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For being a book about organization, I felt that the structure was pretty scattered and the concepts were a bit "all over the place". It draws in a lot of theories from other books like Getting Things Done by David Allen, Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. A few fresh takeaways but most was repetition from previously mentioned books.

My Notes

  • Fail early and often. It's a faulty belief that life should be easy. Expect a rocky road ahead and don't let it dissuade you when those bumps knock you down—it's all part of the process.
  • Interesting concept about approximation. Just do the guesses you can and you will be able to reach a "reasonable" answer. Like “How much does the Empire State Building weigh?”
  • There is an interesting system underlying the highway road numbering in the U.S.


Memory is fallible, of course, but not because of storage limitations so much as retrieval limitations.

Page 63

Once memories became externalized with written language, the writer’s brain and attentional system were freed up to focus on something else.

Page 85

We are doing the jobs of ten different people while still trying to keep up with our lives, our children and parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our favorite TV shows.

Page 163

In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000 of them, yet the average person gets 80%–85% of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.

Page 5

Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport, or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

Page 7

The Sumerian city of Uruk (~5000 BCE) was one of the world’s earliest large cities. Its active commercial trade created an unprecedented volume of business transactions, and Sumerian merchants required an accounting system for keeping track of the day’s inventory and receipts; this was the birth of writing.

Page 13

all literature could be said to originate from sales receipts (sorry).

Page 13

A steady flow of complaints about the proliferation of books reverberated into the late 1600s. Intellectuals warned that people would stop talking to each other, burying themselves in books, polluting their minds with useless, fatuous ideas.

Page 15

Why is information overload such a serious problem now? For one thing, we’re doing more work than ever before.

Page 18

The promise of a computerized society, we were told, was that it would relegate to machines all of the repetitive drudgery of work, allowing us humans to pursue loftier purposes and to have more leisure time. It didn’t work out this way.

Page 18

Emerging evidence suggests that embracing new ideas and learning is helping us to live longer and can stave off Alzheimer’s disease—apart from the advantages traditionally associated with expanding one’s knowledge.

Page 19

So it’s not that we need to take in less information but that we need to have systems for organizing it.

Page 19

We are easily swayed by first-person stories and vivid accounts of a single experience.

Page 21

Our brains focus on vivid, social accounts more than dry, boring, statistical accounts.

Page 21

Classifications such as kinship categories aid in the organization, encoding, and communication of complex knowledge. And the classifications have their roots in animal behavior, so they can be said to be precognitive. What humans did was to make these distinctions linguistic and thus explicitly communicable information.

Page 27

“Bug” promotes cognitive economy by combining into a single category things that most of the time we don’t need to think about in great detail, apart from keeping them out of our food or from crawling on our skin.

Page 29

We also lack a term for all the people you would have to notify if you were going into the hospital for three weeks. These might include close relatives, friends, your employer, the newspaper delivery person, and anyone you had appointments with during that period. The lack of a term doesn’t mean you don’t understand the concept; it simply means that the category isn’t reflected in our language.

Page 29

It can be practical to know a great deal about the biological world, but the human brain has been configured—wired—to acquire this information and to want to acquire it.

Page 32

Out of 30,000 edible plants thought to exist on earth, just eleven account for 93% of all that humans eat: oats, corn, rice, wheat, potatoes, yucca (also called tapioca or cassava), sorghum, millet, beans, barley, and rye.

Page 32

We humans are hardwired to enjoy knowledge, in particular knowledge that comes through the senses. And we are hardwired to impose structure on this sensory knowledge, to turn it this way and that, to view it from different angles, and try to fit it into multiple neural frameworks. This is the essence of human learning.

Page 32

The most fundamental principle of the organized mind, the one most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things, is to shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world.

Page 35

If we can remove some or all of the process from our brains and put it out into the physical world, we are less likely to make mistakes. This is not because of the limited capacity of our brains—rather, it’s because of the nature of memory storage and retrieval in our brains: Memory processes can easily become distracted or confounded by other, similar items. Active sorting is just one of many ways of using the physical world to organize your mind.

Page 35

In a broad sense, these are related to what cognitive psychologists call Gibsonian affordances after the researcher J. J. Gibson.

Page 35

Daydreaming and mind-wandering, we now know, are a natural state of the brain. This accounts for why we feel so refreshed after it, and why vacations and naps can be so restorative.

Page 38

The phrase paying attention is well-worn figurative language, and there is some useful meaning in this cliché. Attention has a cost. It is a this-or-that, zero-sum game.

Page 39

When we pay attention to one thing, we are necessarily taking attention away from something else.

