The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload
by Daniel J. Levitin
Much of the valuable productivity literature I’ve read has been written by professionals with experience in personal or business organizational systems who teach lessons learned from consulting and coaching over many years. The Internet is bloated with blog posts outlining individual productivity systems or productivity tips that may be transferable, in whole or part, to the situation of the reader. Dr. Levitin, by contrast, has expertise in the inner working of the mind and approaches productivity and organized thinking from the grey matter out.
According to Dr. Levitin’s site, he “…earned his B.A. in Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science at Stanford University, and went on to earn his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon, researching complex auditory patterns and pattern processing in expert and non-expert populations.” Dr. Levitin has a gift for expressing complex scientific facts and theories in practical, but not simplistic, terms.
For productivity, Dr. Levitin blends neuroscience and the historical development of organizational systems to suggest ideas for improving data management, information filing and retrieval, and handling information. Like productivity expert David Allen, of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, Dr. Levitin suggests developing external systems that efficiently handle information so we can use our minds for more productive work. Whereas Allen focuses on the “mind like water” result of efficient external systems, Dr. Levitin focuses on why the mind achieves this state from a medical perspective.
Dr. Levitin’s section on the executive and daydream capacities of mental thought were extremely interesting and provide insight into some cognitive challenges we face because of the flow of information, technology, and the “multitasking” culture mentality. He also suggests ways to encourage either mode to engage for suitable tasks. His discussion of “flow state” and how to achieve it is very valuable.
Like “The Invisible Gorilla”, the book also challenges what we think we know about how our mind and memory works and what science has revealed. He provides medical insight into the notion of multitasking and what really happens in our minds and the mental impact of task switching on our productivity and efficiency. He also gives us a mind tour of dreaming and learning that is both education and useful.
An important part of this work is the discussion of critical analysis skills and decision making structures to help when we are bombarded with information. It is important to analyze the information package (source, potential biases, authority, etc.) as well as the content of the information itself. His discussion of Wikipedia helps explain the challenge of handling data wisely. He also provides a framework for helping patients and caregivers use medical tests and information to make better healthcare decisions with the diagnoses and research available that speaks to their medical need.
The Organized Mind is a user guide for the mind.
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