I interviewed an expert

and other resources
I interviewed Allison Daminger, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University, who has written extensively about cognitive labor.
Excerpts from my interview are below.
Q. What advice would you give to people who want to broach this of cognitive labor with their partner, without it being contentious or accusatory about the division of labor in their home?
Allison: I would recommend starting small and concrete rather than vague and global. Rather than saying, I do too much, like, you need to help out more, I think starting small and figuring out exactly what are the tasks or areas where you feel like you're holding the load.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, laundry is really burdensome to you. You don't like monitoring the hamper or you don't want to be the one to have to remind people to put their clothes away. Then I would approach your partner and saying, I feel overwhelmed. I feel stressed, I feel annoyed. Here's where this is coming from. Would you be willing to take some of that on?

And assuming they are willing, then thinking very carefully about exactly what is entailed in laundry. I think the mistake a lot of people make is is not specifying or recognizing how many steps there are. So it's important to say, Okay, I want you to take over laundry. That means that you look at the hampers on a daily basis and see if they're overflowing, that means that you keep track of when our kids have soccer practice and make sure that their uniform is clean for Saturday practice. That means that you tell the shopper that we're running low on detergent, so we need to re-up. Just carefully kind of talking through what's entailed in that task and handing over the whole thing, not just one discrete task of,  Can you do laundry tomorrow? But rather, can you can you be in charge of laundry and all that it entails? That's probably how I would approach it. I also think It's important to give your partner space to do it in their own way.
Q. In your research, how does being the  “breadwinner” and earning more money in the relationship account for how people divide their household labor ?
Allison: In sociological literature on housework, there’s this idea called the relative resources hypothesis. The idea is that the person who earns more gets to kind of bargain their way out of housework, because they're contributing monetarily. So it's a key idea in the literature about, Why does this actually happen? It's slightly different when it comes to what couples say.

I do hear from couples that he or she is earning more money, that they're the breadwinner. I hear more often though about the specific demands of the job. For instance,  he just can't check his personal email in the middle of the workday, or he has to be on call after hours, or, something about the demand, the lack of flexibility, the number of hours, and the length of the commute. Those circumstantial factors come up a lot when people are explaining why they divide things as they do.

I think each couple should make deliberate choices that match their values, their circumstances, their preferences, etc. The problem, in my mind, is that the same circumstances get applied unequally, depending on gender. So for instance, I have a number of female breadwinners in my sample. And some of their husband’s takes the “female role”, but in a lot of them, the women just end up doing both [breadwinning and caregiving]. And so the narrative will be, She’s just, so competent. She’s a super woman at work and at home. She's so organized. Whereas with men, the narrative is much more often, he just uses it all up at work and has nothing left at home.

So I question whether the circumstances are quite as constraining as people sometimes make them out to be. I think there's interaction with deep seated ideas about what is possible for women.
Q. What’s the most surprising insight
you discovered over the course of your research around cognitive load?
Allison: When I was doing my interviews, I would ask people, before you had your first kid or became parents, did you talk about how the transition to parenthood might impact your career? Your division of labor? Did you make plans about how you would divide up the new childcare work? Most people say, No, we just thought it would kind of work out. We weren't talking about who was gonna be doing what with this baby. How it would change us.

I'm thinking about it a lot more than your average person because this is what I do for work, but it was really striking how many people slid into patterns, rather than mindfully planning for them. And often when I’m advising couples, or just talking to people informally, it's interesting to me how they'll explain something to me. They'll say, Here's the problem and often, they haven't really expressed that to their partner. There's a lot wrapped up in that fear of conflict. So, the piece of advice I probably give most often is to not default into something but to make active decisions as much as you can. It's more work in the moment but I think it serves you well.
About Allison Daminger
Allison Daminger is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and Social Policy at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Beginning Fall 2022, she will be an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on how and why gender continues to shape individuals’ experiences at home and at work, even as support for gender-egalitarianism keeps growing.
I experimented with a low-stakes dialogue tool for cognitive labor using found objects in the home, as a way to casually talk aboue the topic.
This exercise is meant to be casual, low stakes and low intensity. It is meant to be an informal conversation starter around the topic of cognitive labor.

In my case, I used a Lite-Brite (!) and set it in the busiest part of my house, my kitchen.
Each individual has one side or section and sort pegs by color.
— Yellow denoted Cognitive Labor and Green denoted Physical Labor.

3. Each time a task is completed and you remember the exercise, add a peg to the board. If the task feels especially cumbersome or difficult, add additional pegs next to the initial peg to denote the cognitive weight.

4. Set a note pad or paper and pen next to the system so you can jot down notes for each task, if you wish to.

5. When you and your partner are together, take some time to reflect and discuss some of the cognitive tasks you completed during the day.

What was an easy task that you accomplished?
What was a more difficult task to accomplish?
What cognitive tasks did you note that were easy for you? Why?
What cognitive tasks did you note that were difficult for you? Why?
Were any tasks difficult to define? Why?
Don’t have a Lite Brite? No problem! Some alternatives options below.

— Use the game board, pegs, and ships in the
same configuration as the Lite Brite

— Other household items like Legos would also
work well.

— Use any stickers you have around the home
and a piece of paper to track your labor.
Additional Resources
The Cognitive Dimensions of Household Labor — By Allison Daminger
De-genered Processes, Gendered Outcomes — By Allison Daminger
Fair Play Deck — By Eve Rodsky
The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic — By Emma
More Work for Mother — By Ruth Schwartz Cohen
The Second Shift — By Arlie Hochschild