The ProfHacker Podcast: Merlin Mann and the First Person Transitive

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, 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 all 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.”)

A few notes: The editing is a little rough in some patches.  Apologies–as it says above, this is our first one!  The sketch is by Dave GrayEnough! On to the podcast.  (We’ll sort out inline playing, and an iTunes listing, soon.)

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