How To Reduce Cognitive Load With AI

I'm going to walkthrough how I've been using AI tools to reduce my cognitive load and free my brain up for more meaningful work and learning faster than ever before.

Like it or not, Ai tools have completely changed the way we work.

ChatGPT reached 100 million monthly users faster than any other application in history and companies are investing billions in adopting AI technologies to save time, save money and boost efficiency.

While lots of people are worried that AI will take their jobs by automating tasks Generative AI can also help us to find more time to do meaningful work, and improve performance and productivity.

How Can Generative AI Help?  

For me the key is to use tools like ChatGPT to manage the flood of information we're exposed to every day.

We have limited cognitive information processing capacity with the amount of information our working memory can process at any given time being pretty small in comparison to the high-velocity in-flow of digital information and always-on communications we receive on a daily basis.

There are three types of cognitive load: intrinsic cognitive load is about the complexity of new information - we want information to be as simple as possible to reduce our cognitive load; extraneous cognitive load is any unnecessary or distracting information which we want to try and minimize, things like notifications and social media; and germane cognitive load refers to how the new information is organized and linked to things we already know.

Sixty-eight percent of workers in a recent Microsoft survey indicated that they do not have sufficient uninterrupted time to focus on their core activities during the workday. The share of working hours taken up by emails, electronic meetings, text messages, and search for and review of digital content is increasing even more.

This is where tools like ChatGPT really can help us if you used correctly. In particular, generative AI can be useful in three major ways: reducing our cognitive load by automating structured tasks, boosting our cognitive capacity for unstructured tasks, and improving our own learning processes.

Reducing Cognitive Load

Generative AI tools can enhance performance and productivity by freeing mental capacity to focus on higher-value unstructured tasks.

Unstructured tasks are those that are less well defined and typically require soft-skills and creativity like resolving a conflict in work, negotiating a sales deal or spending time developing our skills.

We can do this by offloading structured and repetitive elements of work to generative AI tools. In addition to reducing cognitive load, this can also make the work we're doing more interesting by removing some of the drudgery involved.

Structured tasks are anything that has a defined input, process and output and are typically technical tasks like sending an email ormsummarizing information in a spreadsheet.

Generative AI is already showing benefits in reducing cognitive load across a range of industries. Lawyers can now use tools to efficiently locate and access case law and draft simple contracts allowing them more time to analyze complex legal issues and advise their clients.

In marketing and advertising, generative AI can automate routine content generation such as creating product brochures or personalizing email campaigns. A recent BCG survey of chief marketing officers found that two thirds of respondents were investigating generative AI for personalization, and half are exploring it for content generation.

In finance, banks are applying generative AI to reduce cognitive load from a constant inflow of financial market information. The AI quickly analyzes and summarizes annual reports, earning call transcripts, and analyst reports to keep the bank’s relationship managers better informed about important developments. By streamlining the information search and review process, relationship managers have more time to focus and serve their clients.

As these cases demonstrate, delegating some of structured tasks to generative AI can help to relieve the stress of cognitive overload so you can focus on more important tasks. Boring, repetitive tasks can be done faster, and possibly better, by a computer, while we can improve our performance on the more creative tasks that remain.

For me personally my team and I have been using AI creative tools like Opus Clip and Adobe Firefly to save time when it comes to editing video content and creating images for marketing.

We've also been using tools like Lemlist to generate outbound marketing campaigns with email personalization at scale. So again all of these pretty monotonous tasks which previously we might either outsource at financial cost or do internally at the cost of time and effort.

Boosting Cognitive Capabilities

Another approach to augmenting knowledge work is to use generative AI tools to boost higher-order cognitive processes to perform unstructured tasks. Three important areas are critical thinking, creativity, and knowledge sharing.

For critical thinking, generative AI can help us to ask better questions about the challenges we face. In a study in an executive education setting, researchers found that 94% of the time, engaging with an AI like ChatGPT led to asking a wider range and variety of questions than the respondents otherwise would. This in turn led to exploring ideas and possible solutions that they may not have considered, likely leading to better performance.

Another study found that ChatGPT was particularly useful in the idea generation and communication phases of strategy process. The AI tool created plausible strategic ideas with high efficiency. Its “storytelling” capability was particularly useful in helping to articulate and communicate ideas. On the other hand, ChatGPT was less helpful in suggesting ways to implement strategy, possibly due to the tool’s lack of access to detailed information about the company, its capabilities, and other relevant contextual information.

University of Missouri professor Tojin T. Eapen and colleagues detailed how generative AI can promote divergent thinking by making connections among diverse concepts. Gen AI assisted not only in developing new ideas but also in evaluating and refining them based on criteria such as feasibly, impact, cost, and novelty. In a separate survey of more than 1,000 content creators, two-thirds of respondents indicated that they use the tools for creative tasks. Fifty-three percent said using the tools enhanced their creativity and productivity. Furthermore, those who had used the tools had a higher number of followers and had generated higher income.

Beyond generating knowledge, generative AI can also help us to share it. Intellectual assets are dispersed across organizations in a wide variety of documents, policies, processes and individual heads, making it difficult for people to access knowledge that already exists in the organization.

By leveraging generative AI, companies can bridge the knowledge gap, facilitate knowledge sharing, and empower knowledge workers with know-how they need to excel at their jobs. For example, to assist its wealth management advisors, Morgan Stanley implemented a generative AI model, trained on a vast set of internally captured knowledge and expertise. Making wealth management knowledge readily accessible to every advisor in the company has empowered advisors to efficiently address their clients’ specific questions and concerns.

For me and my team we've used AI tools to better understand where we can improve our content creation workflows. We use tools like VidIQ which comes integrated with AI tools including a coach and gen AI tools that helps us to quickly test titles and graphics at scale.

Improving Learning

Achieving mastery requires practice rather than just theory. However, to be useful, practice requires feedback on performance — and providing personal feedback for every student or employee can be time consuming and expensive. AI tools make it possible to provide a 1-1 coach or tutor for anyone.

For students, Gen AI can play roles such as advisor, tutor, coach, and simulator. It can provide frequent feedback, personalized instructions and explanations, alternative viewpoints, and opportunities to practice through simulations.

For example, companies like Duolingo and Shiken have recently added roleplay capabilities allowing users to practice free-flowing conversations around specific scenarios together with AI tutors that provide constructive personal feedback to users upon request.

AI’s potential role in learning also extends to the work environment. Take, for example, the challenge of becoming a successful sales development rep. Gaining skills in this complex, fast-paced environment requires a combination of instruction, practice, feedback, introspection, and immersion with sales never taught in school.

At my companies sales professionals develop through a mentor listening and advising on sales calls and then meet the sales rep meets with the mentor and other trainees to discuss and reflect on their experience.

Generative AI can assist in this process, both during training and after. It can monitor a conversation with a customer and suggest what a sales rep can say or do to move the sale forward. It can also answer the sales professionals questions later.

A recent study of a call center introducing generative AI found that this type of support helped to improve productivity and quality for all workers, while also increasing employee satisfaction. It also accelerated individual learning by enabling novice workers to progress more rapidly along the experience curve compared to those who did not leverage such system.

This last use case is what I've spent a lot of my time building at my AI VR company Virti. The team have built a creation suite that allows anyone to create and edit soft-skills training scenarios like sales training and then deploy these on web, mobile and in virtual reality. Users can then have realistic conversations and see their analytics and feedback immediately before putting this feedback into practise in another on demand scenario.