Car keys, appointments, shopping: We keep forgetting important things – because our working memory is overwhelmed. Here are some tips on how to never forget anything again.
Almost everyone knows that feeling: When you really need to go to work – but where is that damn car key? A two-minute search later: “Ah, there!” As soon as you got to the office, it became clear that when you were looking for the key, you missed the wallet. And in the afternoon? There is the sales manager at the door who you promised in the morning to call her back in five minutes.
Reason Why We Keep Forgetting
The reason for this forgetfulness, which is nerve-wracking and annoying, lies in our working memory. Like the RAM in the PC, working memory remembers things that we need at this moment. The problem: its capacity is very limited. If the requests for information exceed the small number of things it can save, it will be deleted consistently! “Car key wallet-breakfast box-morning meeting”: If such a chain of thoughts in the morning is followed by the idea of finally getting back on the treadmill in the evening, the probability is high that you will leave the house without a car key.
Fortunately, there are tips on how to train and relieve working memory – so that you can work more concentrated and forget less.
Here’s how to never forget anything again:
Reduce What You Want To Remember
Yes, there are the world champions of memory who seem to keep everything with ease. With Otto normal markers, however, the working memory fails reliably – whenever the memory is full. Or a distraction interrupts the storage process, such as a beep on the PC. Therefore, resist the impulse to say to yourself: “Oh, I don’t need to write that down, I can remember that.”
Instead, ask yourself two questions. First: “Could something happen that distracts me and overwhelms my working memory?” Answer yes if you should write down the to-do, the idea, or the thought on the spot – the likelihood is high that you would otherwise be memorable to forget. Secondly: “Is it possible to immediately implement this task, this project that I want to remember?” If you can answer yes here as well, you should do the task directly. If no, it means again: write down!
Choose The Right Note-taking Method
Writing down things enormously relieves the working memory. And relaxed: because of the risk of forgetting things decreases. However, this tactic only works if you do not subsequently mess up the note yourself.
Therefore, think carefully about which way to write down something that is the most practical for you. For those who usually sit in one place, the classic slip method can work. On the other hand, if you travel a lot, a smartphone app that can be used to conveniently sort to-dos and flashes of light is probably more suitable – or simply a calendar or a journal.
Whatever you choose: get into the habit of jotting down every little thing – and going through your notes several times a day.
Train Your Working Memory
The amount of information our working memory can store varies individually – usually, the maximum is between four and seven. The good thing is that the capacity can be increased in a very pleasant way. Games such as sudoku, chess, and snooker, in which you have to think through several steps in advance, to train your working memory.
On the other hand, meditation, autogenic training, reading, or playing an instrument helps to learn to really concentrate and to hide external stimuli. This also indirectly benefits working memory: the less information that is stored in the memory, the more likely that what is important will be saved.
As a rule of thumb, if you want to notice the effects, you should exercise for half an hour at least four days a week.
Reduce External Stimuli
A smartphone ringing here, a phone call there, the construction noise in front of the office window – and then the news broadcast in the background: With such a flood of information, our brain has a hard time sorting between “important” and “unimportant” – and stores things in the working memory, which are unnecessary.
An example: The signal tone of the mailbox indicates a new message. You read them and think to yourself: “Oh, I’ll answer them right away.” It is quite possible, that this information will replace more important information in your working memory. Would you check your emails once an hour – No message slipped, but your working memory would have less to save.
Therefore, take stock of the stimuli you are exposed to – and which of them you can influence. Then reduce the distractions as much as possible. A quiet hour can help you to discipline yourself – and to realize that the supposedly alternative flood of stimuli can very well be contained.
Stress and lack of sleep disturb the working memory because both put the brain in a kind of alarm mode – and the working memory as an energy guzzler is temporarily put out of operation. That explains why we forget more than we slept or are more stressed out than we already are and why people who do stress prevention at work, for example, are not only more relaxed – they can also remember more.