Sunday, August 10, 2014

Daniel Levitan on Modal Control

That's not how he puts it, Levitan talks of attention, but his recommendations, as in the following paragraphs from his piece in the NYTimes, are about behavioral mode as I've been writing about it on New Savanna.
Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.

Increasing creativity will happen naturally as we tame the multitasking and immerse ourselves in a single task for sustained periods of, say, 30 to 50 minutes. Several studies have shown that a walk in nature or listening to music can trigger the mind-wandering mode. This acts as a neural reset button, and provides much needed perspective on what you’re doing.
Well, some things can be done in 30 to 50 minute chunks. But other things require longer periods of time, such as serious writing. That's one of the things you need to learn, what kinds of tasks can fruitfully be done in what periods of time.

He's in favor of naps and vacations too:
Taking breaks is biologically restorative. Naps are even better. In several studies, a nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue. If we can train ourselves to take regular vacations — true vacations without work — and to set aside time for naps and contemplation, we will be in a more powerful position to start solving some of the world’s big problems.
Concerning vacations, I made the following remarks in my essay, The Evolution of Narrative and the Self:
Back in my days as a university faculty member, I noticed that I was not in a really good research frame of mind until three or four weeks after the Spring semester had ended—my brain had to have one set of modes to handle the academic routine of teaching and committee work and another set for intense thinking. Transition from one set of modes to the other took time [14].
Extended vacations may well afford a similar change in modal organization. One takes a month off from work and spends two weeks on safari in Africa; then boards a small sailing boat and island-hops in the Caribbean for a week, and concludes with a climb up El Capitan. With all that time away from work, the mind changes and we enter different modes of experience. Reading travel books, or novels, even the best, is quite different from going there. Physically restructuring the mind requires time and a steady regime of different sensations, desires, and acts. That “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment” (Coleridge, 1817, p. 6) through which the Rank 3 reader transports him/herself to another world is but a transition between currently available modes. What happens after days and weeks of exploration has a different quality.

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