Cognitive Load Management Can Quell Constant E-Distractions
By James M. Fraleigh
As if the daily deluge of email, help tickets, and IMs wasn’t enough to send today’s workers running for shelter, they may soon endure a new storm of information. Broader data harvesting via sensors, search engine alerts, and other inexpensive feedback systems will enable continuous information capture from unexpected sources. Online purchasing trends, company social media accounts, and even factory equipment at customers’ facilities could soon vie for workers’ attention.
Those who can transform these data into successful sales, inspired customer service, and proactive safety measures without becoming overwhelmed will give their organization a profound edge. Cognitive load management—the ability to filter information for importance, while wisely maximizing cognitive functioning using various tools and techniques—will help workers adapt to this new reality. It’s one of 10 crucial workforce proficiencies revealed in Future Work Skills 2020, a report by the Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute.
Researchers tell us that a distraction-plagued workplace—where we now switch tasks every three minutes, on average—inhibits efficiency and progress. To stay on task, we will rely on community tagging of content, inclusion of metadata for easier filtering, and curation by trusted network members. New online media tools like Gapminder, Wordle, and Visual.ly will enable us to visualize masses of data as custom infographics that reveal patterns, convey meaning, and captivate viewers. And when electronic distractions become too profound, we can install software like RescueTime to prevent access to tempting websites and quantify how long we spend using various applications.
Future developments will include automatic monitoring of our cognitive workloads, as our computers and other devices match the volume and content of incoming data to what we are capable of processing at a given moment. Using monitoring equipment and software, stock traders can learn to recognize the distinct physical and psychological responses that good or bad market moves can provoke, and improve their performance accordingly. Tufts University has taken the next step: a brain–computer interface that measures an investor’s emotional reactions to financial data and automatically moderates the flow of information to suit the user’s attention level. Such neuro-mechanical feedback systems will help anyone who must prioritize, process, and respond to multiple data streams under conditions of varying stress. Consumer and office applications of these prototypes will become vital for efficient workflow—and for keeping our personal priorities orderly, as the endless tide of texts and “likes” swamps us at home, too.
Learn more at www.apolloresearchinstitute.org.
James M. Fraleigh writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.