The Organized Mind
The Organized Mind
The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin
As we move further into the information age it has becomes increasingly more difficult to know what the relevant information is and what isn’t. We are completely overwhelmed with distractions and our brains are suffering because of it. Daniel Levitin proposes in ‘’The Organized Mind’’ that we need to stop educating people on facts and rather we should be preparing them for the information age by teaching them how to process information. Arguing that the biggest problem today may be the lack of information literacy.
I mostly agree with what Daniel says in the book but have some small contentions. A lot of the book goes over statistics about neurochemistry and although most of it sounds good it is really hard for me to accept it all without fact checking it and I do not have the time to go over it all. But there are some noteworthy observations.
He talked very negatively about multitasking, saying that it will typically cause more harm than good in the long run by inducing a lot of brain fog and reducing productivity. For this he recommends sticking to a focused purpose and remembering not to overload the brain. Taking breaks and remembering to reflect is important not only for productivity but also for creativity. He talks about two modes that your brain can be in: one being the ‘’default mode’’ where the mid tends to wonder off and daydream, the other being the ‘’task engagement mode’’ where you have strong focus and are in a good flow on whatever it is you might be working on.
I have read a lot about how to make the help induce more of this task engagement mode and be more focused in work, and typically most material that I have read about it seems to suggest that the way to reach better productivity is to increase concentration and task engagement. There are many different approaches out there about how best to go about it, some even suggesting amphetamines for people who may suffer ADD or other types of attention disorders. Daniel however says that it is probably a good thing to move between these active and passive states because most of your creativity will come from the default mode when you brain wonders.
A good example is when you are reading a book and realize that you have been reading half a page but not actually following it at all and you need to start all over again. During that time your brain wondered off thinking creatively, building a narrative or trying to connect dots. This is true in work life as well. Brain wondering can induce creativity which can in turn increase your productivity. A very good recommendation of his was that if you have people with ADD in your working environment try to combine them with doers, they tend to mix quite well. And that although amphetamines can help a lot with concentration there is also a lot of evidence suggesting that they kill creativity.
Creativity is a big part of Daniels book and there is a lot about what kind of habits are prone to lead to better creativity. A lot of these sound self-evident but often neglected. We tend to think that we’re too busy to do the ‘’trivial’’ things but maybe those ‘’trivial’’ things are more important then we think. Going on Vacations, taking walks in nature, reading novels, meditation and leisure activities of all sorts all help with creativity by restoring your brain of its neurological resources that got burned up during the rush hours.
Some of the most important lessons from this book for me have been in understanding how volatile the brain is with information. Specifically, about the amount of energy the brain can use on trivial things and how easy it is to be forgetful. Daniel pointed out that the brain will use as much resources with trivial tasks like deciding between donut flavours or even things like trying to remember to take the keys with you in the morning.
There where some suggestions proposed that he called brain extenders. Meaning that manipulating your environment to facilitate memorization can help to reduce the need to expend precious brain power. An example could be to have a key hook next to your door. That way you don’t ever need to think about your keys, they have become a part of the environment that you interact with. The same principle can be applied to keeping good calendars, writing things down instead of trying to remember everything and keeping journals.
The idea of building my environment is something that was in fact a necessary part of my professional life as an a la carte chef. The philosophy in the gastronomic world is known as ‘’mis en place’’ which translates to ‘’put in place’’ which is about general preparation and optimize your work environment.
And although I agreed with most of Daniels points and use many of them, there are some points that I don’t feel apply to me. The idea of taking naps was something that I cannot agree with. They tend to only make things worse for me by reducing the amount of sleep the following night. And I never really feel rested after them anyway. In general, I think this book was good but not one that I would necessarily recommend to everyone. As I previously mentioned the topics discussed are seemingly self-evident but often neglected so it does help to be reminded of them on occasion. I still think that this is yet another of a myriad of self-help books that has valuable content and should be taken seriously but I still tend to prefer books that provide concrete learnings about specific topics. Books that leave me with many thought-provoking ideas and concepts.
The most valuable take-away may be this idea of replacing traditional education with something that would give people information literacy rather than some memorized facts. This is something that I have been preaching ad nauseum for the past ten years and fully agree with Daniel on this point. Unfortunately, this is not a new learning for me but there may be some people who haven’t put much thought into this and in that case, it is well worth a read.