“What about the seven wonders of the world, the seven seas, the seven deadly sins, the seven daughters of Atlas in the Pleiades, the seven ages of man, the seven levels of hell, the seven primary colors, the seven notes of the musical scale, and the seven days of the week? What about the seven-point rating scale, the seven categories for absolute judgment, the seven objects in the span of attention, and the seven digits in the span of immediate memory? For the present I propose to withhold judgment. Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all these sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I suspect that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence,” wrote George Miller.
George Miller, one of the founders of cognitive psychology, established in his 1956 paper, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information, that humans could remember seven, plus or minus two, unidimensional stimulus variables with accuracy – seven numbers, seven items in a list. After seven our working memory becomes overloaded. You may not have known who George Miller was, but you have most certainly heard about the significance of seven. So why is it so many of us expect ourselves to remember so many more than seven things?
As the founder of an early stage start-up, writing Figuring Out Fulfillment, and working full-time I’ve relied on what has always been my dependable memory. Recently I’ve found that even if I did remember what needed to be done I wasn’t progressing through my mental list in a way that served me best. I was spending too much time remembering and organizing as I went versus setting the plan and then doing. Relying on something that had always given me a sense of control – a good memory and organizational skills – was making me feel out of control. So I did what I reasonably should have been doing all along. I made a written list and the first thing on it was find an app to make lists and organize. I downloaded Evernote and within the first few days noticed the difference.The first step in taking control is dependent upon knowing what you can reasonably manage. Seven, plus or minus two.