SJ Loria's Reviews > The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin
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Jul 19, 2014

really liked it

This review will be three parts. First a quick paragraph about what this book is. Then, some of the practical tips and facts from the book itself and finally a why this book matters (and how it relates to The End of Absence) kind of rant. Also quotes at the end.

1. What this book is.
I'm not entirely sure if this book is supposed to address what it means to have an organized mind or how one can implement structure in order to achieve an organized mind. It's a bit of both, which services perhaps to clutter its overall purpose. It also addresses organization across so many different facets of life (the workplace, the home, teaching, thinking) that the scope perhaps dilutes the effectiveness. It tries to be something for everything, and maybe that's not possible. I appreciate the effort, but not all sections are equally strong and it takes on too much. It’s interesting to learn about the different types of memory and which parts of your brain are involved in thinking them though, that’s neat.

2. Practical tips and facts
Externalize (write things down, label drawers) and categorize (do now, delegate, do later, and check your lists to revise them)
Guard your mind, create a schedule that maximizes your effectiveness that takes into account neurological science
Have a junk drawer, but remember to organize that every once in a while
Take naps, day dream
There is no such thing as multi-tasking, don’t kid yourself, it’s inefficient
Thinking takes energy, neurons are living cells and require oxygen and glucose
Sort things in to categories, and then sort these into categories with periodic checks
Only check your email three times a day
There is the central-decision making mode and the mind wandering mode, both are important for brain development and success so you should allow yourself to do both (and all the app noise doesn’t let mind wandering mode happen)
Gay people are actually important for preserving family genes because they invest in the childcare of an infant but don’t produce any offspring (apparently he’s summarizing Richard Dawkins on this point, interesting)
The serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 has been found to correlate with artistic behaviors as well as spirituality, both of which appear to favor the mind-wandering mode. [This is the most scientific way one can possibly say “it’s ok to zone out and marvel at clouds.”] 47
Value the long term goal, not the short term rush
The process of learning yields better results than the googlization of facts style of learning - I call it the elbow grease approach. This means write things down on paper, say them outloud, learn the old fashioned way if you want to get the maximum effect. Typing on a screen is easy, not to mention the 48 other tabs that are distracting you and the glow of the screen that your brain isn't used to.

3. Why this book matters.
(I typed this up stream of consciousness style in an electronics store yesterday) So I'm at a store where they are currently looking at my phone because the headphone jack doesn't work properly. For the record, I love music. I spoil the sense of hearing because I cherish music. Excellence in sound. So during exercise this morning when the sound once again came out of only one ear (regardless of the headphone) yet again I said, OK, it's worth going into an electronic store to get this fixed.
They're looking at it in the back room, as I'm in a room full of dazzling screens on every side. Literally, all sides. Today my goal was also to type up my review to The Organized Mind, and I had been zoning out and thinking about the point of the process of discovery as it relates to learning. How actually looking something up makes you learn it far better. I was reminiscing about riding my bike to the library, I’m watching two kids not facing each other staring at a screen and speaking to one another through the headsets.
He handed me this tool and said, “Here you go, I don't want you to be bored while you wait” as he left. I wanted to tell him, but, it's not a bad thing to be bored. Neurological research is showing more and more the precious importance of the ability to be bored. It's more important in the development of children and adolescents, more than two hours of screen time is related with increased ADHD rates, aggressive behaviors and antisocial behaviors...and probably negative life outcomes once those kids live long enough to test that hypothesis. And probably very negative long term effects on the ability to connect with other people. Family, friends, romantic partners…yikes
News flash, your 2,000 twitter followers don't actually give a shit about you, they just want to see sexy photos. And while the endorphin rush from seeing 295 updates does feel good, I’ll concur to that, but in the long run that shit is the loneliest way to live.
The point of The Organized Mind and also The End of Absence and a lot of the scientific research I've read over the past few years is this. Guard your mind. Yes, it's cool to live in the dazzling array of electronics, but while it's convenient that you can instantly find out how much the Empire State Building weighs that doesn't mean you always should. The grey matter up there, and the process of evolving into how we put grey matter up there, took place over hundreds of thousands of years and the instantaneous pop up window way of learning isn't quite in sync with us as a mammal. Read books, daydream, take naps, create spaces where electronics are put away completely. It’s you who should be doing the becoming, not your damn fool computer.
Oddly enough, it's essentially in line with Eastern philosophical thinking. If you want to get a summary of The Organized Mind go to a yoga class, or read Peace is Every Step. It's the same point, but one approaches from the western, empirical scientific process based thinking, the other from the more intuitive, collective, calm eastern way of thinking. The both point to the same truth.
You must live a certain way, make certain choices that seem boring but in the long run are better for you and essential for your ability to maintain a relationship.
Says the man who is typing this all up on a computer, and as we all know we're happy computers exist and I'm happy you're reading this but let's both go do ourselves a favor and turn these things off, go read a book or go have a conversation with a loved one.
Last point, then we’ll get to the practical stuff. I saw a couple the other day probably in their 80s walk arm in arm to the car. He opened the door for her as she got in the car, they smiled at one another, and then he hurried around to his side of the car. There’s wisdom in that. Out with the old, in with the new and the shiny and the screens, but as we evolve we can retain the best of the old ways as we improve with the new electronic toys. At least I think that’s possible. At least I choose to live my life in a way that I maintain that hope, because it’s a simple choice in this situation, not a data driven empirical analysis, and I would rather chose the side of life here that results in a more fulfilling life. Be organized. Be your best organized self.

