The next time you see a squirrel running around, give it an appreciative smile. That’s your fellow organizer right there.
As summer yields to autumn, these little fuzzballs are busy gathering nuts that will sustain them during the winter. Scientists from University of California Berkeley recently wondered exactly how they accomplish the life-sustaining feat, including the improbable act of finding each tiny hoard weeks after it’s created.
What they discovered was pretty impressive. Squirrels use chunking. Chunking refers to the practice of sorting information into similar, easily remembered groupings. For example, when learning a new phone number, we don’t memorize an interrupted series of 10 numbers, we (at least here in North America) learn the three-digit area code, the three-digit exchange and then the last four digits.
Likewise, a bookshelf stuffed with no semblance of order would make it very hard to find a certain title. So, we group books into fiction, non-fiction, biographies, etc. It’s much easier to recall where a specific piece of information is when it’s in a chunk of similar items.
Squirrels understand this.
Researchers discovered that squirrels are “scatter hoarders.” That is, they create several caches of nuts, each grouped in the same way. In the study, 45 squirrels were offered a series of nuts from several locations. Upon receiving nuts from a central location, the cute little rodents put the goodies into species-specific groupings: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. This suggests, scientists concluded, that finding the nuts weeks or months later in snow-covered forests, that the squirrels rely on a technique like chunking to recall where each pile (or species) of nut is hidden.
What does that have to do with you and me?
Aside from the obvious “we’re all nuts” joke, chunking is truly an effective strategy. Like the squirrels, it will help you recall where that seldom-used item is stored. For example, if you’re looking for Christmas tree ornaments, they would be “chunked” with the other holiday decorations.
Aside from storage, chunking can apply to productivity, as Mike Vardy explains on Productivityist:
Time chunking – and fine tuning the practice – allows me to work with optimum productivity. It’s worth trying in some form or another because it removes a decision from the process of doing: what to do and when to do it.
Take a lesson from our furry friends. Sort time, items, and effort into definable groups for better recall later. Whether you’re a human or not.