What is Distributed Cognition?

By: Gen Wright

Distributed cognition is a theoretical approach to studying the functioning of the human mind that was developed by Edward Hutchins and it was later incorporated in to the practical social behavior studies which were aimed at the improvement of learning capabilities.

The basic premise of this phenomenon is easy to understand - many hands make light work. So when you are trying to do something that is taking up more mental energy than you have available, you leverage technology and other people to offload mental tasks. Human minds have complex structures and functions, and they are probably the greatest multi-tasking machines around. But they have their limitations and when this limit is reached, you need to use tools to handle that have been keeping the mind occupied.

Sometimes, we find ourselves putting things off when a lot of work has been piled up. And we find ourselves working through small piles quite easily. This is about your mind feeling filled to capacity and being unable to handle any more work. You are probably drawn to less taxing work like watching TV or aimlessly browsing the web.

In these times, what you are essentially doing is that you are letting your brain finish the task that is keeping it preoccupied. So once it is done, you finally return to work. But often enough, the sheer volume of the work at hand might seem daunting and you reaction to it is perhaps wrong. You are gauging your workload incorrectly and hence you end up thinking you cannot do it well enough within the given time.

At these times, you know what you need to do and that is to get to work immediately, without losing anymore time. However, what you end up doing is quite the opposite and that makes you feel awful about the entire thing, Thankfully, there is a way to stop this and that this is through the lessons we have learned from the distributed cognition research.

You can essentially leverage your way out of the entire procrastination cycle. To do this, all you have to do is get a good planner and map on to it your thoughts feelings about the entire situation. Once you see them in writing in front of you, your mind will not be able to play tricks on you and you will know exactly what is going on inside.

After seeing them, think up the logical steps for dealing with the problems and getting around the blocks. Once you have successfully gotten around the things that have been blocking you from getting to your work, you start calculating and dividing your workload into batches based on time and amount.

What you are essentially doing is expanding your own ability by distributing a lot of processing from within your mind on to the paper in front of you. By doing this, you are actually shifting the load to different parts of your brain to deal with the problem. And so, you are getting your work done faster and more efficiently.

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Bill Tyler is Founder of the Bubble Planner, which develops the best time management tools for engaging your right brain. Discover planners and organizers that will help you unleash your potential.

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