How to Create a More Organized Mind And Desk

If you're trying to organize your mind to reduce decision fatigue and information overload, then you need to make sure that you organize the space around you.

Organised desk, organised mind

In many ways, our spaces are a reflection of the state of our mind - but actually the correlation works both ways and if you have a cluttered desk or home, it will make your mind more cluttered too.

When it comes to spaces that contain a lot of information and items, your desk is one of the most pressing areas for organization. Let's take a look at some things you can do to make your desk better organized.

#1 Throw Things Out

This is really how you start making any space more organized - you throw out anything that isn't 100% necessary. If it's a decorative item, then ask yourself if it really fills you with long-term fulfillment.

If not? Bin it! Otherwise, ask yourself when the last time you used it was and whether you really cannot survive without it.

The same goes for that drawer that's full of stationary. Do you really need that much stationary? Could that space not be much better used for other things?

#2 Create a System That Reflects Your Brain

Another tip is to create systems that you can use to keep your documents in order. And a great way to get inspiration for this is to look at the way our brains store information.

Specifically, our brains have three main 'compartments' for storing information. These are:

Working Memory - which is the information we're currently working with and doesn't necessarily need to be stored.

Short Term Memory - which is the information we hold for a few days. If it doesn't get used enough it will be thrown out, if it is important, it will be stored in long-term memory.

Long Term Memory - which is the information that we have stored permanently. Nothing gets destroyed here but access can become more difficult without practice.

So how do you create something similar to this?

Simple: you make one space for each type of information.

Your 'working memory' could be your noticeboard and desk itself. This is where you keep anything that you're currently working on and need immediate access to.

Not using it anymore? Then it goes into short-term storage - somewhere like a paper tray.

Then, at the end of each week, go through your short-term storage and move anything important to your 'long term storage' and throw out the rest. That's how you create a much more organized desk and mind.

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The Organized Mind

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Information Overload in the Internet Age



In the movie "He's Just Not That Into You," Drew Barrymore has a dialogue to this effect: And now, you have to go through all this just to get rejected by seven different technologies - it is exhausting!

This reflects the time we live in. Information age - Age of Internet, emails, cell phones with ever-increasing features! Information Overload or Infomania has Dictionary definition: a continual and excessive quest for acquiring and disseminating knowledge and information.

As per Wikipedia: Infomania is the debilitating state of information overload, caused by the combination of a backlog of information to process (usually in email), and continuous interruptions from technologies like phones, instant messaging, and email.

On an average, how many sources for News do we use? Newspaper, Radio, TV, News web sites, Youtube, blogs, twitter, RSS feeds, the list goes on. most of the times, we get the same information from various sources. For communication, we use Email, Phone, IM, Text messages, Voicemail, Facebook, Myspace and so on. Not only that, we have multiple phones, email addresses and instant messengers.

Basex is a Research company for Knowledge economy issues and it has called "information overload" as the Problem of the year for 2008. Constant interruptions cost America around $650 billion dollars a year - that could have been the stimulus package!

One of the notions which comes out of all these technologies is that of multitasking. This is a typical office scenario. Any time there is a conference call, people get on the call, press mute button and start "multitasking". They may be replying to emails, reading other documents or even making a cup of coffee. When someone asks a question to a specific person, mostly the reply is: I am sorry, I was on mute. Could you please repeat the question? The phone has a mute button, we have discovered a 'deaf' button as well!

Another nuisance of emails at work is group emails. Someone sends out an email about a ball game to all employees at a site, for example. Thirty enthusiastic responders will 'Reply All' to say 'Count me In'. Five wise men will 'Reply All' to say please do not reply to all. And 4 geniuses will 'Reply All' to say 'Please remove my name from this chain'. You would have received 40 emails in matter of minutes. And if you have a beep or an envelope indicating 'You Have Got Mail', you would hate that feature and pull your hair.

There is a group called Information Overload Research Group and Nathan Zeldes from Intel is the chairman of the group. Nathan estimates "the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week -- we loose one day out of 5!

