Organizing your brain

book cover of organized mind by levitinI’m an organization junkie. This does not mean that I am incredibly organized but I am by turns, fascinated and panic stricken by keeping track of all the minutiae that demands recognition. I have tried dozens of different types of planners, software systems galore, apps, programs, reminders in lots of different flavors. They all clamor for my attention, probably making the situation ever worse. My car reading this week (listening actually) is a book called  The organized mind : thinking straight in the age of information overload by Daniel J. Levitin. Levitin writes about how the latest brain science can help us keep track of our keys, our minds and all those other bits that so often go astray in the tsunami of information. I immediately started to apply some of the techniques that he talks about. One of these is “offloading”, that is, making the information that you want to remember external to yourself. GTD or “Getting things done” by David Allen is a good example of this. Allen recommends writing everything you have to do on index cards or slips of paper and dumping them all into a box. Then you break them into actionable work items. Your energy goes into working rather than remembering. Levitin recommends using existing tools like setting up automatic tabs in your browser that will open the things you use most frequently automatically. The bane of my life is remembering passwords (I use a tool for that too) but the time I waste in trying to remember all the locations and passwords is discouraging. So, I took all the sites that I go to frequently and programmed them into Firefox to load automatically as tabs. Oh joy! My brain felt immediately better.

He addresses the neuro-science around remembering and forgetting, right down to the chemicals involved and how many watts your neurons consume multitasking. He doesn’t recommend multitasking as a practice at all, citing the exhaustion that comes of code switching, that is switching between tasks frequently. The brain apparently has a pleasure center connected with novelty that kicks in when almost anything distracts you from working. The allure of email and Facebook when that report is due is familiar to all of us. If you want to understand that attraction this is the book to check out.

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How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing

Secretsof25GreatWorksThe Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing by Roy Peter Clark has been keeping me absorbed on my commute to and from work this week. Clark’s exploration of literature, ranging from Donna Tarte to Jane Austen to Shirley Jackson, was completely absorbing and a good introduction to deep reading or “x-ray reading” as he names it. Even if you haven’t read all 26 of the works examined his interpretation of some deep passage is enough to compel you to seek out the work and read or re-read it just to savor the unexamined parts in a new light. At the end of every chapter he gives “Writing Lessons” which summarize the high points made in the chapter and equips you with tools to learn how to write (and read) in a compelling way by dissecting from the best.

Even though I only live 19 miles from Wheelock the commute can take over an hour or more depending on the day of the week and the traffic. Twelve or so years ago I signed up for a subscription to Audible (now part of Amazon) an audio book service that provides many current books in a form that can be played through a computer, tablet or smartphone. Over the years I have amassed a large audio library and with a longer commute have the time to explore it. When Amazon sells you a digital (Kindle) book it often offers the option of Whispersync which lets you switch between the Kindle book and the audio book while keeping synchronized track of you place in the book. Useful if you read between car (audio) and home or work (Kindle).

It is a good way to take advantage of commuting times to enhance your own personal learning network.

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