Thinking Straight in the Age of Overload

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.
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.
One American household studied had more than 2,260 visible objects in just the living room and two bedrooms.
– Daniel Levitin, The Organized Mind

The quotes above are just a small sampling of the insights from Daniel Levitin’s book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Overload.

The book is not quite a “how-to” book. It’s more like a “think about your own how-to strategy book. He gives principles and guidelines, which I tried to capture in my takeaways.

Here’s what I perceived as his overview of the problem that we all face:

The problem: too much stuff!

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

The problems:

  • Encoding (input) — so much wrong, or unnecessary; and Retrieval – the bigger problem

Some overall “organization rules” proposed by the author:

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

And here are my lessons and takeaways:

  1. Information overload is a genuine problem. And growing – rapidly.
  1. To survive information overload, you need a system (that works for you). Whatever that system is, it needs to offload, “categorize,” and be easy to retrieve.
  1. Thus, to survive information overload, don’t forget the basics, like: to-do lists and 3×5 cards. (Maybe, beware of “technology” only).
  1. To survive information overload, you may have to become much more discerning at what you allow in. Not all input is worthy of being let in. Exercise control and discipline regarding your input choices.
  1. To survive information overload, give up on multitasking. Instead, become fanatical about focused work. Allow no distractions when you are in “focused work mode.”
  1. To survive information overload, organize in all areas and facets of your life. “Too much stuff” is exhausting, no matter which part of your life has the “too much stuff” problem.

Randy Mayeux


Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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