think it was the little stories that got me most excited about hearing that modem start to hiss. It’s definitely what keeps me excited today.
Little dumb stories that I never expected.
June 19, 2009
Merlin Mann talks about the process of doing creative work, and particularly how to abandon the quest for perfection, get off your butt and get started.
June 12, 2009
A conversation with writer, speaker, blogger and student of the creative mind Merlin Mann. In 2004, Mann founded 43Folders, a blog and community focused on tips, tricks, tools and techniques designed to improve one’s productivity, and in late 2008, he took the site in a new direction, toward the habits and thoughts of humanity’s best creators and what can be learned from examining them.