How to Organize Your Decisions Effectively

Book The Organized Mind by Daniel J. Levitin

Keep in mind that this article contains ideas from the book The Organized Mind, written by Daniel J. Levitin

“In your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information.”

-Anthony J. D’Angelo, author of The College Blue Book

In the age of the 21st century, information is drowning us. And not only the information drown us, decisions do too. Unfortunately, our brain is perfectly designed to get contaminated by these overloads. To organize our data and conclusions, we need to understand how our default brain systems react when we encounter new pieces of information or decisions.

Attentional filters — system that our brain uses to pay attention — are beneficial when utilized in the right way. For instance, when we drive, for the first few minutes, our brain needs that time to get used to the road, the smoothness, or the bumpiness. Then we can do what we call multi-tasking — which is usually just switching from one task to another very fast — as a result of the ‘consistency.’

This system can be advantageous in some situations, such as focusing on one job, but as a side effect, our brain relies on the difference instead of the consistency. I can take an example of ‘the invisible gorilla’ — when our brain is not able to spot the gorilla because our mind gets used to the white and black (while focusing on the ball whit is passing) when gorilla walks in, our brain sorts out the gorilla as ‘black.’ But if we knew that there would be a gorilla, then we would spot the gorilla right away because it’s ‘expected.’

Excellent categorization equals effective production. Period. Keep this in mind all the time. Making categories and prioritizing them helps our brain to receive more and more informations effectively. Remember. Miscategorized information is worse than uncategorized information. When you do categorize, do them well.

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We are like a community. We are a community of billions of cells working towards one goal. Our brain especially consists of about 86 billion neurons. So to get all 86 billion neurons to pay attention to something that takes a lot of energy. Where do these energies come from? Our brain. Have you ever daydreamed before? Like you’re in a thoughtless state. Right? Psychologists call this the mind-wandering mode — or the default mode — and that’s where we get our energy from.

How about when we pay attention? The state of spending energy to pay attention is called the central executive mode. The mind-wandering mode and the central executive mode works like a ying-yang, when one is on, the other is off. Keep this in mind, though. When you feel like you’re tired, your brain is sending you a message to have some rest. So when you feel like you should have some rest, please do so. Or at least be in a state of mind-wandering mode for a while, giving your brain a chance to gather energy.

So what kind of system brings our brain from mind-wandering mode to central executive mode? The answer is rather apparent — our alerting system. Let’s take an example. Imagine you’re walking on the street, and a truck suddenly dashes towards you. What happens in your brain is simple. Our brain notices the difference from the consistency — from the attentional filter — then our alerting system takes over. Our alerting system switches the mind-wandering mode to central executive mode if needed, then our central executive system produces tons of adrenaline. Our alerting system is a massive part of our brain that is greatly affected by the attentional filter. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s useful.

To be organized, we have to get things out of our brains. CEO of companies, famous actors, all the successful people says that writing down what in their head helps to focus on what they’re doing. Thus, many people say writing down what’s on their minds before doing something makes them concentrate on the task.

David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done, puts an effective solution to this. His answer is simple — it’s called a two-minute rule. When you have something in mind, categorize them into four parts — Do it, Delegate it, Defer it, and Drop it. If the task takes under 2 minutes, then you should do it immediately. If the job can be done by someone else, delegate it. If the task takes over 2 minutes, defer it. But never suspend it for an extended period. If the job just doesn’t worth your time, then drop it. It seems obvious, right? But it’s easier said than done. And when it’s executed, it does help.