January 2012

Brain training for busy bees

By Margaret Moore
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You can be forgiven for being distracted these days. It is a sign of the times, according to the authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, a how-to book that manages to be both entertaining and rooted in current brain science. They write, “There was a time when you weren’t always so reachable . . . when you weren’t always being bombarded by so much stimuli, whether in the form of e-mails or texts, Twitter posts or whatever new technology may emerge . . . well, any minute now.”

Paul Hammerness, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, and Margaret Moore, a wellness coach and cofounder of the Harvard Institute of Coaching, call this “the distraction epidemic”—and it’s more than just occasionally misplacing your keys. Disorganization and distraction can snowball into information overload, poor work habits, clutter and strained relationships. But Hammerness and Moore offer simple ways to harness organizational abilities that already exist in our brains.

I suspect that anyone who is in dire enough straits to need an organizational book may just skip to the appendix, where the authors lay out the six “brain skills” one needs to master in order to organize their mind—but don’t do it. Hammerness and Moore make neuroscience fun (really) and use case studies from their own work to illustrate their points. In the chapter on “applying the brakes,” for example, we meet Deborah, a soccer mom in her mid-30s who, despite all her energy and good intentions, can’t quite seem to finish what she starts. She heads out to the garage for a quick tidying up, and four hours later is still knee-deep in old sports equipment. She just can’t apply the brakes. In brain-science talk, this is called “exercising inhibitory control.” The authors offer easy, common-sense ways to build this skill—for example, applying the STOP tool (step back, think, organize your thoughts, proceed).

This is a must-read if you could use less stress and more order in your life. Log off Twitter, put down your cell phone and pick up this book.

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