Ok, having ranted yesterday, let’s be practical and talk about concrete things you can do to be more organized and effective.
- Avoid multitasking. The brain has two modes; day-dreaming and executive. Switching between the two takes a lot of energy and what you are doing when you are trying to do many things at once is doing them all badly because your brain cannot keep up with the switches. There is a time and place for it though. I listen to podcast while cleaning and that is a very pleasant distraction from a tidious chore. But cleaning is automated behavior so I don’t need to think about it, and can focus on the podcast. Driving and listening to an audiobook might not be a great idea as you need to focus on the road. Doing one thing at a time is more effective.
- Set a timer. The brain can be in executive mode for something like 45-60 minutes depending on the time of day and if you have slept well etc. If you have task that needs doing, like writing a blogpost, then switching off the phone and any other possible distraction and setting a timer for 45 minutes is a way of focusing. This is also called the “tomato method” by some, the name coming from a timer that looks like a tomato. It’s also a method to be effective in other ways. Set a timer for 30 minutes and try to go through as many emails as possible during that time. Set it for 10 minutes and try to clean as much of the kitchen as possible and then do it for every other room. By focusing on one task intently you get a lot done.
- Get a wristwatch. This is just me me but really I miss having one. My phone is such a distraction for me it’s an embarrassment.
- Get a good “exo-brain”. Storing information outside of your brain is essential to free up space for decision making. Notebooks are great as are diaries, index cards etc. Many advocate putting things on a hard drive or in the cloud but remember that a shift in technology or hacking might compromise that intel or leave it inaccessible. There is a reason why I still have photographs developed from time to time. An old phone broke and with it many lovely pictures, a mistake I’ll never make again.
- Have a reasonable system. By having less things i.e. a proper sort from time to time and then storing things in a particular place then you don’t have to look for it all the time. Or get three chargers and keep in different places. Habits are neural shortcuts and they save a lot of time.
- Take a break or a nap. I have learned the expression “neural hygien” this week. It refers to taking a quick break between meeting or tasks, 5-10 minutes, so that there is time for the brain to reset itself. And if you want to be productive all day then a mid-day nap isn’t a bad idea.
- Read a good book. Fiction fosters empathy, being empathic means that it’s easier to imagine the thoughts of others and factor that into the reasoning, basically making better decisions when making them not just for yourself but also others. Being nice and thought of as agreeable is good for your brain, we are social creatures and human interaction will stimulate us. And as King pointed out, reading helps your vocabulary, and by being able to express yourself better you will improve communication. And it’s a great way to relax.
I hope that makes it somewhat clearer. That said, what I took from The organized mind by Daniel Levitin might not be your findings. Now if you excuse me I have to go meditate.