Window Blinds and Task Visualization Part 2 – Task Analysis

At a recent meeting with Dr. H, we listed all the activities I perform reasonably well. An analysis shows these tasks exhibit few of the problems described in Window Blinds and Task Visualization Part 1. This task analysis reviews the following tasks:

  • Walk a pre-determined route to relieve frustration and gain the benefit of physical exercise
  • Hand wash dishes using soap and hot water and set aside to dry
  • Hand wash clothes using detergent and hot water and hang to dry
  • Water plants using water and watering can
  • Prepare hot meals using fresh foods, staples, canned goods, cooking utensils, and stove, or microwave
  • Write TAQ submissions using computer workstation, data files, and web resources
  • Hang window blinds using hand tools, glue, paint finishes, surface preparation materials, wood elements, fasteners, and a commercial blind product

Task Analysis – Details and Attention Demand

Table 1 below provides an overview of each activity. The Details column reports the level of detail associated with each task. A synonym for this category is “Attention Demand.” A task which requires significant attention to detail is more difficult to perform than a task requiring little attention to detail. Walking is an ingrained, natural, and almost completely automatic activity. At the other end of the scale is window blind replacement which requires considerable attention to detail.


Table 1 – Elementary Task Analysis

Task Analysis – Elements

The number of Elements associated with each activity represents the number of associated physical components. Walking requires less than five elements (outerwear, boots, house keys). Window blind replacement demands paying attention to more than 20 elements.

Task Analysis – Multi-Tasking

Multi-Tasking identifies the need to perform two or more task activities at the same time. When I worked for Gargantua I engaged in significant multi-tasking: 1) Conduct a structured diagnostic interview with the client; 2) Enter client information in a case file data-base; 3) Search product database for equipment specifications; 4) Search product service history for similar problems; 5) Formulate a diagnostic action plan to exclude specific error states; 6) Identify the faulty component; 7) Order the replacement part; 8) Engage in small talk with client to avoid any “dead air” during the call. All of these activities needed to occur within the same time period. I am unable to perform such work today.

All the listed activities, with the exception of Meal Preparation, are monolithic in nature. I engage in one discrete task at a time. Meal Prep involves multi-tasking. I may be monitoring the cooking of one item while I chop a garnish, and a second item heats in the microwave. Meal Prep offers varying degrees of complexity. After the injury, I ate a very simple diet of fish, potato, and one or two vegetables. My diet centred on simple one pot steamed meals. I am slowly reintroducing more complexity into my diet.

Task Analysis – Task Switching

Human beings can only perform one discrete task at a time. When a compound task is performed the individual must engage in constant task switching, rapidly alternating between different tasks. This was the case with my work at Gargantua. Other activities permit serial performance of tasks. Hanging the window blinds involved a great many tasks including cleaning tasks, measuring tasks, cutting tasks, drilling tasks, etc. Each task is performed in consecutive order. The measurement task occurred before the marking task, before the drilling task. Unlike my work with Gargantua, there was no need to perform all these tasks within a single block of time.

Task Analysis – Decisions

A walk requires few decisions. I suspect this relief from constant decision making is the reason I find walking so comforting. I simply do it. My performance is acceptable and there are few opportunities to introduce error. On more complex tasks, the potential for error is high. I frequently fail to see my errors until days, weeks, or months later.  My failure to notice error is a significant problem.

Brain injury will impair cognitive function but will rarely impair ingrained procedural task performance. Walking, food preparation, washing cooking utensils, and clothes, are all tasks which I have engaged in for many years. This is in contrast to the window blind work which is unique to a specific blind product, and to a specific mounting location.

This is an elementary task analysis. While working with Bow Valley Offshore, I devoted much time to the conduct of formal task analyses in order to design the training programs required to staff two new offshore drilling rigs.

Task analysis may assist in the identification of “problem” tasks and it may also help identify tasks which I may capably perform. One concern is my preference for highly routinized activities; these are the types of activities most easily automated. To put this observation in context – I am extremely proficient in exactly those tasks society seeks to eliminate through automation. This implies a declining level of occupational demand for a person with my skill levels.