I have been described as a fast processor, divergent thinker, creative, the Tasmanian Devil (cartoon version) on speed and masterful multi-tasker. I have also been informed my desk is too messy, my purse too full and my overstuffed bags should not be carried back and forth from home to school. This being the case, I have engaged in a lifelong pursuit of the ultimate organizational system to allow me to expedite and coordinate family demands, professional responsibilities, social schedules, travel plans and provide the time to allow me to read, write, exercise, get outside and to sleep. This Christmas, Santa, in his infinite wisdom, put Daniel J. Levitin’s book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, in my stocking.
Daniel J. Levitin takes the reader not so much on a tour of the evolution of the brain, but the evolution of the demands on the brain. This book includes but moves beyond the typical self-help shelf about how to find keys and remember names. This book is neuroscience meets cognitive psychology. It is exceptionally well researched and provides the information about the workings of the brain that provides important considerations such as time, relaxation, focus, sleep and engagement to organize aspects of home, social and the business life.
Levitin brings to light the objections raised to the proliferation of books by 15th century intellectuals: The concern was “…people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.” (p.15) Our concerns have shifted with what to do with our addiction to internet, cell phones and social media. New technologies are not to be dismissed, but considered in light of what we are gaining, what we are losing and how to best use them for our purposes. The primary consideration is the working of the prefrontal cortex and the ways that we can focus our attentional systems and assist our memory system in coping with the demands being made on them.
Strategies are suggested to organize our world so we don’t get lost in the endless pursuit of keys and cell phones. Bayesian probability models are explored through use of the fourfold table which sheds a whole new light on taking control of health related decisions. I am committed to only multi-task the minutia that does not require focused thinking. I will continue to call my Dad en route to the gym and unload the dishwasher while I make coffee, add to the grocery list and listen to Ted Talks. The shift is that I will jot down ideas and things to do on index cards (to be sorted, categorized and completed later) and close the door in order to focus on tasks requiring more focussed thinking and to maximize my creativity. Yet, the biggest take-away for me is making decisions about how I use time and organize based on information about how the brain works. Levitin has been able to provide the information required to take control over the barrage of information that is tossed our direction on a regular basis. I recently signed up for a two week online blogging class provided compliments of WordPress. I have been able to sift through the myriad of ideas and incorporate the tools that externalize memory and are conducive to focusing my attentional system. The mark of a great book for me is that it creeps into your thoughts and discussions long after it’s been read. Great book!