“We must consciously look at areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and then methodically and proactively do so. And then keep doing it.” - Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind
We take in five times as much information today as we did in 1986. In this age of information overload, it’s critical that we build and organize our lives to work with our human brains, so that we can reduce the burden on our minds and lives.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing author and behavioral neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, speak about his new book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Ago of Information Overload.
Levitin’s background is impressive.
In short: this man knows brains. How they work. What they do. How we use them to our advantage and, more importantly, how we’re limiting our own productivity in this age of “information overload.”
I can’t even begin to summarize a single wisdom nugget from this incredible book, so here are some of the highlights that will blow your overloaded mind, and help you make the most of your weird little brain:
We may think we are successfully multitasking when we’re juggling our smartphones, our kids’ questions, and answering the phone, but science says we are still only shifting back and forth from one task to another very quickly. A switch from one task to another burns up glucose, releases stress hormones, and takes time between the task-switching. It short, multitasking is hurting your productivity.
Levitin gave a great example of task-focusing from his own life—he has set up an auto-email message that says, "I only check email twice a day. If this is urgent, please call my mobile." Try it.
The book suggests that one method for further breaking your to-do lists into easily actionable categories is:
1. Do it
2. Delegate it
3. Defer it
4. Drop it
It’s a helpful way of breaking our, often lengthy, to-do lists into more manageable pieces (as well as getting rid of non-essential tasks).
If you can attend to one of the “do it” items on your list in less than two minutes, do it now. Alternatively, a daily thirty-minute block is a good way to deal with small tasks quickly so they don’t become burdensome. Plus, this helps with the new no-multitasking focus you’ve adopted!
“Gibsonian affordances” is a scientific term meaning an object whose design tells you how to use it. Good examples in our home include a key hook at the front door or a specific purse pocket for your smartphone. These simple organization tricks help guide us toward putting the same object in the same place. This means we don’t have to use up brain resources by trying to remember where these items are located. The old “a place for everything, and everything in its place” clearly has some hard science to back its validity, especially in this age of information overload.
First of all, its apparently ok to have a junk drawer, so let go of perceived judgment for your clutter places. Just make sure to follow these rules:
1. A mislabeled item is worse than an unlabeled item.
Mislabeling makes you feel like you can’t trust in your own system. If your junk drawer consists of “party junk,” don’t start tossing your wrenches in there, too.
2. If there is an existing standard, use it.
Don’t reinvent the wheel—if your outdoor garbage bin is blue and the recycling bin is grey, don’t make the indoor ones an opposing colour-system. Stick with the standard to take pressure off your brain’s precious resources.
3. Don’t keep what you can’t use.
If you pull a pen that doesn’t work out of your drawer, throw it out! Putting it back in the drawer will only mean more wasted time later.
Our ancestors engaged in two rounds of night sleep. This sleeping cycle started with about five hours of sleep after dinner. Then, there was an hour of awake activity, followed by a second five-hour sleep. This, with the addition of a nap, is how our brains would naturally regulate sleep if left to their own management.
The irony is, I missed a much-needed nap in order to write this. In the battle of sleep versus work, we aren’t as kind to our brains as we need to be.
So, it goes without saying that additional sleep (and naps) would serve to make us more alert, productive, and safe (sleep deprivation is the leading cause of friendly fire in military situations). Here are some of Levitin’s no-nonsense rules for sleep:
Almost every page of Levitin’s book gives a fascinating glimpse into how our weird, crowded, information-sorting brains work. More importantly, the book gives insight into how to make the most out of your weird little brain.
For science nerds, organized freaks, hoarders, purgers, and those who love to think they are multitasking, this is an absolutely must read. Levitin packs an overload of information into over 400 pages. The best part—you walk away knowing how to lighten the load on your overworked, overtired, under resourced brain.