Daniel Levitin’s book The Organized Mind presents us with lots of intriguing insight into the neurochemistry of the brain with respect to the need to pay attention and focus. One chapter is titled “Too Much Information, Too Many Decisions” and describes the chaotic nature of today’s information overload environment. It turns out that the brain works well when it is paying attention and focused but this is not its natural state. The brain has a default daydreaming mode that prevents us from focusing and paying attention. To complicate matters even more, the brain doesn’t prioritize the constant flow of ideas and information that it is constantly exposed to. With so much information assaulting the brain throughout the day, it needs external help in keeping it organized.
The Organized Mind presents several useful tips to help the brain organize our personal and working lives. Here are some strategies to better remember things:
- Distinct or unique events are better remembered as there is nothing competing with them
- Emotional events are better remembered because the brain “creates neurochemical tags, or markers, that accompany the experience and cause it to become labeled as important”
- We tend to remember best the first entry on a list (the primacy effect)
- We tend to remember the most recent items we encountered on a list, but not as well as the first item ( recency effect)
- “Our ability to use and create categories on the spot is a form of cognitive economy”. Levitin continues by writing that categories help us by “consolidating like things, freeing us from having to make decisions that can cause energy depletion”
- “Writing things down conserves the mental energy expended in worrying that you might forget something and in trying not to forget it”
- “We should off-load as much information to the external world as possible”, using systems such as a stack of index cards
- Multi-tasking is inefficient when it comes to memory encoding and retention
- “The key to creating useful categories is to limit the number of types of things they contain to one or at most four types of things (respecting the capacity limitations of working memory)”
- Organizational Rule 1: “A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled one”
- Organization Rule 2: “If there is an existing standard, use it”
- Organizational Rule 3: “Don’t keep what you can’t use”
Levitin’s book is crammed with lots of other principles, rules and guidelines to help us better organize our personal and working lives. It is highly recommended that you read it – your brain will thank you that you did!