On an average, a person gets 75 to 100 work emails a day, 50% of these are not relevant. We feel overwhelmed with where to look and what to do, how to find important information or tasks from the bulk - how to sort wheat from the chaff. Add to this the personal email pile -- spam, chain letters and recycled jokes, quotes and so on.

An example of home multitasking: TV is switched on with remote handy to flip channels, laptop is on lap, couple of IM windows are active, cell phone is right there.

Don't get me wrong. Each of these technologies has a great value to make our lives more effective and efficient. The email, chat, GPS, Internet, cell phone - these are all enablers. The fact that we can record a home video, review it on computer, send to family far away or upload on YouTube is really cool. The question is: How to deal with the issue of infomania?

First and foremost, take a stance and build some discipline:We are using the tools, not being used by them.

  • Just because it is possible, you should not be reachable to everybody all the time.
  • When you need to focus on something, turn off your cellphone, don't pay attention to incoming mails. In fact, incoming email indicator can be turned off forever.
  • Allocate chunks of times for email checking and replying. Handle each piece of information minimum number of times.
  • Politely decline meeting requests where you have nothing to gain or contribute.
  • Do not take your computer or work email device during vacation.
  • DO NOT subscribe to every news/blog/RSS feed service.
  • And lastly, meditate to regain your focus.


To conclude, Information revolution and information overload is going to continue in 21st century. In order to leverage this revolution for better, we need to pick and choose. And, we need to ask ourselves at the end of the day. week, month -- Are we adding value to our lives and our world? Or, are we getting exhausted coping with the technology created by others?

Bina Mehta is an IT professional with over 18 years of experience. She holds PMP certification from Project Management Institute. She serves as President of FairOaks Toastmasters Club and has achieved Competent Communicator. Her interests include Reading, Writing, Problem Solving, Public Speaking, Yoga

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“The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance”

Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard.

Now he is the CEO of Aspirant, a Cambridge-based consulting firm which researches positive outliers-people who are well above average-to understand where human potential, success and happiness intersect. Based on his research and 12 years of experience at Harvard, he clearly and humorously describes to organizations how to increase happiness and meaning, raise success rates and profitability, and create positive transformations that ripple into more successful cultures.

In Shawn's TEDxBloomington presentation, he says that most modern research focuses on the average, but that "if we focus on the average, we will remain merely average." He wants to study the positive outliers, and learn how not only to bring people up to the average, but to move the entire average up. 

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Are you kidding me? This is serious! Or, what psychologists have to say about writing e-mail


An old college friend and accomplished writer, John Scalzi, recently posted a list of writing tips for non-professionals, which I'd highly recommend for professionals and non-professionals alike. One of his most unusual suggestions is to "speak what you write" -- literally, to read your writing out loud before publishing, whether in a blog post or just an e-mail to friends. This, he argues, will not only help catch spelling and other errors (each of which Scalzi says decreases the writer's apparent IQ by 5 to 10 points), but also help you see whether you're conveying the meaning you intend.

So what does psychology research have to say about this notion? (No, not that typos decrease your IQ, but the larger idea that reading your words out loud will help you determine if your meaning is clear.)

A team led by Justin Kruger conducted a series of experiments on how we perceive each other's intentions in e-mail, and their findings do have some relevance to Scalzi's claims. One common problem in e-mails is deciding whether your correspondent is being serious or sarcastic. Taking Scalzi's example, most readers will realize that one of his observations was sarcastic: your IQ doesn't literally decrease when you make a spelling error. But what about the advice given by the aptly-named blogger Grumpy old Bookman, who in response to the much-hyped controversy over fabrications in James Frey's memoir, suggested that authors literally make everything up, taking no inspiration from the real world? Most commenters to that post clearly thought he was being serious, but I have little doubt that the post was intended to be sarcasm (I also think he anticipated that many readers wouldn't "get it" -- and that was part of the joke).

