Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point author and general pied piper of intellectuals everywhere, wrote a New Yorker article in 2002 explaining a similar phenomenon: ” why our desks are messy.” Gladwell writes:
“But why do we pile documents instead of filing them? Because piles represent the process of active, ongoing thinking. The psychologist Alison Kidd […] argues that “knowledge workers” use the physical space of the desktop to hold “ideas which they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use.” The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven’t yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. Kidd writes that many of the people she talked to use the papers on their desks as contextual cues to “recover a complex set of threads without difficulty and delay” when they come in on a Monday morning, or after their work has been interrupted by a phone call. What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.”
I’m going to have to try FreeMind just on the basis of this interesting article!
(update 2/2/09) I did try FreeMind and still use it on occasion. It’s free, and very interesting in assisting the thought process, for some people. (update 2/16/09) And then along came PersonalBrain. See my several blog pieces on that software.