Daniel Levitin The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload is a bestselling popular science book written by the McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, PhD, and first published in the United States and Canada in 2014. It is Levitin’s 3rd consecutive best-seller, debuting at #2 on the New York Times Best Seller List, #1 on the Canadian best-seller lists, #1 on Amazon, and #5 on The London Times bestseller list.

Problems identified in the book

#1 – We have too much actual stuff.
#2 – We have too much “cognitive” stuff
#3 – We have too much “digital” stuff.

Some overall organization principles proposed by Levitin:

  • Organization Rule 1: A mislabeled item or location is worse than an unlabeled item.
  • Organization Rule 2: If there is an existing standard, use it.
  • Organization Rule 3: Don’t keep what you can’t use.

Some takeaways:

1)  Information overload is a genuine problem that is growing rapidly.

2)  To survive information overload, we need a system that works for us, but whatever that system is, it needs to offload, “categorize,” and be easy to retrieve.

3)  To survive information overload, we can’t forget the basics, like: to-do lists; 3×5 cards. (And we need to beware of “technology” only).

4)  To survive information overload, we may have to become much more discerning at what we allow in. Not all input is worthy of being let in. We need to exercise control and discipline regarding our input choices. …

5)  To survive information overload, we need to give up on multi-tasking. Instead, become fanatical about focused work. We shouldn’t allow no distractions when we are in “focused work mode.”

6)  To survive information overload, we need to organize in all areas and facets of our life. “Too much stuff” is exhausting, no matter which part of our life has the “too much stuff” problem.

Top 30 best Quotes from “The Organized Mind”

“The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“It’s as though our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions per day and once we reach that limit, we can’t make any more, regardless of how important they are.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new—the proverbial shiny objects” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“As the old saying goes, a man with one watch always knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“No other species lives with regret over past events, or makes deliberate plans for future ones.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“people who read literary fiction (as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction) were better able to detect another person’s emotions, and the theory proposed was that literary fiction engages the reader in a process of decoding the characters’ thoughts and motives in a way that popular fiction and nonfiction, being less complex, do not.”― Daniel J. Levitin

“Make no mistake: E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter checking constitute a neural addiction.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger (tutor to Nero) complained that his peers were wasting time and money accumulating too many books, admonishing that “the abundance of books is a distraction.” Instead, Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books, to be read thoroughly and repeatedly.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting, and at the same time, we are all doing more.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“The standard account for many years was that working memory and attention hit a limit at around five to nine unrelated items. More recently, a number of experiments have shown that the number is realistically probably closer to four.”― Daniel J. Levitin

“One American household studied had more than 2,260 visible objects in just the living room and two bedrooms.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000 of them, yet the average person gets 80%–85% of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“a close friend is someone with whom we can allow ourselves to enter the daydreaming attentional mode, with whom we can switch in and out of different modes of attention without feeling awkward.)” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“The neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks goes one further: If you’re working on two completely separate projects, dedicate one desk or table or section of the house for each. Just stepping into a different space hits the reset” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“You’d think people would realize they’re bad at multitasking and would quit. But a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by a dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, in which multitaskers think they are doing great.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“Wilson showed that the cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot smoking.”
― Daniel J. Levitin

“Recent research in social psychology has shown that happy people are not people who have more; rather, they are people who are happy with what they already have. Happy people engage in satisficing all of the time, even if they don’t know it.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“It turns out that having a best friend during adolescence is an important part of becoming a well-adjusted adult. Those without one are more likely to be bullied and marginalized and to carry these experiences into becoming disagreeable adults.” ― Daniel J. Levitin\

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.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“After you have prioritized and you start working, knowing that what you are doing is the most important thing for you to be doing at that moment is surprisingly powerful.”― Daniel J. Levitin

“[Texting] discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail. And the addictive problems are compounded by texting’s hyperimmediacy. E-mails take some time to work their way through the Internet, through switches and routers and servers, and they require that you take the step of explicitly opening them. Text messages magically appear on the screen of your phone and demand immediate attention from you. Add to that the social expectation that an unanswered text feels insulting to the sender, and you’ve got a recipe for addiction: You receive a text, and that activates your novelty centers. You respond and feel rewarded for having completed a task (even though that task was entirely unknown to you fifteen seconds earlier). Each of those delivers a shot of dopamine as your limbic system cries out “More! More! Give me more!” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“the constant nagging in your mind of undone things pulls you out of the present—tethers you to a mind-set of the future so that you’re never fully in the moment and enjoying what’s now.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“Neuroscientists have discovered that unproductivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“We live in a world of illusions. We think we’re aware of everything going on around us. We look out and see an uninterrupted, complete picture of the visual world, composed of thousands of little detailed images. We may know that each of us has a blind spot, but we go on day to day blissfully unaware of where it actually is because our occipital cortex does such a good job of filling in the missing information and hence hiding it from us. Laboratory demonstrations of inattentional blindness (like the gorilla video of the last chapter) underscore how little of the world we actually perceive, in spite of the overwhelming feeling that we’re getting it all.”― Daniel J. Levitin

“The first forms of writing emerged not for art, literature, or love, not for spiritual or liturgical purposes, but for business—all literature could be said to originate from sales receipts (sorry).” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“But there is a critical point about differences between individuals that exerts arguably more influence on worker productivity than any other. The factor is locus of control, a fancy name for how people view their autonomy and agency in the world. People with an internal locus of control believe that they are responsible for (or at least can influence) their own fates and life outcomes. They may or may not feel they are leaders, but they feel that they are essentially in charge of their lives. Those with an external locus of control see themselves as relatively powerless pawns in some game played by others; they believe that other people, environmental forces, the weather, malevolent gods, the alignment of celestial bodies– basically any and all external events– exert the most influence on their lives.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“Thirty years ago, travel agents made our airline and rail reservations, salesclerks helped us find what we were looking for in stores, and professional typists or secretaries helped busy people with their correspondence. Now we do most of those things ourselves. The information age has off-loaded a great deal of the work previously done by people we could call information specialists onto all of the rest of us. We are doing the jobs of ten different people while still trying to keep up with our lives, our children and parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows. It’s no wonder that sometimes one memory gets confounded with another, leading us to show up in the right place but on the wrong day, or to forget something as simple as where we last put our glasses or the remote.” ― Daniel J. Levitin

“It’s the central executive in your brain that notices that the floor is dirty. It forms an executive attentional set for “mop the floor” and then constructs a worker attentional set for doing the actual mopping.”― Daniel J. Levitin

Fondness for stories is just one of many artifacts, side effects of the way our brains work.“ —  Daniel Levitin

“Out of 30,000 edible plants thought to exist on earth, just eleven account for 93% of all that humans eat: oats, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, yucca (also called tapioca or cassava), sorghum, millet, beans, barley, and rye.“ —  Daniel Levitin

Daniel Joseph Levitin

Daniel Joseph Levitin is an American-Canadian cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, writer, musician, and record producer. An accomplished public speaker, his TED talk has been viewed more than 16 million times.

Levitin is the author of four New York Times best-selling books, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession , The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature , The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload , and Successful Aging, as well as the international best-seller A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age. He has published scientific articles on absolute pitch, music cognition, and neuroscience. Levitin worked as a music consultant on albums by artists including Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Brook; and as a recording engineer for Santana, Jonathan Richman, O.J. and more. Records and CDs to which he has contributed have sold in excess of 30 million copies.

Buy: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

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