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.
I took my time reading The organized mind by Daniel Levity, there was much I wanted to learn and think about in the process. The pages of this book are thus filled with margin notes and phrases highlighted with a fluorescent pen.
What this book does well is that it takes bits and pieces of research and put it together in a readable and interesting way. There are a lot of books floating around, on how to be more effective, on how to think sharper not harder etc. I haven’t read all of those, they might still be a great books on that topic but this is a good overview it seems.
I’m in familiar territory; his whole chapter on probability I just swam through as I studied statistics at university level. I have also read Daniel Kahnemans Thinking fast and slow, which Levity refers to more than once. The writer was a pupil of Amos Tversky who was a friend and research partner with Kahneman for long time. This is much in that vein of thinking (and the same dry humor as well).
Levitin also applies his findings, or the results of research by him and others, to everyday situations. There is an arc of the scientific base, examples from real life and then how you can use that to your own advantage, with the clear understanding that everyone is different. What I take away from this book might not be what you find most relevant. Again; I have an understanding of statistics (even though I’m as fallible as any human and ignore what I know to be scientifically reasonable in line of my ever so gullible gut-instinct). I was fairly organized to begin with, I could not manage my life if I wasn’t, so this book rather explained why I do some of the things I do. And as always, it’s good to re-evaluate habits and reasoning. These are seven things that I will take with me from this book, in no particular order.
- Notebooks make total sense. I had someone in my life that often questioned my love of calendars and notebooks, and instead extolled the virtues of using the phone for everything. It should come as no surpirse that I’m the person who never misses an appointment (unless I cancel because of an emergency) , remembers people’s birthdays and keep my promises. That person with everything in the phone? Not so much. I’m being a bit facetious, I also know people who manage life with their phones pretty well but usually that’s in tandem with something as old-fashioned as a piece of paper with a to-do list. The first thing to be more organized is to de-clutter the mind by storing information elsewhere. What pen and paper,whether it’s notebooks or index cards, allow for, simply put, is the storing and the restructuring of the information should need arise. I have ideas for many things and I couldn’t possibly keep it all in my head, so I use notebooks a lot. I don’t always know what I know, but I know where I keep the data. There is also a mounting amount of anecdotal evidence in favor of analogues systems. A calendar will give a very different overview of a week than a iPhone calendar. If you use the Google calendar its better but still. Obviously a lot of people would argue that my instance on this being a valid piece of advice from Levitin is my silly love of stationary making itself known. I would answer that with the argument that the increased popularity of bullet journaling is because it’s a great way of handling information and avoiding overload.
- Fiction is good for you. On page 119 Levintin points out that research has found that people who read literary fiction, i.e. not popular fiction or nonfiction, are better at detecting the emotions of others. Which means you are learning empathy in short. That’s what you do when you read; you engage with the thoughts and feelings of another and place your self in their shoes. I feel here that the caveats must be made that good literature can be best-selling, evidenced by the fact that A little life is on the best seller list in Sweden, popular fiction probably refers more to the likes of those Kepler-Mysteries that I have become fond of lately.
- You cannot catch up on sleep, but the solution to a problem might be found at the other end of nap. As a chronic insomniac I stick to sleep hygiene semi-religiously but I too have believed for a long time that a few nights of sleep deprivation can be ameliorated by a long weekend of relaxing. Not so. Being tired makes you, for a lack of a better word, stupid and you can’t make up for it. That said; if you have small children, things that need to be done or a job that requires a lot then there is nothing you can do. Oh wait; you can take naps. Those are really good for you, just make sure they are no longer then 20 minutes and not to late in the day. That whole siesta thing? There is now research to back up the Mediterranean lifestyle. Why not? The food in that area is great and I’m totally onboard with that whole nap thing. On the other hand they have a penchant for fascist leaders so maybe they haven’t got it all figured out just yet. And as thinking is hard, and uses a lot of energy, it is sometimes a really good idea to proverbially “sleep on it”. It really helps. In dreams we find a lot of solutions and having a fresh and alert brain doesn’t hurt either. Old wives tale backed up by science, once again.
- I need a wristwatch something awful. Levitin quotes someone who said something about “a man who has one watch knows the time, a man with two is never sure”. Well, a woman with no watch who has to use her phone to check the time is constantly distracted by information. I’m talking about myself here obviously. My beloved Seiko broke, I’m having a devil of a time finding a replacement because watches are huge nowadays and my wrists are tiny, and I have to resort to looking at my phone. And then I’m down the rabbit hole of IG comments, FB messages and what not. And I’m not alone in this. We are all easily distracted by stuff like that. Writing a blog post like this with my phone beside me is nearly impossible because I cannot stop checking updates. Flight mode+ timer is the solution here. Setting aside time everyday to reply to emails (most of which are superfluous to begin with) is a good routine. In between, try to avoid the phone or use one of those apps that filters communication.
- Make sure your ideas find you. Levitin brings up “daydreaming mode” a lot. It’s when your brain wanders from thought to thought and solutions and ideas present themselves, the brain at it’s most creative. Cultivate that mode. Remember what Gilbert/King said about ideas? By sitting at the desk everyday at a certain time, and being in the moment the ideas come. By making sure your brain recognizes that it can switch off (i.e. no distractions) when you sit at your desk and you let your thoughts roam free, then things will come to you. The brains ability to switch is the real magic here.
- There is a good argument for the Junk drawer. There is a place for everything, ad if you have less stuff there is good chance that you will be able to keep everything with other things in that category. Or you could buy staplers for every room so you don’t have to look for it /go get it. And things that are not in any other category make up one of their own. Marie Kondo will be horrified, famously so, but there is a time and place for things you do not know where to put. And so they end up in the junk drawer. The trick is to go through it every now and again and make sure that thing leave it. Some things will find a place in a newly arranged category (books that I’ve been given by publishers that I feel I want to read) or you find that it is no longer relevant (books that I’ve bought that I no longer want to read so I can give it away). And don’t have multiple junk drawers please, make a decision.
- Routines save a lot of time. I know this and have known it for a long time. I almost put my keys in the same place (and the only time I lose them is when I don’t). I have a sign on my door that ask “Do you have phone?Keys?Wallet?. I have no idea when books need to be returned to the library BUT I have signed up for the service where they send an email a few days before. I do not have to think about these things. I spend a lot of time looking for the cat for obvious reason but rarely waste time or incur fees for lost keys or unpaid bills. I know this to be true and will continue to live by it. It allows me to read without a nagging voice in my head telling me I should be doing other things becasue those things are already done. Being organized is essentially about doing the things that need to be done so that you can spend time doing what you want to do.