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The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload Paperback – September 1, 2015
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“[An] impressively wide-ranging and thoughtful work...The Organized Mind is an organized book, but it also rewards dipping in at any point, for there are fascinating facts and examples throughout.”—The Wall Street Journal
“From how not to lose your keys to how to decide when the risks of surgery are worth it, Levitin focuses on smart ways to process the constant flow of information the brain must deal with.”—The Washington Post
“[M]ore than a self-help book...Levitin's insights into sleep, time, socializing and decision-making are profound.”—San Jose Mercury News
“[An] ingenious combination of neuroscience and self-help.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Dan Levitin has more insights per page than any other neuroscientist I know. The Organized Mind is smart, important, and as always, exquisitely written.”—Daniel Gilbert, Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Combine genuine knowledge and scholarship with plain common sense and what do you get? A book that is really worth reading: Dan Levitin’s The Organized Mind.”—The Honorable George P. Shultz, 60th U. S. Secretary of State
“There are surprising parallels between Levitin’s work and mine. Today’s environment in war, business, and just about everything else has increased in speed and complexity to the point where the essential quality required for success is adaptability. The Organized Mind provides the latest neuroscience on cognitive adaptability and how to apply it to so that leaders can excel. It is a tremendous achievement, and a must read for leaders at every level.”—General Stanley McChrystal, U. S. Army (ret.)
“A brilliant and engaging book about the science of thinking. The Organized Mind provides the tools that we all need to understand and manage the deluge of information that assaults us every day.”—Jerome Groopman, MD and Pamela Hartzband, MD, Harvard Medical School, authors of Your Medical Mind
“A profound piece of work. Levitin documents the mismatch between our narrow bandwidth hunter-gatherer minds and the multitasking chaos of today’s world. He even shows us how to stay sane in environments that are constantly tempting us to stretch ourselves hopelessly thin.”—Philip E. Tetlock, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania
“An erudite synthesis of Levitin’s own contributions, recent advances in our understanding of attention and memory, and a deep perspective on the ways the human mind works.”—Stanley Prusiner, M.D. Nobel Laureate, director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, University of California, San Francisco
“Daniel Levitin’s book follows in the ancient tradition of knowledge as a guide to a better life. Discover the creative power of organized thought, whether you are a writer or a scientist, a disorganized mess or a super robot seeking new frontiers of effectiveness.”—Eric Kaplan, co-executive producer and writer, The Big Bang Theory, writer, The Simpsons and Flight of the Conchords
“An eloquent spokesperson for our field. Levitin writes about the brain with an ease and familiarity that is captivating.”—The late David Hubel, Nobel Laureate in honor of discoveries concerning information processing in the human visual system
“Fascinating...Combing neuroscience and cognitive psychology, the Organized Mind underscores the critical importance of individuals taking charge of their own attentional and memory systems so they can lead optimally productive and satisfying lives. Invaluable insights are offered with regard to organizing our homes, social world, time, decision-making, and business world.”—Nadine J. Kaslow, Ph.D., president of the American Psychological Association and professor and vice chair, Emory University School of Medicine
“This book is far more than tips on how to think clearly and manage information overload. It is also a tour through some of the most exciting aspects of contemporary neuroscience and cognitive science, with a specific emphasis on implications for everyday life. Anyone who has ever wondered about the mind will find much that is fascinating and useful in these pages.”—Stephen Kosslyn, dean, Minerva Schools of Arts and Sciences at the Keck Graduate Institute, former chair, department of psychology, Harvard University
“Running a major PBS television series on tight budgets and turnarounds requires organization and efficiency and sometimes a little magic too. Levitin’s behind the curtain peek at the brain’s inner workings of decision-making provides that extra bit of magic—and would make a fascinating documentary in and of itself!”—Pamela Hogan, Emmy award-winning Producer for PBS
“In the age of TMI, we all need better organized minds. With characteristically clear prose and scientific insight, Dan Levitin gives us tips on how to get or mental closets in order. I really enjoyed this book.”—Joseph LeDoux, Center for Neural Science, New York University
“Dan Levitin has done it again. Having explained music and the brain, now he shows us the best, most effective ways to organize the rest of our life by giving us key insights into how the brain works. His style is so appealing, his knowledge so deep and practical, that we learn, from The Organized Mind, not only why we do what we do, but how, potentially, we can run our lives more smoothly, efficiently, and even happily.”—Cathy N. Davidson, director, The Futures Initiative, City University of New York
“Using the latest information on the brain and how it works, Levitin presents a series of ideas on how to organize one's life and business. Essential reading for anyone who aspires to be highly effective. Or even find their keys!”—David Eidelman, MD, dean of the McGill University Medical School
“The Organized Mind reads like a movie— not the dry tome you might expect. It’s an exciting tour through the science of productivity and how to best manage your thinking to get things done—and be more creative at the same time.”—David Allen, author of Getting Things Done
About the Author
Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, and Weaponized Lies. His work has been translated into 21 languages. An award-winning scientist and teacher, he is Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI, a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and the James McGill Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Cris Williamson, Victor Wooten, and Rodney Crowell.
