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Thinking Straight: 3 Ways to Navigate Information Overload

by in Lifestyle on 4th June, 2020

It was in the middle of a bookshop furrowed in the heart of Chelsea, one sunny afternoon, I remember feeling frazzled after a job interview that I had been running frantically in order to catch. I remember I stood out because of two things, I was the only one in hijab, and the color of my hijab was pink. I know, I didn’t have enough time to iron my black one. The minute I entered the building I was met with a sea of faces, peering from behind their black-clad uniform. Was I the Elle Woods of this Crowd? Next time I wouldn’t let myself down again, I would wear a black hijab.

So anyway back to the bookstore. I was casually browsing feeling a little deflated. When there in all its Marble covered glory, Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload peered up at me. it was beaming, “read me”.  I believe when there is a strong pull of emotion, coming from you when you are in need, it acts as a signal, the universe finds a way to respond and bring your need into your lap in heaps and bounds. By universe, I mean Allah (SWT). If you are reading this, chances are you are not very organised, and normally there are a plethora of reasons for this, one of them though, is due to how your mind works. If you are able to ascertain anything about the organising process it is to learn techniques that suit your mind, methods only found through trial and error which ultimately make things easier and simpler for you!

Here are the tips I managed to absorb from that tremendous read, that changed my life. (bear in mind this was two years ago, let’s see what habits I kept.)

Leave Space for the Important Stuff

There is no secret formula for keeping organised, I have come to learn that is was in my 20’s that the real adulting began, and the countless number of bullet journals, idea pads, dream notebooks, and year planners would be purchased. Perhaps I prefer the aesthetic of being organised so I can take a picture of it, and post it online, the very thing that is stopping me from actually being organised, I later found out. So this Daniel Levitin guy, he is an actual scientist, therefore uses a nice bouquet of statistics, percentages and scientific knowledge to mystify us and tell us about what on earth is going on in our prefrontal cortex every time we scroll through our Instagram/Twitter feed.  Our smartphones can navigate over 200 million sites at the touch of a button, scary right?  We have over 3 million books stored on our PC’s as Levitin tells us we have created a world with 300 exabytes, that is 300,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of human-made information.  We are forced to make decisions with these bits of information all day, every day. The compelling properties of the human brain are categorised by him into Richness and Associative Access. Richness refers to the fact that every thought or experience is still in  the brain somewhere, Associative Access means our thoughts can be accessed in a number of different ways. “the human brain isn’t organized the same way you might organize a bathroom or an office space, there are multiple systems in the structure of the brain that are disjointed”.

The fact that we are inundated with information, pseudo-facts, irrelevant chat, images, and memes, makes it even more exhausting trying to navigate and sieve through it all. To help us distinguish between information and knowledge.  As Levitin puts it, we are doing the job of 10 different people whilst trying to keep up with ourselves.

Every time we scroll through arguably irrelevant junk on the timeline we are actively participating in the processes which dictate whether we end up losing our keys the next day. But it gets worse,  the more we scroll, the more we lose valuable and important things, like the pin for our credit card, email passwords etc. Understanding the processes that are occuring in our brains, is incredibly important for functioning, knowing what it is that may trigger or cause these memory lapses can help to change the blueprint of your day dramatically.  So, in a nutshell, we only have a certain amount of clear space in our minds, and what we choose to fill it with, will ultimately determine how much space we leave for more ‘important’ objects of high priority, like our keys, or phone. If you spent the morning scrolling through your Instagram feed, for example, you have used valuable space, where your memory normally would access reminders to remember the important items.


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Make Your Own Planner

I felt like at one point, I was spending ridiculous amounts on the aesthetic of pretty planners, but doing nothing to actually stick to them. I realised more effort had to be made in order for me to appreciate how my planners and pretty books must be utilised, they must be inundated with scribbles and smudges, the month should look jam-packed. So I found great ideas on Pinterest illustrating how to make calendars and planners.  DIY sessions are not only a lot of fun, they can be therapeutic, get your creativity flowing, and at times be a form of self-care too, as an activity that can help bring you to the present- with mindfulness. You can paint your plans on your wall, download printable pretty templates from online Etsy stores. When you spend time cutting, gluing, sticking, colouring and drawing, your hands feel the subtle burn of the work that goes into it. You are hyper-aware of the time you spend indulging, it brings you into a good mental space, creating value in what you have created, a lot more than if you had purchased it impulsively. You will start to use it more often, and the more attractive, and interesting, and creative you take it, the more likely you will want to use your year planner and look at it often.

Remember You are A Capable Human

I noticed that often when I am in a particular mindset, I adapt to the lifestyle that goes with it. For example, when I needed to compete in a women’s football championship, I had to think, eat, and train like an athlete. I really believe in the art of interchanging between the many selves we have inside of us, according to the version of you your life requires of you at that given time. You have a fun and creative self,  a moody reflective self, a hardworking studious self, a family self, a social self for friends, a workplace self, a protective sensible self,  an adventurous self, a brave self. The list goes on, but in this capacity, you need to bring forward the organised self. Give her a name, she will be your mini Alexa in your mind! Your organised self is a version of you, that you can embellish, the fully grown adult version of you. What would you like your organised self to be like? Would you prefer her to always remember your alarm for fajr, do you need her to schedule your meetings, would you like her to be able to continue life regardless of how you’re feeling? Become your own P.A take on the persona of the most organised human you know. It will start off almost like method acting, you will feel like an imposter and laugh at yourself, but be persistent, the actions and mindset we practice daily, can become habitual, and later on become a part of our character, it is all about training it, like a muscle. Say to yourself, “today I will have to be Alexa until I get my adulting done”, then I can relax and be myself again. Trust that you are a capable human who is equipped with the skills, knowledge, and patience to execute your tasks efficiently, with ease. If you have confidence in your abilities to be organised, telling yourself over and over that you ARE an organised human, eventually, you will become this.

“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an, 2:286).

Stay mindful!

One of the biggest challenges of living in a big cosmopolitan city, especially a place like London, can be its fast-paced nature. This can trigger a number of challenges, anxiety, tiredness, internal stress (the kind you aren’t even aware of), lack of mindfulness. One thing that struck me, is how often I am unintentionally participating in this rat race, when I say rat race, I mean when you’re living your life at such a fast pace that it is Thursday and you cant remember for the life of you what you did on the Monday of that week, even if it was incredibly eventful ( true story.)  It was at this point I had realised it had been a while since I made time to jot down things, not just my plans, but things I was feeling, reflections, writing down what I did in my day, and even thinking about Allah (swt). I purchased a Dua journal to remedy that to a degree, a little journal where you can write things to Allah, write what you are grateful for, write specifically what you want to make dua for. Not only does this help you catch and actualise some of the many thousands of thoughts that whiz through your mind daily such as goals, feelings, stressors, and tensions, it literally slows down time.

We are told in Surah Al Asr : “By time! Indeed mankind is in loss. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience”. (103:1,2,3)

We are reminded that with the truth, and patience we will not be of those who will be at a loss for time. Allah (Swt) places Barakah in time when everything starts with him.  Perhaps the process of remembering him acts as a trigger to slow our minds down, perhaps our souls, and brains are in constant worship of Allah without us knowing, just like the birds, and when we are mindful of it, we will be rewarded.



Hanan has a Masters in Media in the Middle East from SOAS University. Trainee of the Muslim Women in Media institute Annual Cohort at UC Davis, California. Her interests lie in ethical fashion, modern-day slavery, and when not making Youtube videos she is somewhere in between Ballet and Kickboxing. King Julian is her spirit animal.