Wake up at 5:30 a.m. Work out for an hour. Grab a liquid breakfast on your way out the door. Drop off the dry cleaning. Pitch a new campaign idea to the head of advertising at the morning board meeting. Pick up the kids. Make dinner. Spend quality time with your sweetheart. Write that weekly report due in the morning. Sleep. Start again.
The items on your day’s agenda may change, but the number of tasks on your to-do list rarely seems to. You have a lot to accomplish—and lots of information to keep in your mind, ready to use at a moment’s notice. With so many thoughts swirling around, your mental organizer could use a serious overhaul. That’s because a scattered brain is like a messy desk—both require that you work much harder than necessary.
Megan T. Crump knows this firsthand. A contract assistant city attorney for the city of Milwaukee, she cites a lack of mental organization or “stream of consciousness thinking” as a major cause of her unsuccessful first crack at the Wisconsin Bar Exam in July 2003. “There was no rhyme or reason to my study habits. I just went from one thought to the next,” says Crump, 27, a graduate of Lansing, Michigan-based Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Inefficiency and counterproductivity are just two of the many pitfalls of an unorganized mind, asserts Todd C. Campbell, a psychologist based in Milwaukee. “These can lead to greater stress, fatigue, insomnia, memory loss, and impaired judgment,” he says. “Mental organization is extremely important.”
Like the rest of our bodies, we need to “train our minds,” says Stephen D. Eiffert, author of Cross-Train Your Brain: A Mental Fitness Program for Maximizing Creativity and Achieving Success (AMACOM; $17.95).
A Word On Multitasking
Commitment to one task or process allows a person to dedicate his or her cognitive capacities to the project at hand and not be burdened or slowed by having to switch back and forth between various tasks or projects, says Todd Campbell, who is affiliated with the Center for Addiction and Behavioral Health Research in Milwaukee. So why are we obsessed with doing it all—all at the same time?
“As our jobs, family responsibilities, and society in general place more demands on our time, we can easily be trapped into trying to be superpeople, superemployees, and superparents,” he says. In recent years, the pressure to be a multitasking whiz has increased. However, it is an overrated and counterproductive trap, often misconstrued as dedication to the job, while failure to multitask is often seen as being lazy. “There is a growing body of research indicating that multitasking is actually inefficient in terms of mental processes and capacity,” maintains Campbell. He asks us to consider: “Do we really want people driving in their ‘auto-office’ hurling down the highway at 60 mph, playing music in the background, talking on a cell phone, trying to figure out who’s calling their pager, perusing their computer map in order to find their next business stop, voice-activating their client invoice