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This book is huge. At times Levitin may appear longwinded in his narrative—but that’s okay. Trust me. As he unravels the various layers of mental organization, he sidebars into various studies and interesting factoids. At first, you may think Levitin is being ironically unorganized, but later chapters tie it back together. Other times, Levitin may tuck in a brief statement that will cause you tunneling into Google for more information (though many notes for further study are linked at the rear of the book).
Levitin differs himself from Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW by saying there are “four components in the human attentional system”: mind wondering mode; central executive mode; attentional filter; and, attentional switch. What mostly comes into play are the first two components. I have some issue for the terminology “mind wondering mode”; I would have liked Levitin to expound more on mindfulness and what component it falls into.
THE ORGANIZED MIND offers more explanation than step-by-step or bulleted technique. I appreciated this approach, feeling it strengthened the technique through knowledge of why it works. Levitin uses the ideas of offloading brain information through index cards, calendaring, contact sheets—much like our mind uses random access memory versus chronological memory. Some of these techniques were explained in the books THE POWER OF FORGETTING and ESSENTIALISM, but not nearly in the depth of knowledge that Levitin offers.
Category management is a huge topic throughout the book: reasonably so. It is one such tool that the recent FLUENT FOREVER book used in learning foreign languages. Levitin continues this insight into everything from organizing our homes to making life-depending healthcare choices. Levitin combines it all together, showing how Highly Successful Persons (HSPs) are able to succeed by naturally using these strategies.
I was pleased to see Levitin address the fundamental need for sleep, exercise, and exposing oneself to nature. These are not just “you should” statements, but as mentioned before, these are well-documented, scientifically-backed recommendations.
There are also sections dealing with procrastination, crowdsourcing, the dangers of multi-tasking and teaching children safe web research, and much more. It all plays into more information than you’ll want, but definitely will include any information you are trying to find or need.
All-in-all, this is a great book that’ll make you think and learn better. Thanks to Dutton for sending this to me for review.
Levitin puts words to my thoughts about modern society - one thing that struck me was his explanation of record collections and how they've been replaced by mp3's. He writes nostalgically about how the record collection used to be a reflection of the owner's personal interests and taste in music, and how it was a collated collection. He writes about how mp3's have replaced the record collection and that since the cost of mp3's is much lower than records and the physical space taken up by an mp3 is nonexistent (save for the device it is carried on), the threshold for someone to add a song to their 'collection' is much lower and people consume music in a much more ephemeral way. While I am of the age group that didn't really grow up on records, I can sort of relate as a child of the "mix CD" era and then later the "iPod/Zune era" which was replaced by the "iPhone/multimedia device" era and now the streaming era. In each subsequent phase, the idea and soul behind a music collection has been diluted from 'owning '(if you can ever own music) a record or song in a physical form, to having a digital file which served as a surrogate, and now to subscribing to a digital service where songs may be added to your playlist or are selected for you based on your preferences. I've had difficulty articulating/defending my fondness for my beloved Zune (which I kept from 2007-2014 until the screen finally shattered from an accidental drop) and now my iPod which serves the sole purpose of carrying my music and nothing else. I relish the idea of my music in one simple storage device, which may not sound convenient but from a neural perspective makes sense in that I use it if and only if I'm listening to music, and I do not use my other computers or devices to listen to music.
I also liked the tips in the book about how to organize oneself and the flashcard method of writing tasks down on a flashcard and flipping through them daily to see what needs to be done was appealing to me. In my profession as with many, there's an endless list of to-do's which pile up and can often be forgotten if they aren't immediately written down.
My only criticism of the book was that it sometimes uses a lot of medical terminology that can be confusing to the layperson. I'm a neurologist-in-training, so I found it to be right up my alley but I did notice that Levitin uses a lot of medical terms (ie., epigenetic, GABA) without always explaining through them.
However, overall, this was a thought provoking and fascinating book about how the brain processes information and how to best utilize our most powerful tool to focus on important information and tune out the noise.
If you're looking for practical advice, look away. Levitin punishes you with a meandering and excruciatingly boring take on 'recent scientific discovers'. If you hang on and take your medicine, you're rewarded with the meagerest of unhelpful tips. For todo list management he suggests "you might want to try index cards!"
On the practical stuff, I think Levitin would have you read David Allen, who he mentions in worshipful tones. On the science, while probably accurate, he's not worth reading.
I wrote this review because I truly think it's a travesty that this is (currently) a #1 bestseller on amazon. The species is sagging.