Why is this interesting? - The Cognitive Transition Edition
On remote work, being back-to-back, and finding space to really think
Colin here. There have been countless discussions about the adjustments and pains of pandemic-related work. There’s Zoom fatigue, work-life balance, and the physical realities of finding a work from home setup that doesn’t break your body.
But there’s also something else that I have been trying to put my finger on lately. It’s outside our physical and familiar space, residing in our minds and subconscious. Something that as a newly-remote worker, strikes me as particularly difficult. And thankfully, Scott Belsky, author and head of product at Adobe, just captured perfectly. On Linkedin, he wrote:
One thing we have lost in the world of remote work and endless back-to-back zooms: cognitive transitions.
The short walk between meetings - or few minutes as ppl shift in and out of a room - served as a cognitive reset.
The skill of context switching is critical.
On a related note: I've never enjoyed taking out the trash and running errands more than I do now. My brain is craving the spaces in-between...
Why is this interesting?
Scott hit the nail on the head with this. Sometimes, with a tightly-packed schedule, jumping from video call to video call, we lose out on the mental space to unpack and process information. Even the most fastidious note-takers or Zoom recorders likely need a little bit of time to move from one topic to the next, particularly for more creative or strategic topics. As was nicely articulated in this blog post by Josh Kaufman: “In order to take action, your brain has to ‘load’ the context of what you’re doing into working memory. If you constantly switch the focus of your attention, you’re forcing your brain to spend time and effort thrashing, loading, and reloading contexts over and over again.”
The way we work now in many professions involves hopping from topic to topic, switching contexts from creation, to meeting review, to strategy update seamless. But where the rubber hits the road is actually having the deep thinking space to create and to process everything that is happening during meetings. The “do” part of your to-do list.
The places and spaces in between—the stroll between conference rooms, quick half-social catch up meeting with a colleague, or the quick coffee top-up—allow us a bit of breathing room and give our brains a moment to make connections they might not have made in the moment. It can be reliant on a co-worker, or just solo. But these times are crucial for solving problems.
Remote work has created lots of new behaviors. Some of them are positive in terms of work-life balance and the elimination of painful commutes. But sometimes the meeting lineup in the schedule looks like losing at Tetris. And in order to think or create, it’s important to carve out some of your in-between moments that have been lost in remote times, to unleash the processing power of your mind. (CJN)
Project of the Day:
WITI has long been a fan of the Japan-based writer and thinker Craig Mod. He’s got a new project, which tells the story of a 1,000 km walk throughout Japan, stopping at small cafes along the way. In his words, Kissa by Kissa is a book about walking 1,000+km of the countryside of Japan along the ancient Nakasendō highway, the culture of toast (toast!), and mid-twentieth century Japanese cafés called kissaten.” The photography is beautiful, and Mod describes it not as a guide, but rather like a film and something you can return to over time. Support the project here. (CJN)
Very related to today’s topic, I have found the practice of interstitial journaling to be useful in particularly over-scheduled moments. The basic idea is to take a few minutes before switching contexts to capture your thoughts at that moment. That way, when you return to working on that particular project you can get your mind ramped up far more quickly. (NRB)
UAE vs Turkey: the regional rivalries pitting MBZ against Erdogan (CJN)
Nokia to build a 4G network on the moon? Via BP (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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Welcome to what it's like to be actually-autistic even in the normative, pre-pandemic world, only many of us frequently need more than a walk from one room to another, or a quick stop to refill our coffee, in order to make these transitions. It's interesting to me how many of the new challenges presumptively normative people are encountering in the pandemic are analogous to an autistic's every day life. (Zoom fatigue was the first thing I saw like this; it resembles autistic sensory hell.)