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.
I presented my synopsis of this book last Friday at the October First Friday Book Synopsis. This book is “sticking with me,” for an obvious reason – I am feeling overloaded, and somewhat (to more than somewhat) disorganized, and “mis-organized.”
The book is not quite a “how-to” book. 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)
Retrieval — the bigger problem
• Here are some overall “organization principles” proposed by the author:
- 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.
• And here are my lessons and takeaways:
1) Information overload is a genuine problem. And, growing – rapidly.
2) 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.
3) Thus, to survive information overload, don’t forget the basics, like: to-do lists; 3×5 cards. (Maybe, beware of “technology” only).
4) 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. …
5) To survive information overload, give up on multi-tasking. Instead, become fanatical about focused work. Allow no distractions when you are in “focused work mode.”
6) 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.