Hard tasks require a task set

The brain needs ready access to the information, plans, and procedures it will be using to solve complex problems. This collective task knowledge is known as a task set. But the task set is not always immediately available.

Returning to a hard task comes with a 'restart' cost where we first have to spend time and mental effort getting back into our task before making progress. It is then essential to create time and space for hard tasks.

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Tips from neuroscience to keep you focused on hard tasks

nature.com

  • Set aside large blocks of time for complex work. We will need a long gap for intense work as well as time to re-establish our task set. Continually switching tasks interferes with the quality of work.
  • Be consistent. Try to reserve a consistent time and place for our hard work and be protective of it. Working on the task repeatedly in the same context can aid in faster retrieval.

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When we multitask, the tasks use shared cognitive resources, such as working memory, It makes the tasks compete for the shared resource and interfere with one another.

  • Remove cues to other tasks. Put away e-mail and social media and their associated alerts.
  • Beware the power of attraction of easy tasks. While you may feel productive, they prevent you from doing the tasks you need to do.

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  • Stay with it. Keep on trying, even if you don't make progress every day.
  • Be open to reconceptualising problem structure. If the system we invented leads to dead ends, be open to looking for a new way to address it.
  • Take breaks. It will help keep mental costs low.
  • Interact with people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and viewpoints. It can help us conceptualise a problem in new ways.

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