In Search of the Organized Mind

In light of my current crazed mental state, I hit upon the idea of writing on the topic of the “organized mind” for this blog piece. Imagine my surprise (and feeling of validation that I am not alone) when I found a book written by neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin entitled, “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.”

Further researching both the author and subsequent write-ups of his book, I happened upon an eloquently and hilariously review written by Michael Brodeur, culture writer at the Globe. Part self-deprecating and part informational, his piece on The Organized Mind made me laugh, empathize, and want to run out to get a copy of the book for myself!

Apparently, I’m not the only one seeking help in this age of digital overload.

Michael Brodeur writes: “The digitization of our lives hasn’t just created more information than any of us can realistically process, it’s more than we can fathom.”

It should come as no surprise that with the information age, we are being inundated with an unprecedented amount of data. In trying to process everything that comes our way, we may find ourselves feeling scrambled and fragmented. In fact, the average American reports frequently misplacing items such as car keys, missing appointments, and simply feeling depleted and exhausted from trying to keep up and process it all.

The wealth of information at our fingertips and the technologies that bring it to our attention have changed the way we use our brains. Many times, we try to focus on many different things at once, dividing our attentional system into many splintered pieces. How many times have you seen someone talking on the phone while driving, texting while grocery shopping, or checking emails while in a meeting? Unable to focus on one task at a time, our brains flit from thought to thought, from task to task – and that process eventually takes its toll. Attention is a limited resource. It’s been proven that our brains work best when we focus on one task at a time.

In his book, Levitin highlights the four components of our attentional system — the default mode (that allows our minds to wander and forget where we parked our car); the central executive mode (also known as the “vigilance” mode); the attentional filter (our personal “stay on task” mode); and the attentional switch that allows us to shift from one mode to the other. Oftentimes, our minds run automatically, switching between the different modes. The important thing is to realize that we can override the auto-mode by focusing on tips and tricks to organize our minds.

Ten Tips on Organizing Your Mind, from Dr. Daniel Levitin:

1. Take breaks

2. Set up different computer monitors for different activities

 3. Embrace a (modified) paper to-do list

4. File correspondence in multiple ways

5. Purge, when needed

6. Designate time for short tasks and longer projects

7. Don’t spend more time on a decision than it’s worth

8. Sleep, and nap on the job

9. Don’t over-organize

10. Leave work at work

Brodeur states that, “Many of Levitin’s recommendations are less about teaching an old brain new tricks, and more about changing aspects of your surroundings (or your interaction with them) to better cooperate with your brain’s unique way of doing things.”

Dr. Levitin’s explains more about the Organized Mind in a Talk to Google presented in 2014. Here, he discusses how using brain science can help you personally excel and better organize your homes, workplace and life. Watch and learn more:


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