Of 43Folders, Structure and Choice

First, I just wanted to thank Merlin Mann over at 43 Folders. It was an honour and a privilege to contribute an article to the mothership of productivity fans, geeks and gurus.

However, there’s something I wanted to mention here that really didn’t fit into the article, especially since I’ve received quite a number of thoughtful emails on the subject: how the new D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition contrasts with the original concept. As Merlin conceived it, the power of the Hipster PDA was in its elegant simplicity: it was simply a few cards, a clip and a pen. Jot down your actions, your appointments, and a few notes. Done. And, lo — it was a thing of beauty. The only problem is that beauty is still very much in the eye of the beholder, even when it concerns a matter as mundane as time management.

Going back through the 300+ requests for this kit, I see two important (and yet beautiful) themes emerging: structure and choice.

I’ve mentioned structure already in the 43 Folders article. Some people like to have prompts for thinking and exploration (e.g., on the Project form, there’s a space for “Objective,” which tends to slip our minds all too frequently). Some people like everything to be in its proper and pre-defined place — think about how you organise your dresser, and what clothes go in which drawer and how you fold them. Some people experience life as a puzzle with ill-fitting pieces of chaos, and need to impose order to see the bigger picture. Part of the eternal quest of any productivity tweaker is in implementing structure, and many wish that this was inherent in the tools themselves.

But I see choice as the guiding principle behind all the D*I*Y Planner kits and templates. It is impossible for every person on earth to effectively use the same time management system. A “classic” D*I*Y Planner may work for you, or GTD using a Palm, or a set of index card boxes, or Outlook running DavidCo/Covey add-ons, or a large spinning wheel with tasks and prizes. My day, my life, is different from yours: why should I dictate the best way to organise your time?

The way I see it, the more choices we have, the better the chances of discovering one’s perfect system. True, some folks –perhaps most– could no doubt use the original Hipster PDA to its best effect. But the new ‘Planner kit is there simply to provide a wider array of choices to augment the system wherever necessary. One does not need to use the whole kit, and frankly I would be shocked if you did. But you might want to set up a monthly calendar, or a Next Actions list you can check off, or an Agenda for certain people and meetings, or a yearly calendar, or even a reference card (either GTD or Covey) to trigger an effective planning/review process. Any tweaker will soon discover the gaps in his or her system, and if there are cards to help eliminate those gaps, that’s great. This kit is meant to give you a few more options, ones that can be modified as necessary to suit your specific situation. One card might be handy, as could twenty. Or none at all.

To be honest, I began to create this new set simply because so many people asked me for it. In the end, though, I found that it provided me with more structure and choice for my own daily kit. Of course, I still carry around some blank cards and paper. That’s my choice, and a free-form (read: unstructured) option that works for me.

Your life will demand different structure, different choices. And that’s fine, too.

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2 Responses to Of 43Folders, Structure and Choice

  1. Bravo. I’ve been remiss in my following the 43F Google Group recently, or I would have applauded sooner.

    I think there’s lots of room in the realm of index card tweaks, because the little things are so damned flexible, and your adding some structure for people who want it is a great idea. Were I not forcing myself to be strictly eating my own dogfood while working on v2 of the Card/Envelope hack, these things would be all over my office. :)

    Keep up the good work.

  2. excellent point. of course this is not a one-size-fits-all world as you are pointing out. keep up the great work!

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