Merlin Mann & Getting Things Done

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders often participates in the various podcasts that I listen to (basically the twit.tv suite of “TWiTcasts”). I decided on Friday that I would check out Merlin’s own podcast, so I downloaded them all and listened to the first 18 episodes on my iPod as I did the weekly shopping on Saturday morning. And man, what a great bunch of podcasts!
First of all, you should know that Merlin has a wicked sense of humour, so there was no shortage of chuckling as I pushed my trolley around the supermarket.
Where it gets good and serious though is in much of his content. Merlin is a productivity guru and he talks a lot about getting things done (and Getting Things Done). The episode entitled It’s Just a Cup struck home, as did the one entitled The Richard Scarry Book of the Future, but the real ring-a-ding-dinger was The Perfect Apostrophe. These are about work practices and it was interesting to hear him describe my working method as if he had been sitting in the room watching me. By that, I mean the ridiculous amount of time I can spend preparing to work, rather than actually working. In The Perfect Apostrophe, he talks about how he spent three days preparing to start writing a book, ending up on a quest to find the exact typeface for the apostrophe used in the font for the O’Reilly logo.

 It was gratifying to hear that I’m not completely messed up though. I’m a translator by profession and the episode entitled First-time Sex & the Beauty of 1.0 also explained my working method, but this time from a positive perspective. This is about the idea of getting something out there, producing something, even though it might be utter rubbish and eventually be completely discarded. That’s the 1.0. That is how I deal with translation. I start by translating literally using what I call Russian English (basically English words and Russian word order). So when I get to the end, I’ve read the whole thing, thought about it some, done some research and am much better equipped to start from the beginning again with the experience I’ve gained. It’s a whole lot quicker than deliberating long and hard to get the perfect translation of each sentence.

In his later episodes, Merlin conducts a series of interviews with David Allen, author of Getting Things Done. I think I first hear about this book on a TWiTcast a while back; I’m not quite sure, but in any event I bought it on iTunes and tried to listen to it on a car journey one day. I found the style too dry and couldn’t really follow it. After listening to Merlin’s interviews (I’ve still got two to go), I tried again to listen to the book, but again found it too hard to get into. This might very well be down to the fact that I’d just spent the last hour or so listening to Merlin talking to David and was all tired out.

After spending some time today clearing my bills and what I refer to as my ‘admin’, I realised that, in my own way, I too am a GTD guy. I have a system that works and I only really get overwhelmed with my translation work when the deadline starts to loom (as it is now).


Translation wise, some of the technology that’s available now has made the process easy to breakdown. I use Wordfast, which is translation memory software that breaks the translation down into chunks. That helps to remove the scariness of having thousands and thousands of words still to go, eliminates any chance of missing bits out and, of course, gives you the power of memory and glossaries. I also have a spreadsheet into which I enter the daily work quota and it automatically updates to show me how much is left in percentage terms and how much I’ve done (which can be both encouraging and discouraging).

I do plan to listen again to the Getting Things Done book and see if I can get more involved with it. I do need to watch out that I don’t spend so much time learning about GTD and participating in discussions about it that I don’t actually get things done!

So, back to my translation. I’ve not done today’s quota yet!

Comments

  1. [this is good] What a great post — thank you!

    I too struggle with just getting started on projects.  Rationally, I know I should do it but I can think of a milion ways to procrastinate.  I repeat to myself, ‘You can’t edit a blank page… You can’t edit a blank page…’ and yet the perfectionist side of me will sit there and wiggle with the first sentence for what seems like an eternity before finally just writing the whole thing out under the pressure of deadline.

    “This is about the idea of getting something out there,producing something, even though it might be utter rubbish and eventually becompletely discarded. That’s the 1.0.” 

    Well put.  Now I need to start my 1.0.

  2. [this is good] Thanks rogue. I now have 12000 words of my 1.0 to go, then the editing will begin. I’ve never really considered myself as one who thrives under the pressure of deadlines, but I guess if I’m honest I actually do. I remember essay writing at university and there was always that “I just need one more day” feeling. But if the deadline had been one day later right from the start, I would still need that “one more day” for sure.