Have you ever opened too many programs on your computer, causing it to first slow down, then eventually freeze and crash? Well that is essentially what is happening to our brains when we ‘multitask’, according to Daniel Levitin, cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, and best-selling author. However, there are easy tricks to use in order to maintain productive in what Levitin refers to as the ‘age of information overload’.

The Multitasking Myth

According to cognitive psychologist and bestselling author Daniel Levitin, “multitasking is a myth”. What is actually occurring is “sequential tasking”, during which the brain rapidly shifts from one thing to the next every 3-5 seconds, only the transitions are so seamless that we are duped into believing we are truly thinking of multiple things at once. Levitin explains that engaging in sequential tasking, or attention-demanding tasks, depletes the brain of its fuel. In fact, every decision we make, big or small, requires the same amount of energy, meaning the fairly simple decision to have cereal for breakfast burns as much brain fuel as your carefully thought out investment choices.With the forever increasing amount of information available, and the fast paced lifestyle of this day and age, it’s no wonder so many of us struggle to remember where we put the car keys, or if we locked the front door. There is just too much to do, and constantly attempting to do everything at once drains our brains of the resources required to function at its optimal level.

All About Organization

In his newest book, “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in an Age of Information Overload”, Daniel Levitin provides strategies to implement in everyday life that can help us use our brains more efficiently. Here are a few, as described by Levitin himself.

  • Write stuff down. “The number of things that you can keep track of at once is limited to about four. So, what experts recommend and what the neuroscience says, very strongly, is that if you can get stuff out of your brain and out there into the world — something called externalizing your memory — it frees up your brain to be uncluttered and to think about the things your really want to think about. You get all that stuff out of your brain and then you can concentrate on work and leisure activities more fully.”
  • Try to be more conscientious. “This comes from personality and individual differences psychology. Of the thousands of ways that humans differ from one another, turns out there’s this one cluster of traits called conscientiousness that predict a whole host of positive life outcomes, such as longevity over our health, life satisfaction…it predicts that you won’t end up in prison. And conscientiousness includes things like doing what you say you’ll do, being dependable, being organized.”
  • Dedicate certain spots to certain objects. “What a lot of people say is that they lose their car keys, house keys, they lose their reading glasses or their passport…We have exquisite place memory in a beautiful structure in the brain called the hippocampus. We share this with all mammals. It’s the part of the brain that tells a squirrel where it buried its nuts. So, we can exploit this. The problem is, if you put your keys down just anywhere in your apartment or your home, they can be just anywhere and your brain can’t keep track of it…So the trick is, you put a little hook by the front door, you have a decorative ball on a console table. That becomes the designated spot for your keys or your reading glasses and because you always put them there they’re always where you expect to find them.”
  • Don’t spend more time on a decision than it’s worth. “You’ve got something in your hand and there’s probably a perfect place for it in your home and you could spend a long time thinking about the perfect cubby hole or closet or drawer, but what you’re saying is, ‘I’m going to put it here in the family bookshelf because it’s not worth investing anymore time in and all these things that are linked together by some common thread all go there and everybody knows that they’re there.’”
  • Take breaks at work. “Many of us feel as though we are overloaded and overwhelmed by all the things that are happening and we can’t stop work for even five minutes or we’ll fall behind. There’s a mode of our brain that is responsible for most of our creativity. It’s called the default mode network, or the daydreaming mode. And it’s the part of your brain that effectively hits the reset button in your brain when you’ve gotten overstressed or you’ve run into a brick wall in your work. So, one of the biggest things we can do in the workplace is to give ourselves an opportunity to enter that daydreaming mode every couple of hours or so. You do that by reading literature, by listening to music, looking out the window. According to many studies, people who take regular breaks and even naps — 10 or 15 minute naps — have been more productive at the end of the day and more creative in their work, more than making up for the amount of time they take off.”

For more from Daniel Levitin, check out his google talk on youtube. And remember, Sirvo is here to help you manage your service industry-related needs.