Page 39

The number of possessions the average person has now is far greater than we had for most of our evolutionary history, easily by a factor of 1,000, and so organizing them is a distinctly modern problem.

Page 78

The principle underlying all these is off-loading the information from your brain and into the environment; use the environment itself to remind you of what needs to be done.

Page 84

Avery picks a ballpoint pen out of her pen drawer, and it doesn’t write. She tries everything she knows to get it to work—moistening the tip, heating it with a lighter, shaking it, and making swirls on a piece of paper. She concludes it doesn’t work, and then puts it right back in the drawer and takes another pen.

Page 90

Students who studied for an exam in the room they later took it in did better than students who studied somewhere else.

Page 91

And we use them all the time, part of a twenty-first-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime.

Page 96

We text while we’re walking across the street, catch up on e-mail while standing in line, and while having lunch with friends, we surreptitiously check to see what our other friends are doing.

Page 96

When people think they’re multi-tasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

Page 96

Wilson showed that the cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot smoking.

Page 97

You receive a text, and that activates your novelty centers. You respond and feel rewarded for having completed a task (even though that task was entirely unknown to you fifteen seconds earlier). Each of those delivers a shot of dopamine as your limbic system cries out “More! More! Give me more!”

Page 101

Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones.

Page 102

Make no mistake: E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter checking constitute a neural addiction.

Page 102

Off-load the memory functions into the physical world rather than into your crowded mental world. In other words, write it down on a piece of paper, or if you prefer, get a system.

Page 109

Part of our sense of order manifests itself in wanting to repair simple things when we can.

Page 110

It is important to harmonize your organizational style and systems with your personality.

Page 112

It is not the better part of human nature, but it is human nature to lie to avoid punishment.

Page 134

Creative solutions often arise from allowing a sequence of altercations between dedicated focus and daydreaming.

Page 170

Humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate.

Page 170

If you have something big you want to get done, break it up into chunks—meaningful, implementable, doable chunks.

Page 173

We work, we inspect the work, we make adjustments, we push forward.

Page 173

The research says that if you have chores to do, put similar chores together.

Page 175

Items that are processed at a deeper level, with more active involvement by us, tend to become more strongly encoded in memory

Page 183

If sleep-related economic losses were a business, it would be the sixth-largest business in the country.

Page 191

Billionaire Donald Trump has had as many high-profile failures as successes: dead-end business ventures like Trump Vodka, Trump magazine, Trump Airlines, and Trump Mortgage, four bankruptcies, and a failed presidential bid. He is a controversial figure, but he has demonstrated resilience and has never let business failures reduce his self-confidence.

Page 201

None of us needs to gamble, or drink alcohol, read e-mail, or compulsively check social networking feeds to survive. Realizing when a diversion has gotten out of control is one of the great challenges of life.

Page 209

The greatest life satisfaction comes from completing projects that required sustained focus and energy. It seems unlikely that anyone will look back at their lives with pride and say with satisfaction that they managed to send an extra thousand text messages or check social network updates a few hundred extra times while they were working.

Page 209

Do not spend more time on a decision than it’s worth.

Page 212

We can organize our time, and our minds, to leave time for creativity, for mind-wandering, for each of us to make our own unique contribution in our time here.

Page 218

This has to be what we teach our children: how to evaluate the hordes of information that are out there, to discern what is true and what is not, to identify biases and half-truths, and to know how to be critical, independent thinkers.

Page 336

“Social media isn’t journalism, it’s information. Journalism is what you do with it.”

Page 339

Because the Web is unregulated, the burden is on each user to apply critical thinking when using it.

Page 342

You can remember the three aspects of Web literacy by an English word used to express good wishes on meeting or parting: ave. Authenticate, validate, and evaluate.

Page 343

We’ve all had the experience of reading a novel and finding that we slow down in places to contemplate what was just written, to let our minds wander, and think about the story. This is the action of the daydreaming mode (in opposition to the central executive mode) and it is healthy to engage it—remember, it is the brain’s “default” mode.

Page 367

The tentative and intriguing take-home message is that reading high-quality fiction and literary nonfiction, and perhaps listening to music, looking at art, and watching dance, may lead to two desirable outcomes: increased interpersonal empathy and better executive attentional control.

Page 368

The twenty-first century’s information problem is one of selection.

Page 379

It’s the human condition to fall prey to old habits. We must consciously look at areas of our lives that need cleaning up, and then methodically and proactively do so. And then keep doing it.

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Books I’ve read.

Johannes Holmberg

Tiny summaries on books I’ve read. Sorted by latest read. But you can also sort on top recommendations. Highlights and covers are copyright to their respective authors.