Daniel Levitin: Take a look into 'The Organized Mind'
By Lou Fancher
OK, so you've read all 502 pages of Daniel Levitin's "The Organized Mind." You've admired The New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist's tidy turns of phrase and how he manages to hold it together while living in two cities: Orinda and Montreal.
You're a believer in Levitin's assertion that reducing your exposure to jibber-jabber and off-shoring things to remember onto 3-by-5 index cards, a digital gadget or a human assistant is the key to inner peace. You've made lists titled "now," "delegate," "process," and "get info"
You are still leading a wildly disorganized life. What do you need? New frontal lobes?
You need to take out your new iPhone 6 or other mobile gadget -- let's face it, even Levitin advises using a "brain extension device" -- and plug in "Orinda Books, 7 p.m., Oct. 14. A TUESDAY." (Do the caps/lowercase jig: in an interview, Levitin says "novelty increases memorability.") Now set the alarm to go off that same day at 6 p.m., giving you enough time to cancel the three appointments, six errands, four kids in need of rides and "date night" scheduled with that man or woman whose name you can't recall right now even though you've been together for 18 years.
You need immediate inspiration or a refresher, which is perfect, as the award-winning scientist who originally hails from Moraga makes an appearance on home stamping grounds at Orinda Books on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.
Do you think we are repeating ourselves for no purpose? (Levitin says, "To learn a new name while networking, you have to rehearse it for at least five seconds.") Check your phone. Did you enter the info? It's a do-it-now suggestion.
Between today and Levitin's visit, you can bone-up on a few pointers. Sure, you could lean on the charisma Levitin brings to a public event (he spent a good portion of his early working days as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer for groups like Santana and The Grateful Dead), but wouldn't it be nice to get a tuneup and really capitalize on his visit? Maybe show up organized, or pretending to be?
"The Organized Mind" is divided into three sections and nine chapters. Section One explains how designing a world with mental hooks and actual tools (get out those 3-by-5 cards) will aid the brain's memory and attention systems. Section Two wields those tools in the home, social and business worlds and while organizing our time and making life's hardest decisions. (Levitin says our brains can only process 120 bits per second and "working memory can only jockey four to five things at a time," so we're simplifying.) Section Three tosses caution to the wind and advises us -- we, the organizational newbies -- how to teach our children to respect a junk drawer, engage in critical thinking, exercise ingenuity and always, always take naps. (Levitin says studies prove that getting adequate sleep can improve your three-point jump shot by nine percent and, less importantly, save U.S. companies billions of dollars otherwise lost to absences, accidents and reductions in productivity.)
Neuroscience has also shown that unread mail in your inbox can stunt your IQ (turn off email or tackle it in concentrated chunks after completing other work, Levitin advises) and that procrastination can be partially reduced by "eating the frog" (doing the most unpleasant task first). Problems with an A and a B that look equally bad can be solved by operating in reverse--find the solution by backing up in the thought process until you land on a 100 percent certainty, then proceed from truth's launchpad. Most importantly, science shows organization, especially in the 34-gigabyte, 100,000 word data deluge that constitutes 21st century leisure time, improves health and happiness.
If it all sounds easy, it isn't. Start small and practice Levitin's number one piece of advice: externalize memory.