Monday, August 7, 2017

Why You Can't Remember Stuff at Work -- and How to Get Better at It

I'll be the first to admit that my memory isn't what it was when I was 20-years-old, and I bet many of you would say the same even if you're only 25-years-old.

That can become a problem in the workplace, where you may have to recall a client's name you met two years ago or remember exactly why a project ran into manufacturing turbulence last quarter.

With so much information coming at us, it can be difficult to hang onto everything in our brains. Why, for example, can you remember the name of your third grade teacher but not the hotel you stayed at two nights ago?

Several studies suggest that you may be able to improve your memory by grouping multiple items into related groups. For example, when test subjects are given a list of words to recall in any order, they tend to remember them in similar groups, such as fruits or vegetables.

Memory experts believe that learning to cluster words speeds up recall responses and working memory capacity.

Try it with things you're trying to remember at work, as well as these other methods for improving memory:

  • Set up a routine. If you're always searching for your keys, make sure you designate a place at work and put them in the same place every day. Same thing with your unopened mail or items that need to be filed. 
  • Stop multitasking. I know, I know. You're one of those amazing people who is capable of writing an email, talking to a colleague on the phone and doing deep-knee bends. But your brain isn't functioning at it's best when you drag it in different directions, and studies have shown when you multi-task you are less likely to recall what you have learned. 
  • Get enough sleep. Successful people like Arianna Huffington are touting the benefits of getting more sleep, citing studies that show it's critical to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. No one has to know you went to bed at 10 p.m. if you feel like you're a wimp for getting more than four hours of sleep a night. Your improved memory and performance will be a big payoff for your career.
  • Pause. If you're having trouble recalling some information, take a quiet moment and try to place yourself back in the place where you originally heard the information. Think about the conference room where you and colleagues were discussing a new timeline for a project. How did the discussion begin? Who was present? What was the mood of the room? Recalling those aspects can help trigger your memory and enable you to remember more specific information.
What are some ways you keep your memory sharp?


Patricia Robb said...

I always put things I use often like keys, bus pass etc. in the same place so I never have to think where it might be. I also have a side pouch in my purse where I put things like prescription receipts, letters I need to deal with, receipts etc. That has helped me tremendously when I show up at the pharmacist, I know exactly where my prescription receipt is.
At work, I bring a pad and pen with me with each page dated. I bring it with me to meetings and I have it near the phone in case someone calls. Whatever I need to do, I write it down. Once I do it, I cross it off the list. Anything that doesn't get done, gets put on the page for the next day.
I also use tasks in Outlook, but for those on the fly sort of things where you don't have your computer, a pen and pad works great!
I also like to leave a 'paper trail' by sending emails. If someone tells me they will send something to me, I usually follow up with an email saying something like, Further to our conversation in the hallway. I look forward to receiving the ABC agreement. That way it is a reminder to them and to me. I then drag that email to my tasks and follow up if I don't receive it.
If I don't get enough sleep, my brain is mush and I really notice my memory isn't up to par.
I find giving myself enough time to get to a meeting, go to work, etc. helps me arrive less flustered. When I am calm it helps my memory.
I also find if I am organized, things will go smoother. When I am in charge of a meeting, I like to set things up ahead of time and have everything I need at my fingertips. That frees my mind to think of the more important things so I am not bogged down by little details that clutter up my brain.

Anita said...

Hi Patricia,
What great suggestions. I agree with you... that my life would be chaos without my "to-do" list and my calendar. :)