Open Notebook: quotes from The Organized Mind

Quotes from the fantastic book The Organized Mind (points that were particularly interesting to me are in bold).

The Organized Mind at the Harvard BookstoreChapter 1

Satisficing is one of the foundations of productive human behavior; it prevails when we don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter, or more accurately, when we don’t waste time trying to find improvements that are not going to make a significant difference in our happiness or satisfaction.

…satisficing is a tool for not wasting time on things that are not your highest priority…

…unproductivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload.

The decision-making network in our brain doesn’t prioritize.

Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

Attention is the most essential mental resource for any organism. It determines which aspects of the environment we deal with, and most of the time, various automatic, subconscious processes make the correct choice about what gets passed through to our conscious awareness.

…attentional switching. We can state the principle this way: Switching attention comes with a high cost.

Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time.

The formation of categories in humans is guided by a cognitive principle of wanting to encode as much information as possible with the least possible effort

We are hardwired to impose structure on the world

…shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.

A Gibsonian affordance describes an object whose design features tell you something about how to use it.

Chapter 2

When the activation of a neural network is sufficiently high, relative to other neural activity that’s going on, it breaks into our attentional process, that is, it becomes captured by our conscious mind, our central executive, and we become aware of it.

there are four components in the human attentional system: the mind-wandering mode, the central executive mode, the attentional filter, and the attentional switch, which directs neural and metabolic resources among the mind-wandering, stay-on-task, or vigilance modes

memory retrieval requires our brains to sift through multiple, competing instances to pick out just the ones we are trying to recollect

the act of recalling a memory thrusts it into a labile state whereby new distortions can be introduced

Adaptive behavior, therefore, according to Shepard, depends on cognitive economy, treating objects as equivalent when indeed they are

To categorize an object means to consider it equivalent to other things in that category, and different—along some salient dimension—from things that are not.

Functional categories in the brain can have either hard (sharply defined) or fuzzy boundaries

People at the top of their professions, in particular those known for their creativity and effectiveness, use systems of attention and memory external to their brain as much as they can.

Chapter 3

…the method of loci, relies on our being able to take concepts we want to remember and attach them to our vivid memories of well-known spaces, such as the rooms in our home.

rule of the designated place.

…buying duplicates of things that you use frequently and in different locations helps to prevent you from losing them

…many creative people find the time to be creative precisely because of such systems unburdening and uncluttering their minds.

In a well-organized system, there is a balance between category size and category specificity.

One way to exploit the hippocampus’s natural style of memory storage is to create different work spaces for the different kinds of work we do

If you can, it’s helpful to have one device dedicated to one domain of things.

Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking

Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation

Just having the opportunity to multitask is detrimental to cognitive performance

Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task.

Why have to remember where something is? Put it precisely where you will need it

Chapter 4

This tendency to not get involved is driven by three powerful, interrelated psychological principles. One is the strong desire to conform to others’ behavior in the hope that it will allow us to gain acceptance within our social group, to be seen as cooperative and agreeable. The second is social comparison—we tend to examine our behavior in terms of others.

The third force pushing us toward inaction is diffusion of responsibility. This is based on very natural and ingrained feelings about equity and wanting to punish freeloaders: “Why should I stick my neck out if all these other people aren’t—they could do something about it just as well as I could.”

People in a relationship experience better health, recover from illnesses more quickly, and live longer

…a sign of maturity is the ability to think independently and come to one’s own conclusions

…having a best friend during adolescence is an important part of becoming a well-adjusted adult

Studies have shown a dramatic decline in empathy among college students, who apparently are far less likely to say that it is valuable to put oneself in the place of others or to try and understand their feelings. It is not just because they’re reading less literary fiction, it’s because they’re spending more time alone under the illusion that they’re being social.

oxytocin regulates the salience of social information and is capable of eliciting positive and negative social emotions, depending on the situation and individual

music has been shown to increase oxytocin levels, especially when people listen to or play music together.

