Merlin Mann

Some time around 2005—if memory serves, which it probably doesn’t—I discovered the work and blogging of Merlin Mann. Back then, he was neck-deep in a project called 43 Folders: Time, Attention, and Creative Work. It’s self-described as, “[a] website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.” The first post there is dated 2004, and the last is gloriously frozen in place from 2011.

There are so many things to mention about that project. Ahhhhhhh, the halcyon days when we all thought “website” was a cool word. (I’m now in the “web site” encampment.) Mann is the guy who, for better [my opinion] or worse [many others’ option], brought “inbox zero” to everyone’s awareness. He also spent years experimenting with processes, and I went on a magical, multi-year journey experimenting with something called the “hipster PDA.” If forced to choose, I’d say Mann is the guy who most greatly influenced my process thinking.

There’s a phrase in cooking, mise en place, meaning to have everything in its proper place before starting. (The classic example of failure in this regard is to be half-way through making something only to realize you’re missing an ingredient and having to throw away the food.)

Well Mann is the guy who—in my opinion—has done the most to improve processes for knowledge workers and creative people. I’m not sure if he’s ever said it explicitly, but a huge part of what he did was to elevate knowledge workers and creatives by cultivating a mise en place mindset.