Daniel j. Leviticus on ‘Thinking straight in the age of information overload’ in his talk from his book The Organised Mind.
Neuroscientist, Leviticus investigates and explains how we got to where we are today – from the early building blocks of languages, to why we find email so addictive.
How can you get the most from your time?
There are lots of books on the subject but not many based on any evidence, instead just anecdotes on methods which had worked for the author.
As a cognitive neuroscientist, Leviticus did the research but also talked to lots of successful people within business and the arts. Using all this information gained, Leviticus’ book is based on the science.
An enormous amount of information becomes available every day, 5 times more so than did 10 years ago. There are approx. 38,000 items available in any given supermarket but consumers only buy 150, meaning they have to ignore 37,850.
Multi-tasking does not exist in scientific terms, the brain must process everything – we just fraction our attention. Often we find ourselves at home thinking about what we did not do at work, only to later find ourselves at work thinking about what we did not do at home i.e. multi-tasking. There is a neural switch that allows us to switch between tasks but the problem is that switching uses resources. It has been proven that women are actually better at this ‘switching’ so would make good air traffic controllers or other jobs that require quick ‘switching’. People feel uni-tasking, doing one thing at a time, is less productive but all measurers, including bosses, say they are often more effective.
Shakespeare and Darwin would hardly have produced their great works if switching between creating and doing other things was easy. Day dreaming- the mind wandering mode is non-directed, and a great creative mode of thought. More often, we fight against it as culturally we feel we have to work all the time but this is not the brains natural state. In fact it is the day dreaming mode which is the restorative and solution finding mode.
But how to get back to being immersed in one thing?
Taking a walk in nature is one way. Another is to nap for 15 minutes every 2 hours; experiments show people are then more productive. A 15 min nap, (not more otherwise one gets drowsy) can be the equivalent of a 10 point increase in IQ.
It’s also good to know that the best way to learn is not through lectures, this is too passive. As hunter-gatherers we acquire knowledge experientially. E.g. students involved in discovery learning – reading course books independently and through groups, Ted Talks etc. and then discussing how to apply the knowledge in class prove it is a much more effective way of learning.
People make their most important decisions first thing in morning as every decision uses the same amount of resources and at end of day they will be more exhausted.
Humans are programmed to like novelty as it produces Dopamine, the pleasure hormone, which is why people constantly check their email and Facebook. An experiment with rats that were allowed to self-administer a dopamine shot, did so exclusively, to the extent that they did it in preference to eating and sleeping and so died. This shows the addictive nature of dopamine, and consequently novelty distractors.
Therefore, we need to approach work and living situations differently. We must become more skilful at focusing, prioritisation and standing to the side of the flow of the entire information overload, for example, switching off email for set periods of time. Also its good to practice mind clearing, for example writing down everything in your mind e.g. picking up Tommy etc. so one is more able to focus.
By analysing how your brain works we know the organised mind will help you function better. In turn, this will enable you to find more time to do the things you really want to do.
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