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Published on November 12, 2019

How to Organize Information and Tidy up Your Thoughts

How to Organize Information and Tidy up Your Thoughts

Over 4 million blog posts are published every day.[1] That is a lot of information and it’s only getting bigger. While the vast majority of people won’t be reading that many blog posts, people still consume a lot of information.

Maybe not through blog posts, but through social media, and the news. But that doesn’t change the fact that our intake of information is larger now. And some people have been calling the issues that we face with this larger intake of info as information overload. There are all kinds of strategies to help us mitigate but, what is we’re going at this the wrong way? What if the problem is because we don’t know how to organize information?

I believe that is the case when we consider our own behavior around information. This, in turn, explains why we need to organize information and find methods to do so effectively.

While there is nothing wrong with the amount of information available, it is up to us to determine how we use it. In so many cases, people have had no self-control or that they haven’t bothered to learn how to organize information. This fact amongst a few other reasons is why this is important.

We’ve Grown Addicted To Consuming Information

As Karol Krol put simply in an article at Lifehack:

“The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem. The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.”

This creates a situation where we are constantly digesting information mainly because “we have got to know this.” Even if we never apply that information in our own lives.

All of this behavior is similar to the idea of attending seminars hosted by motivational speakers or thought leaders. People walk out of those seminars and most never practice what they learned.[2]

Consuming information on your own is not that different.

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Too Much Information Creates Clutter

A while ago, I explained a scenario where you are reading and focusing on a book on the bus. Suddenly, someone sits near you and is in the middle of a loud personal conversation about their friend’s love life.

Even though you are a bystander in that conversation, that’s still information and can create a lot of clutter. It’s similar to having other distractions on your desk that pull you away from work or some other productive activity.

But one other aspect I failed to bring up is that, clutter can exist from build-up too. In the case of information, reading several articles on the same topic can create a lot of clutter.

What sort of information is important?

This post said this is important while another post said it wasn’t important. What information is relevant here?

What information should you internalize and apply?

In the end, the information creates noise and it can be tough for us to organize that information based on our feelings and current devices.

How to Organize Information Effectively

How to organize information can be simple once you have a plan. There are also a variety of tactics to consider using to best organize information.

But the most important thing about information is how much we consume is up to us. We have complete control over our information diet and how we distribute it.

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1. The LATCH Principle

An effective method is one that Richard Saul Wurman developed in 1996. In his book Information Architect, he took a previous existing theory – the Five Hat Racks – and formulated what is known as the LATCH principle.

Now, what does that mean? Wurman explained:

“Information may be infinite, however…The organization of information is finite as it can only be organized by LATCH: Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, or Hierarchy.”

Indeed, this method is all about organizing information in a broader sense. You’re not focusing so much on your own priorities but better organizing your information diet.

According to Wurman, this is the best method to organize information mainly because he tested the principle a thousand times. Every time he tried something different, he went directly to one of those five methods.

He may have a bias since he is the creator of this principle but, it does work wonders. I argue this because of two key reasons:

First, to organize anything, you must first remove a lot of things you don’t need. Going back to clutter, it creates a lot of noise and it distracts us from our current goals and priorities in life.

Second is that, organizing alleviates a lot of anxiety. And in order to organize properly, there has to be some kind of method or system. It’s not really organizing if there is no method to how you’re sorting things.

This is where LATCH comes in. LATCH provides five methods that we can choose from to organize anything in our lives:

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  • Location can be used in a variety of situations. It’s akin to giving directions. We focus on the most relevant things to be within reach. Similarly, we also use it to show how things are connected to one another.
  • Alphabet is organizing the information alphabetically. This can be helpful when organizing a list of people and statistics. Or maybe a dictionary of industry lingo or official documents.
  • Time works great with communication. Information revolving around scheduling appointments, or organizing projects. It’s good to use this method when providing step by step instructions or when things have to be in chronological order.
  • Category is the method to organize information by similarity or relatedness. Think back to the collection lists I mentioned earlier.
  • Hierarchy is about organizing information that is used collectively to compare things. Think t-shirt sizes or how you’d rate food or a product or service. Everyone uses that same metric to organize information.

While in most situations, people would wear multiple hats, the fact still remains that we instinctively use at least one of these methods. Whether we’re organizing information or collecting it, the LATCH method is the way to go.

2. Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is a method of capturing thoughts and organizing them in a visual way. In the industry, it’s been a sort of buzzword despite few people actually explaining what it means or how to make one.

The overall idea with mind mapping is to create a detailed to-do list. You have daily tasks that you want to accomplish, but it goes a step farther.

Mind mapping encourages you to think longer term such as what you wish to do in five years with anything in your life. It doesn’t largely address the intake of daily information, however, this is an extremely effective tool to organize what matters most to you.

This combats information overload as it gives you another way to evaluate information. If it’s relevant to your goals and desires, jot it down. If not, remove it from your mind.

Here’s a guide to help you start mind mapping: How to Use a Mind Map to Organize Your Life

3. Create Lists

Besides using the above frameworks, you can start a simple habit of using post-it notes or big notepad to create a series of lists. Make a to-do list every day and use that to organize the most important tasks for you to complete that day.

If you feel the need to add routine items, make a separate list with those. Either way, lists help to organize what must be done and give you a sense of time management as well. After all, you’ll know roughly how long something ought to take you to complete.

4. Create Collections

Similar to the lists, make collections too. What I mean by this is put the notes that you make into specific groups of information. For example, if you have a lot of information on business ideas, or opportunities, write them in a book or place them in a digital document. Keep it separate from your list of self-improvement and mindset tips.

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Also, consolidate those collections. Toss out the information you no longer need or have tried before.

5. Place Priority on Key Information

Most times, blog posts will contain a lot of essential information. If you’re the type to consume a lot, it’s going to be tough to manage it all. This particular strategy takes the idea of making lists to the next level.

The idea is summarizing the information or placing the key points in a list you can consult later. It doesn’t have to be organized in a collection or anything. The idea is that it’ll be easier to digest and process later when your brain has energy.

Bottom Line

In a world where we are addicted to hoarding information in ourselves, we risk getting distracted and move further away from our true priorities.

By learning how to organize information better, we can remove the things we don’t need. Better yet, we can learn to place a higher priority on things that are more important to our lives.

When we begin to organize information and our behaviour, we become more in control over our lives and what we let in.

More About Organizing Your Life

Featured photo credit: Matthew Guay via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever The Lifehack Show: Overcoming Anxiety Through Personal Agency with Dr. Paul Napper How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide) What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide) When You Never Stop Learning, These 5 Amazing Things Happen

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

So, how do we remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

I’m going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

1. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet.[2]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

2. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory.[3]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

3. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password).[4]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance.[5]

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Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance.[6]

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games.[7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

Try these 15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain.

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6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline.[8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests.[9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories.[10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story.

In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date.[11]

Bottom Line

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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