The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
Author: Daniel Levitin (wiki link). Publishing year: 2014.
The Organized Mind helps us be more productive and creative. It aims to enhance our creativity and efficiency by explaining how to organize both our internal ideas and the world around us. This is the story of information and organization.
We have a strong need to organize. Our minds need to build categories, groups and structure. Even more, we need to be able to organize our environment. This need has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and by understanding how it works we can improve our mental performance:
“Understanding how the brain’s intentional and and memory systems interact can go a long way toward minimizing memory lapses.”
Why We Need an Organized Mind
Every action that we make, from brushing our teeth to remembering birthdays; from paying bills and helping our children with homework, requires a certain mental effort. In order to relive the burden on our brain, we need to purposefully organize our environment and optimize it for effortless retrieval of information. We need to ensure some actions can be done with minimal effort.
For example, if we are busy answering a phone when we enter the house, we will forget where we put the keys. If we have the habit of putting the keys in one place every time, that will make it easier to find them, even if we put them down when distracted.
Reading through this book we can understand why we loose things. Even more, we can learn how to find them again. Finally, the book provides methods of organizing our mental and external space, so we don’t lose them in the first place.
First part of the book explains how attention works. How we automatically filter what we do not needed.
Our attention filter has hierarchies. It is especially equipped to detect change and importance. This results sometimes in a cognitive blind spot. This is what our attention has filter filtered out.
Furthermore, we automatically make categories. For example, we make linguistic categories. They help us differentiate: humans from non humans. Functional categories on the other had, can differentiate animals using locomotion, swim, walk or fly:
“We humans are hardwired to enjoy knowledge, in particular knowledge that comes through the senses. And we are hardwired to impose structure on this sensory knowledge, to turn it this way and that, to view it from different angles, and try to fit it into multiple neural frameworks. This is the essence of human learning.”
We are constantly faced with the too-many choices problem.
We have too many choices. From what to buy, to where to live, what job to take and what persons to date. Because decisions are not automatic, this decisions take effort from us. They take a toll on our brain.
Since our brain does not know which decision is most important it needs to make a conscious calculation. Therefore, the decision processes is wasting time and energy with every single small decision creating decision fatigue:
Furthermore, the brain does not automatically know which decision is more important. It spends the same amount of energy on small decision as on big decision. We get consumed both by what type of coffee to buy and what job to accept. And these two choices do not have the same long term impact:
“The decision making network in your brain doesn’t prioritize.”
Practicing the Organized Mind
In part two of the book we can read detailed how-to advice. It aims to help us organize our lives, homes, workplace, emails, kitchen drawers and everything in between.
The entire scope of organizing is optimal retrieval. We organize in order to facilitate finding what we are looking. This relieves the brain from the effort of choosing, finding, deciding:
“The task of organizational systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort.”
Information Age is drowning us. This book offers us practical advice on how we can organize our life, environment and brain. The notions explained in this book are situated at the border between neuroscience and cognitive psychology. It is both informative and insightful.
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