But do most writers actually accurately anticipate how readers will perceive the tone of their writing? Kruger's team tested sixty pairs of students at Cornell University, asking each person to choose 10 statements from a list of 20. Each person had a different list; on both lists, some of the statements were sarcastic, and some were serious. In separate rooms, one member of the pair typed each of the chosen statements into an e-mail message. The other member recorded the statements with a tape recorder. Each person guessed whether the message recipient would be able to identify the statements correctly as sarcastic or serious; then they listened or read their partners' messages and indicated whether they actually thought the message was sarcastic. Here are the results:

While both e-mailers and talkers thought most sentences would be read accurately, e-mail recipients couldn't judge whether sarcasm was intended -- their readers guessed their intentions at a rate no better than chance. By contrast, people speaking sarcastic messages were accurately able to guess when recipients would see the sarcasm. Message recipients were also asked to say how confident they were in their understanding of the message, and again, whether reading e-mails or listening to recordings, nearly everyone believed they had accurately judged the message's intent.

So talking appears to be a better way of conveying sarcasm than e-mail. But what about Scalzi's advice -- can saying what you write actually help you better understand how your written message will be taken?

In a new experiment, pairs of volunteers e-mailed each other as before, but before they guessed how their message would be taken, they recorded the statements on a tape recorder. Half of the group read the statements as intended, using a sarcastic voice for the sarcastic statements, and a serious voice for serious statements. The other half read them using the opposite intonation: a sarcastic voice for serious statements and a serious voice for sarcastic statements. Here are the results:

When people read the statements with the same intonation as they intended to convey, they were wildly inaccurate at guessing whether readers would judge the statements' intentions correctly -- in fact, readers again were barely better than chance. But when e-mailers tried reading the statements with the opposite intonation, their guesses as to how readers would perform exactly matched actual performance. So here is a case where speaking what you write does appear to help you understand whether readers will read your message the way you intend it to be read.

Kruger and his team argue that their study demonstrates that writers are generally overconfident about what their readers will understand. While confidence about our writing matches our confidence about speaking, in reality, we're less able to convey those intentions in writing. Amazingly, readers, too, believe they can effectively judge the writer's intent, so the potential for miscommunicating in e-mail is amplified. The research also appears to support Scalzi's claim that "speaking what you write" can improve writing, with a caveat: to better understand the potential for misreading, you should try to read your words using an intonation opposite what you intend.

As for the link between spelling errors and IQ, more research will be needed before a definitive answer can be reached (seriously!).

Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89(6), 925-936.

Posted by Dave Munger on Cognitive Daily


You may also be interested in:

Manage your e-mail so that it does not rule your workday

Top-Ten Email Management Tips

The U2 Method of High-Impact Writing

Three tips to improve your writing rhythm

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Try something new for 30 days

Is there something you've always meant to do, wanted to do, but just ... haven't? Matt Cutts suggests: Try it for 30 days. This short, lighthearted talk offers a neat way to think about setting and achieving goals. Matt Cutts is an engineer at Google, where he fights linkspam and helps webmasters understand how search


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7 Days of Christmas – 50% off the price of "Take Control of Your Paper"

Take Control of Your PaperAs part of my 7 Days of Christmas promotion, this eBook, Take Control of Your Paper, is available for the special price of just $7.00 (Normal price $14.95)!

This eBook will show you how to control your paper flow.

Techniques to use to control the flow of paper in your life.

How to tidy your desk most effectively, make it attractive, and implement systems so that it stays that way.

How to create a filing system that works for you.

Ways to stay on top of the paper avalanche.

Set up systems so that you can find the information when you need it, and you can keep control of what has to be done and when.

This offer is only available until 5 p.m. Thursday 19th December. Get it here >>

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In Praise of Wastebaskets


How do you feel about wastebaskets?

That's right, you read that correctly - your attitude toward your wastebasket will have a profound and - yea verily -- mystical impact on your paper clutter.

Read the article in Pivotal Magazine =>

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The Secrets To E-Mail Nirvana


You crank up your computer every morning, click to your e-mail and--whap!--a slew of messages demands attention.

E-mail can be a great tool, but many misuse it, turning what should be quick, easy communication into a laborious, time-consuming management chore.

