Monday, September 11, 2017

Forget It

Now where was I?

Oh yes, The Organized Mind by erm ... hold on a minute ... it's on the tip of my tongue ... err ... ummm ... there you go: The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin, a self-subtitled guide to thinking straight in the age of information overload. And surely we all need a bit of that, eh?

One of the most productive ways to get your mind organised, according to Levitin, is to stop trying to organise your mind (p. 35):
The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world ... This is not because of the limited capacity of our brains — rather it's because of the nature of memory storage and retrieval in our brains.
Essentially, memory is unreliable. There are numerous reasons for this, including: novelty being prioritised over familiarity, successful recall being reliant on having a suitable cue, and — somewhat scarily — that the act of remembering can itself cause memories to change.

To get around this, Levitin favours lodging information you'll need later somewhere outside of your head, in the place that you need it, in a form that'll help you to use it straight away. He likens this to affordances as described by Don Norman in his book The Design of Everyday Things which I blogged about in Can You Afford Me?  From there:
an affordance is the possibility of an action that something provides, and that is perceived by the user of that thing. An affordance of a chair is that you can stand on it. The chair affords (in some sense is for) supporting, and standing on it utilises that support.
Failing to externalise can lead to competition for mental resources when a new primary task comes along but in the background your mind is rehashing earlier ones (p. 68):
... those thoughts will churn around in your brain until you deal with them somehow. Writing them down gets them out of your head, clearing your brain of the the clutter that is interfering with being able to focus on what you want to focus on.
Perhaps you're worried that too much organisation inhibits creativity? Quite the opposite, Levitin claims (p. 87):
Finding things without rummaging saves mental energy for more important and creative tasks. 
Which brings me to testing and a conversation I was having with one my team a couple of weeks ago. In it, we agreed that experience has taught us to prefer earlier rather than later organisation of our test notes, the data we're collecting, and our ideas for other possible tests.

I've also written at some length about how I deposit thoughts in files, arranged in folders for particular purposes such as 1-1 meetings, testing experiments, or essay ideas where they may later be of value (e.g. Taking Note and A Field of My Stone).

Even posts here on Hiccupps serve a related purpose. I find that I don't easily remember stuff, but curating material that I find interesting and writing about it, and adding tags, and cross-referencing to other thoughts helps to me to retain and reinforce and later recall it.

Try to keep everything in my head? Forget it.
Image: Amazon

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