Everything Else: The Power of the Junk Drawer

The final chapter in Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload is “Everything Else The Power of the Junk Drawer.” He begins by reiterating the most fundamental principle of organization, the one that is most critical to keeping us from forgetting or losing things is this: “Shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world. If we can take some or all of the process out of our brains and put it into the physical world, we are less likely to make mistakes. But the organized mind enables you to do much more than merely to avoid mistakes. It enables you to do things and to go places you might not otherwise imagine. Externalizing information doesn’t always involve writing it down or encoding it in some external medium. Often it has already been done for you. You just have to know how to read the signs.

Levitin then uses the example of the numbering ot the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Frankly, I have only understood a portion of this numbering system and not the whole system. So I learned something here. It is quite ingenious.

He then goes on to discuss the periodic table of the elements. This ingenious organization of the chemical elements has led to the discovery of new elements. Moreover, given this ingenious organization, there are already defined places in which they fit.

Next he discusses mnemonic systems for remembering names. You can find the technique he discusses in the healthymemory blog post “Remembering the Names of People.” (Use the healthymemory blog search block to access it).

Now the power of the junk drawer can be found as the result of browsing and serendipity. Browsing should be slow and leisurely. You need to be able to assess the content and potential value of what you are browsing. The reward might be the very real phenomenon of serendipity in which you discover something valuable that was not the objective of your original search. I suppose we can leisurely browse with the objective of some serendipitous finding.

Stumbleupon.com is one of a number of websites that allow us to discover content (new websites, photos, videos, music). Try it, you just might experience a serendipitous finding.

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