We deal with a lot when we are at work. We have multiple demands coming at us from multiple directions. We are absorbing, processing, storing, and trashing information constantly. We are juggling interruptions with distractions with priorities with impossibilities… I hear there was a time before the modern age where a person felt inclined to work at a pace that was self-determined and not overridden by our “time is money” culture. Those days are long gone, and it is only recently that we have begun to pull back on our workaholic fervor. Current ideas on striking a proper professional health revolve around taking time away, both long and short term; exercising during lunch; breaking regularly; avoiding multitasking; and organizational effectiveness, just to name a few. If we wanted to discuss ways to reduce stress in a computer environment, we might talk about UX design and reducing cognitive load.
In UX Design, or User Experience Design, the web developer or software artist works to build a platform that is easy to understand and pleasant to use. Doing so might involve choosing a soothing color palate, removing unnecessary icons, or rounding the edges of the corners of text boxes, which sounds weird but really works. Developing an interface that is structurally intuitive is a core component of this practice, as well. An ideal software or web page will be similar to others you have used before and be organized in a way that makes sense without egregious explanation; this will help reduce your Cognitive Load.
Cognitive Load is a term coined in the late 1890s by Australian educational psychologist John Sweller. The theory of cognitive load discusses the limitations of our mental capacities and the toll taken upon the same by the three basic components of our working short-term memories: intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load. The intrinsic load is determined by the complexity of the information being processed. The extraneous load is comprised of all unnecessary input (such as the baby crying in the background), and the germane load describes processes that are actually processing the processes, turning random short-term memories into organized and potentially well-structured thoughts and ideas. While cognitive load is often talked about in relationship to education, where relative cognitive load is used to describe a person’s learning capacity, the concept is also transposed to discussions involving the workplace, for it is in the workplace that we constantly pit “what is possible” against our own, individual, innate human capacities.
We have already established that the work environment can be stressful, and we have already determined some of the many things that we can do to remain as healthy and as stress-free as humanly possible; but something we haven’t covered as thoroughly is the effect our technologies have on our respective cognitive loads. Even under the best of circumstances, working on a computer requires a different type of thinking than working with your hands, and in situations where we have learned, due to a rising demand for efficiency and productivity, that we must work with both simultaneously, the constant shifting from process to process (in our heads) can be stressful. It can take a while for the processes we use while on the computer to “background” themselves, and learning to transition easily between these types of activities can take years.
There are certainly some things we can do to help ourselves deal with these types of frustrations:
Do you have other ideas on reducing cognitive load in the computer environment? I would love to hear them…
Overcoming Fragmentation in the Mobile Workforce
Optimizing Internet Security in Construction