The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin

(New York: Penguin, 2014), 396

Fundamental Principle of Organization: “shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world” (370)

Chapter 1 - History of Cognitive Overload

  • Paradox of choice (someone who lived in communist Romania and then moved to the US)
  • Highly Successful People have employees who filter things for them so they never need to worry about focusing on the right thing
  • We have strong filters (change, importance) that help us focus on what is important and ignore everything else
  • Switching attention comes with high costs; our brain is optimized to do one thing at a time
  • Active sorting: shift organization from your mind to the physical world (Gibsonian affordances)

Chapter 2 - How Attention and Memory Work

  • Mind wandering mode (decentralized network) bs central executive mode
  • Four parts of attentional system: wandering, central executive, switching, filtering?
  • The central executive can be thought of as a series of lenses for zooming in and out on the appropriate category
  • Theoretically you can represent every known particle in the universe with your brain...crazy
  • Analog: prevalence of using tangible things to external use memory, such as notebook and pen
  • Index cards and systems for tasks: 2 minute rule, do no, delegate, defer, drop, etc

Chapter 3 - Organizing our Homes

  • ACE hardware: items in functional categories but also located near similar items since they will likely be associated by your mind or the task at hand
  • Reading this (colored pants in department store for instance) makes me think about principles of visualization and how our minds categorize information.
  • To not lose things, have a designated place
  • Key point/strategy: use the environment to offload items out of your mind
  • How to organize your home:

    1. Define categories that are meaningful to you

    2. Avoid putting too many different things in the same category, unless a misc item

  • Organization rules:

    1. A mislabeled item is worse than a not labeled item

    2. If there is an existing standard, use it

    3. Don’t keep what you can’t use

  • Digital home: Have a separate device (computer) dedicated to different activities, with different background, etc to make it recognizable
  • Declare “email bankruptcy” and delete/archive everything and start over

Chapter 4 - Organizing our Social Lives

  • Recaptcha for OCR training

Chapter 5 - Organizing our Time

  • Negative genes that kick in after peak age of reproduction don’t have a means for natural selection to weed them out
  • Reasons why multi tasking doesn’t work
  • Prefrontal cortex for breaking a project into components and planning
  • Car wash example: split jobs with different attentional sets to reduce cognitive costs of switching
  • Sleep is important for consolidating memories and solving problems
  • Bi-modal sleep was the norm for most of our history and changed only with the invention of artificial light
  • He gives recommendations for helping your body adjust to travel across time zones
  • Eat the frog: do the worst task first thing in the day
  • Being outside in nature replenishes self-regulatory mechanisms in the brain
  • Successful people don’t subscribe to a faulty belief that life should be easy
  • To focus:

    1. Write everything you need to do down to get it off your mind

    2. Take a break and exercise

    3. 5-minute rule for little tasks

Chapter 6 - Organizing Information for the Medical Decisions

  • Discussion of probabilities and common fallacies
  • Bayes: "Organizing our decisions requires that we combine the base rate information with other relevant diagnostic information" (229)...Base rates and representativeness hueristic
  • Applying Bayes to decisions about your medical treatment
  • Our brains easily notice co-occurrence of events, but not lack of occurrences
  • Parking ticket example:

    • Parking costs $20

    • Parking ticket costs $50, and there is a 25% chance you get a parking ticket

    • Therefore, the expected value of paying for parking is -$20, and the expected value of not paying for parking is 25% * -$50 = -$12.50. So you shouldn't pay for parking.

Fourfold (contingency tables): allows us to calculate Bayesian probability models, for example "What is the probability that I have a disease, given that I already tested positive for it?"...example (page 231+ and appendix):

  • You took a blood test that came back positive for the disease
  • The blood test is wrong 2% of the time (false positive and false negative)
  • The base rate of disease is 1 in 10,000 (0.0001)
  • Medication ends with unwanted side effect 5% (0.05) of the time
  • Should you take the medicine...?

Here is our four-fold table:

| | Test (Positive) | Test (Negative) |
| --- | --- | --- |
| Disease (Yes) | Correct ID | False Negative |
| Disease (No) | False Positives | Correct rejections |

| | Test (Positive) | Test (Negative) | Totals |
| --- | --- | --- | --- |
| Disease (Yes) | 1 (1-0)| 0 (1 * 2%) | 1 |
| Disease (No) | 200 (9,999 * 2%) | 9,799 (9,999-200) | 9,999 |
| Totals | 201 | 9,799 | 10,000 |

Now, to answer our question: what is the probability I have the disease given that I tested positive?

Or, p(You have the disease | You tested positive) = 1/201 = 0.49%

Say we decide to take the test a second time (assuming that test results are independent):

| | Test (Positive) | Test (Negative) | Totals |
| --- | --- | --- | --- |
| Disease (Yes) | 1 (1-0)| 0 (1 * 2%) | 1 |
| Disease (No) | 4 (200 * 2%) | 196 (200-4) | 200 |
| Totals | 5 | 196 | 201 |

p(You have the disease | You tested positive twice) = 1/5 = 20%

Chapter 7 - Organizing the Business World

  • Fundamental principle of this book: externalize memory
  • Many great leaders are also great storytellers
  • Internal locus of control: being in control of our lives, which promotes success, happiness, satisfaction
  • Take 10 minutes after meeting or stopping project to write what happened or prep for starting the next time
  • Plan for failure with your IT infrastructure, file types, etc

Chapter 8 - What to Teach our Children

  • Discussion of benefits and (mostly) risks of Wikipedia model of knowledge
  • Because information is so accessible on the internet, the purpose of education shifts partially to identifying experts and determining the credibility of information you find
  • Think about numbers logically to see if they are plausible. Set boundary conditions
  • Back of the envelope test: estimating the weight of the Empire State Building
  • With kids: how many uses can you think of for a pencil?

Chapter 9 - The Power of the Junk Drawer

  • Fundamental principle of organization: “shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world” (370)
  • For remembering names, you need to give yourself 5 seconds to encode the information (374)
  • The 21 century information issue is one of selection

Topic: PKM


Created: 2018-08-20
Updated: 2022-07-05-Tue