From the many thousands of ways that individuals differ from one another, a mathematical model can be constructed that accounts for a great deal of variation, organizing human differences into five categories: extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to new experience, conscientiousness….conscientiousness is the best predictor of many important human outcomes.
In 2011 Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes of 100,000 words every day…our brains do have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost: We can have trouble separating the trivial from the important, and all this information processing makes us tired…with a processing limit of 120 bits per second, this means you can barely understand two people talking to you at the same time. 7
The amount of scientific information we’ve discovered in the last twenty years is more than all the discoveries up to that point, from the beginning of language [ed note, in terms of quantity, not quality or importance to human knowledge]. Five exabites (5 x 10 to the 18th) of new data were produced in January 2012 alone – that’s 50,000 times the number of words in the entire Library of Congress. 15
The serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 has been found to correlate with artistic behaviors as well as spirituality, both of which appear to favor the mind-wandering mode. [This is the most scientific way one can possibly say “it’s ok to zone out and marvel at clouds.”] 47
People who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another person’s emotions. 119
By 1859, the average family group in Europe had dropped from twenty people to ten living in close proximity, and by 1960 that number was just five. Today, 50% of Americans live alone. 121
Online interaction works best as a supplement, not a replacement for inperson contact. The cost of all our electronic connectedness appears to be that it limits our biological capacity to connect with other people. 127
Studies have shown a dramatic decline in empathy among college students, who apparently are far less likely to say that it is valuable to put oneself in the place of others or to try and understand their feelings. It is not just because they’re reading less literary fiction, it’s because they’re spending more time alone under the illusion that they’re being social. 131
“It takes time to shift your attention from task to task. It takes less energy to focus. That means that people who organize their time in a way that allows them to focus are not only going to get more done, but they’ll be less tired and less nurochemically depleted after doing it. Daydreaming also takes less energy than multitasking. And the natural intuitive see-saw between focusing and daydreaming helps to recalibrate the brain. Multitasking does not.
Perhaps most important, multitasking by definition disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually necessary for problem solving and for creativity…in multitasking we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centers become rewarded for processing shiny new stimuli, to the detriment of our prefrontal cortex, which wants to stay on task and gain the reward of sustained effort and attention. We need to train ourselves to go for the long reward, and forgo the short one. Don’t forget the awareness of an unread email sitting in your inbox can effectively reduce your IQ by 10 points, and that multitasking causes information you want to learn to be directed to the wrong part of the brain.” 170
Sleep is among the most critical factors for peak performance, memory, productivity, immune function, and mood regulation. Even a mild sleep reduction or departure from a set sleep routine can produce detrimental effects on cognitive performance for many days afterwards. 189
Even give or ten minute “power naps” can turn around negative emotions and increase happiness. 193
Most students today do not know the pleasure of serendipity that comes from browsing through stacks of old academic journals, turning past “irrelevant” articles on the way to the one they’re looking for, finding their brains attracted to a particularly interesting graph or title. Instead, they insert the name of the journal article they want and the computer delivers it to them with surgical precision, effortlessly. Efficient, yes. Inspiring, and capable of unlocking creative potential, not so much. 378
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Reading Progress

July 19, 2014 – Shelved
July 19, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
August 1, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Broli (last edited Sep 21, 2014 04:25PM) (new) - added it

Broli Thanks!
Do you have a video on this subject? I could not find any in your YT channel.

message 2: by SJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

SJ Loria I haven't done any book reviews on YouTube...but that's an interesting idea.

Right now I'm doing Siddhartha on YT:

Thanks for the post, stay curious.

Thorby Cool cliff notes. This book is pretty long, I might just go with this summary.

Eleanor It is long and I'm struggling! Although I'm interested, I find my eyes closing - the same thing when I watch documentaries on TV - I'm interested but end up going to sleep and missing the choice bits. At least with this book, when I nod off it falls on me and wakes me up!

message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim Thank you, excellent review. I have browsed this book a couple of times in Waterstones UK, but decided against buying if because it looks too long and wordy and I haven't got the time. Now I know how it chimes in with themes I am familiar with from Zen Habits and Getting Things Done ("Your mind is for having ideas, not for holding them"). Plus your quotes were very helpful. I've switched off the email notifications on my smartphone right now.

Monika C Thanks for posting the review. very helpful

Anna Thank you! I couldn't agree more about the book trying to be and say too much. It lost me so much about 2/3rds through due to just going on and on, that I almost stopped reading. A good thing I didn't because I think it ended strong, but it really did lose its way in the middle.

message 8: by Hussein (new) - added it

Hussein Ali Great effort SJ. But can we take the mentioned scientific opinions in the book as indisputable facts? Are they scientifically proven?

message 9: by nicola alloway (new)

nicola alloway I don’t

message 10: by Marwan (new)

Marwan i think maybe reading your comment is somehow better than reading the book itself, great words buddy

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