There are two broad classes of explanation for why people do what they do—dispositional or situational.

appears that the partitioning of people into mutually exclusive categories activates the perception that “we” are better than “they” even when there is no rational basis for it

Once we have a stereotype, we tend not to reevaluate the stereotype; we instead discard any new, disconfirming evidence as “exceptions.” This is a form of belief perseveration.

Chapter 5

Alcohol interferes with the ability of prefrontal cortex neurons to communicate with one another, by disrupting dopamine receptors and blocking a particular kind of neuron called an NMDA receptor, mimicking the damage we see in frontal lobe patients.

the brain can draw on vast reserves of glucose already held in the body when it needs them.

In an hour of relaxing or daydreaming, it uses eleven calories or fifteen watts—about the same as one of those new energy-efficient lightbulbs.

reading for an hour takes about forty-two calories.

Sitting in class, by comparison, takes sixty-five calories.

good time management should mean organizing our time in a way that maximizes brain efficiency

people who organize their time in a way that allows them to focus are not only going to get more done, but they’ll be less tired and less neurochemically depleted after doing it.

Creative solutions often arise from allowing a sequence of altercations between dedicated focus and daydreaming.

…the awareness of an unread e-mail sitting in your inbox can effectively reduce your IQ by 10 points.

gene known as COMT that appears to modulate the ease with which people can switch tasks, by regulating the amount of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex

Temporal order is represented in the hippocampus alongside memory and spatial maps

One of the most complicated things that humans do is to put the components of a multipart sequence in their proper temporal order

If you have something big you want to get done, break it up into chunks—meaningful, implementable, doable chunks

The real job in supervising PhD students isn’t teaching them facts; it’s keeping them on track.

if you have chores to do, put similar chores together. If you’ve collected a bunch of bills to pay, just pay the bills—don’t use that time to make big decisions about whether to move to a smaller house or buy a new car.

There is a dedicated portion of the brain that partitions long events into chunks, and it is in—you guessed it—the prefrontal cortex

our brains automatically create multiple, hierarchical representations of reality

Information Processing During Sleep

Unitization: …the combining of discrete elements or chunks of an experience into a unified concept

Assimilation: …the brain integrates new information into the existing network structure of other things you already knew

Abstraction: …this is where hidden rules are discovered and then entered into memory

…specific metabolic processes in the glymphatic system clear neural pathways of potentially toxic waste products that accumulate during waking thought.

Sleep is among the most critical factors for peak performance, memory, productivity, immune function, and mood regulation. Even a mild sleep reduction or a departure from a set sleep routine (for example, going to bed late one night, sleeping in the next morning) can produce detrimental effects on cognitive performance for many days afterward.

In general, activities with a long time to completion—and hence a long time to reward—are the ones more likely to be started late, and those with an immediate reward are less likely to be procrastinated.

Dopamine in the prefrontal cortex causes us to focus and stay on task; dopamine in the limbic system, along with the brain’s own endogenous opioids, causes us to feel pleasure

Also important is to disconnect one’s sense of self-worth from the outcome of a task

Two subregions involved in self-assessment and judging one’s own performance are the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the orbital cortex

Creativity involves the skillful integration of this time-stopping daydreaming mode and the time-monitoring central executive mode.

flow states appear to activate the same regions of the brain, including the left prefrontal cortex (specifically, areas 44, 45, and 47) and the basal ganglia. During flow, two key regions of the brain deactivate: the portion of the prefrontal cortex responsible for self-criticism, and the amygdala, the brain’s fear center

Creative people often arrange their lives to maximize the possibility that flow periods will occur, and to be able to stay in flow once they arrive there.

There’s an old saying that if you really need to get something done, give it to a busy person. It sounds paradoxical, but busy people tend to have systems for getting things done efficiently, and the purpose of this section is to uncover what those systems are.

A large part of efficient time management revolves around avoiding distractions.

Anything that tempts us to break the extended concentration required to perform well on challenging tasks is a potential barrier to success.

The five-minute rule: If there is something you can get done in five minutes or less, do it now.

One thing that many successful people do for time management is to calculate how much their time is subjectively worth to them… You just follow your rule: “If I can spend $XX and save an hour of my time, it is worth it.”

