Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Little Rule That Could Change Your Life Forever

So, I am such a big dork that I am proud of the way I organize my folders, both real as well as the folders on my computer.  If you're like me, your folders have way too many things in there to keep track of visually.  It may looking something like this:

Ugh, that is visually daunting.  It's hard to see any details or structure for how things relate to each other, and frankly it just gives me a knot in my stomach looking at all the things I'm supposed to be keeping track of in my life.  In fact, I'm crying right now.

BUT THERE IS HOPE!  I have gotten my files and folders in order, and you can too if you follow one simple rule.

That's right, folks, you heard it here.  My organizational system follows one rule, and one rule only.  It is a rule that is based on empirically grounded psychological principles of how the mind works.  In fact, it is based on perhaps the most robust result in the study of human memory.

Now there is long term memory (memories of childhood, memories of alien abductions, etc.) and there is short term memory (memory of what you just read literally a second ago, weren't you paying attention??).  Long term memory is a mystery as wide as the ocean.  But short term memory--the memory underlying your attention--is not so daunting.  It's at least something we can explore experimentally without having to wait a long time.  So, it is attentional memory that is the critical factor here.

Speaking of which, I'm probably losing your attention, so here is the rule: 7+/-2

This is the number of things you can store in your short term memory.  And therefore it should also correspond with the number of things in an open folder.  Any more than that, it's time to organize it down to 7+/-2.  (That's anywhere between 5 and 9, for you mathematically disabled folks).

So here goes the principle in action.  Above, you got to see my "2011 Articles" folder (and don't you feel a little closer to me now??) which is way too cluttered.  At the bottom of the Finder on my Mac, it actually tells me how many items there are, in this case 25.  Sheessh 25 things to keep track of!  Too much.  So, that made me organize so that there were only 7+/-2 items.  And here's the result:

And it took me like 5 minutes, tops.  (don't ask how long blogging about it took me...)  I just decided to consolidate.  First I noticed that several folders could be considered "Discourse Analysis" and so I put them into, of couse, the Discourse Analysis folder that was already there.  And then I even realized that I'm really only keeping Discourse Analysis stuff because it relates to my dissertation.  SO, I put it in the Dissertation folder.  And so on, and so on. 

There it is.  When your life is feeling full to the brim and hard to keep track of, chances are, your folders are too.  And here's the simple rule to fix both: open folders should have only 7+/-2 things in them!

Thank you, goodnight.

No comments: