Books

Book review: Daniel Levitin’s ‘The Organized Mind’:

If you’re like most people these days, you’re probably doing a few other things while you read this review. You’re on your cellphone. You have other tabs open on your computer or somewhere in your mind. You are thinking about what else you need to do today. Full-time multitasking is commonplace in our age of information — but it’s tiring out our brains.

This cognitive overload from televisions, computers and phones that we have all come to consider normal is the subject of a new book from McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin. The Organized Mind takes the approach that succeeded for Levitin in his well-known book This Is Your Brain on Music: breaking down the way our brains work so the average person can learn how to use his better.

From how not to lose your keys to how to decide when the risks of surgery are worthwhile, Levitin focuses on smart ways to process the constant flow of information the brain must deal with.

His theories are based on the idea of shifting the burden of remembering and organizing information to external systems that are easy to keep track of, such as address books, to-do lists and file cabinets. When your brain isn’t wondering where things are or what you have forgotten to do, the way is cleared to focus on the tasks at hand.

After an introductory chapter, the book is divided into sections corresponding to places (homes, social groups, business structures) and the way we live (how we spend our time and how we make decisions).

But whether you jump around or dive in cover to cover, each section of The Organized Mind provides an understanding of how the brain works and what practical solutions might help it function better.

Reading a book this long and wide-ranging may itself seem like taking on another task in an already busy life, but given its subject matter — how not to be swamped by information — The Organized Mind may be worth the effort.

Jessica Contrera reviewed this book for The Washington Post.

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