"Many people use the inbox as a to-do list, calendar and filing system," says Mark Hurst president and founder of Creative Good, a consulting firm in New York. "File some messages and delete most of them, but without a doubt, don't let anything stay in your inbox permanently."

Hurst says effective e-mail management is built on filters, filing and ruthless use of the delete key.
He offers this distinction to better define the problem: The number of new messages received each day is "volume" while the number of e-mails sitting in the inbox is "message count." The second is the key measure of effective e-mail management.

"A user who gets 100 messages a day may not be overloaded at all if the message count is low," Hurst says. "Conversely, a user who gets ten e-mails a day may be overloaded."

If the number of messages stacked in the inbox becomes too large and difficult to manage, you're overloaded. The e-mail system then becomes a black hole rather than a productivity tool and your output will suffer.

"If overload is the problem, then removing the load is the solution," Hurst says in a special report, "Managing Incoming E-mail." "Here's how to manage incoming e-mail: Keep the inbox empty--clear out incoming e-mails before they pile up or you lose your ability to manage them effectively."

But there's just one catch and, unlike catch-22, it's not the least bit philosophical.

"It may be a simple solution, but it's not easy," Hurst says. "Achieving simplicity--or emptiness, in this case--takes time and continued improvement. It's difficult but better than drowning in e-mails and becoming less effective. Only an empty inbox will allow users to take full advantage of the benefits of e-mail."

The first step is deleting all spam. Never reply to spam because the spammer will know your e-mail address is active and sell it to others at a premium. The result: more spam.

Next, read all personal e-mail from friends or family and save selected messages as needed elsewhere on your computer or print out important notes. It might be a good idea to check your personal e-mail account at work and use it to chitchat and exchange goofball jokes with your lunatic friends while reserving your company account for (gasp) work-related items. Admit it: This would sharply reduce the volume of incoming mail on the company e-mail system.

Hurst says messages should be sorted by date with the oldest message at the top of the list. Each message should be opened and the appropriate action--filing or deletion-- should be taken quickly. This will prevent the accumulation of a 500-message stack in your inbox.
Hurst says newsletters should be read or scanned quickly, but never filed because then you'll have two cluttering up your inbox when the next arrives. FYIs, or non-actionable information such as an answer to a question or notification of an event, should be read quickly, filed if necessary and deleted as soon as possible.

Hurst urges use of the "two-minute rule" for to-dos. If the task outlined in the e-mail takes two minutes or less to complete, even if it means getting out of your chair, do it immediately and delete the message.
If you're way behind in managing your e-mail, Hurst recommends a ruthless cleaning out of the clutter in the inbox to allow users to manage e-mail effectively with just a few minutes work each day. It may take several whacks to get through all the old junk, but once it's cleaned out, it's done and future management of the inbox can be handled in just a few minutes each day.

E-mail arrives throughout the day so it's impossible to keep the inbox empty at all times. Hurst recommends dealing with e-mails as soon as possible after each arrives or setting aside a few minutes several times a day to complete the task.

"Users shouldn't let an inbox go more than one business day without emptying," he says.
Filters will screen out most of the junk. For starters, Hurst recommends setting up your filter to accept mail from everyone in your address book. Suspected spam, including any e-mail containing viruses or unknown attachments, gets sent to purgatory--a folder for suspected junk mail from unknown senders. Any e-mail with three or more consecutive exclamation points gets zapped. Set the filter to automatically delete any e-mail containing raunchy words you'd expect to find in sexually explicit spam.

Have the filter kill any e-mail with "adv" in the message line. Expand the list of subject lines to kill starting with obvious pitches such as "Free Long Distance," "Find background info about anyone," "Quit Smoking" and "Be your own boss." Compiling the list requires some thought because many spam subject lines appear in legitimate e-mail such as free, mortgage, university, diploma and life insurance.
Software will thin the thundering herd of spam seeking to graze and fatten your inbox, but it's not the final, or best, way to manage e-mail.

"'Delete' is one keystroke," Hurst says. "I don't know what's easier than that."

Article written by Scott Reeves© Inc.™