Saturday, 27 June 2015

Daniel J. Levitin , "The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload"

"Successful people are expert at categorizing useful versus distracting knowledge. How do they do it?"

Daniel Levitin is an American cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, best-selling author, and also rather interestingly a musician and record producer who has worked with artists such as The Grateful Dead!

I really enjoyed the first half of this book where he explained how our brains switch from mind-wandering-type thought to more focused task-orientated thought regulated by different parts of our brain. He also talked about the problems of modern life and the costs of multi-tasking and too much choice.

I found this part useful:

"The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world. If we can remove some or all of the process from our brains and put it out into the physical world, we are less likely to make mistakes. This is not because of the limited capacity of our brains— rather, it’s because of the nature of memory storage and retrieval in our brains: Memory processes can easily become distracted or confounded by other, similar items. Active sorting is just one of many ways of using the physical world to organize your mind. The information you need is in the physical pile there , not crowded in your head up here . Successful people have devised dozens of ways to do this, physical reminders in their homes, cars, offices, and throughout their lives to shift the burden of remembering from their brains to their environment."

He then went on to talk about the advantages of good old-fashioned notebooks and index cards. Having spent some time trying to use mind mapping software and failed, this really resonated with me.

"Imagine carrying a stack of 3 x 5 index cards with you wherever you go. When you get an idea for something you’re working on, you put it on one card. If you remember something you need to do later, you put that on a card. You’re sitting on a bus and suddenly remember some people you need to call and some things you need to pick up at the hardware store— that’s several more cards. You’ve figured out how to solve that problem your sister is having with her husband— that goes on a card. Every time any thought intrudes on what you’re doing, you write it down."

"For the 3 x 5 system to work best, the rule is one idea or task per card— this ensures that you can easily find it and dispose of it when it’s been dealt with. One piece of information per card allows for rapid sorting and re- sorting, and it provides random access, meaning that you can access any idea on its own, take it out of the stack without dislocating another idea, and put it adjacent in the stack to similar ideas. Over time, your idea of what is similar or what binds different ideas together may change, and this system— because it is random and not sequential— allows for that flexibility."

I am going to try this for my Summer projects and for the pupils' Learning Wall in the classroom next session.