Chapter 6

…gut or intuition often leads to bad decisions, particularly in cases where statistical information is available

The base rate of something is the background rate of its occurrence

When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” In other words, don’t ignore the base rate

The number needed to treat: …the number of people who have to take a treatment, such as a medication or surgery, before one person can be cured

The expected value of an event is its probability multiplied by the value of the outcome

Pseudoscience often uses the terminology of science and observation but does not use the full rigor of controlled experiments and falsifiable hypotheses

Chapter 7

A flat structure encourages people to work together and allows for overlap in effort, often empowering employees to do what needs to be done and apply their talents outside of formal command or task structure

A drawback of flat structure is that there may be only one person who has effective decision-making authority, and that person will have too many decisions to make. Due to the lack of a hierarchy, extra effort is needed to establish who has responsibility for which tasks

Tall vertical systems usually encourage specialization and the efficiencies that come from it

Taking in this competing information about costs and benefits, the prefrontal cortex acts as the decider

…decision-making is often very rapid, outside our conscious control, and involves heuristics and cognitive impulses that have evolved to serve us in a wide range of situations

subordinates are often in a better position to make decisions because the facts of the case may be directly available to them and not to the superior

In a free society, an effective leader motivates people to focus their thinking and efforts in ways that allow them to do their best and to produce work that pushes them to the highest levels of their abilities

A broader definition of leadership promoted by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner includes individuals who significantly affect the thoughts, feelings, or behaviors of a significant number of individuals indirectly, through the works they create—these can be works of art, recipes, technological artifacts and products . . . almost anything

Both kinds of leaders, those inside and outside the corporate world, possess certain psychological traits. They tend to be adaptable and responsive, high in empathy, and able to see problems from all sides. These qualities require two distinct forms of cognition: social intelligence and flexible, deep analytic intelligence

Leaders show greater integration of electrical activity in the brain across disparate regions, meaning that they use more of their brain in a better-orchestrated fashion than the rest of us

…providing a clear and concise expression of expectations and goals, the purpose of particular tasks, and the intended end state

Disciplined initiative is defined as taking action in the absence of specific instructions when existing instructions no longer fit the situation, or unforeseen opportunities arise.

Prudent risk is the deliberate exposure to a negative outcome when the employee judges that the potential positive outcome is worth the cost. It involves making careful, calculated assessments of the upsides and downsides of different actions

Area 47 contains prediction circuits that it uses in conjunction with memory to form projections about future states of events. If we can predict some (but not all) aspects of how a job will go, we find it rewarding. If we can predict all aspects of the job, down to the tiniest minutiae, it tends to be boring

The combination of high autonomy and an internal locus of control is associated with the highest levels of productivity

HSPs typically organize their files by adopting a hierarchical or nested system, in which topic, person, company, or chronology is embedded in another organization scheme

Increasingly, people who use e-mail have separate accounts. HSPs might have two business accounts, one for the people they deal with regularly and another that their EAs monitor and sort, in addition to one or two personal accounts

It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another

When we do one thing—uni-task—there are beneficial changes in the brain’s daydreaming network and increased connectivity. Among other things, this is believed to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease.

Parameters (criteria for choosing and the choices themselves) for decision making: This limit of ten is the maximum. The optimal number is closer to five and is consistent with processing limits of the brain’s central executive… consumers make poorer choices with more information.

Something is random when you cannot explain how to derive a sequence using any fewer than the number of elements in the sequence itself

When filing things: Ask yourself, “Where will I look for this when I need it?” or “How can I tag or label this item so that I’ll be able to find it?”

Chapter 8

More so than at any other time in history, it is crucial that each of us takes responsibility for verifying the information we encounter, testing it and evaluating it.

This is the skill we must teach the next generation of citizens of the world, the capability to think clearly, completely, critically, and creatively.

Chapter 9

The best way to improve upon the brains that nature gave us is to learn to adjust agreeably to new circumstances.

The key to change is having faith that when we get rid of the old, something or someone even more magnificent will take its place.

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