It happened again. I promised a coworker I would remember to do a small favor for them. I diligently wrote it down in my planner only come to work the next day and realize I totally forgot.
Now, I’m beating myself up again for being absent-minded and wondering, “Why am I always so forgetful?”
For you, maybe it looks like misplacing your computer charger for the 10th time that day, missing a meeting, or forgetting a client’s name within seconds of meeting them. Maybe you’ve panicked like me and wondered if you’re having early onset of memory loss.
But the good news is doctors say most forgetfulness isn’t anything serious. With hectically busy schedules and trying to juggle professional and personal responsibilities, it can be difficult to keep track of everything.
The bad news is not only can forgetfulness be personally frustrating, but it can also impact your professional reputation.
The key to combatting your natural tendency to forget is to identify what could be causing it in the first place.
“Though we jokingly refer to these as ‘senior moments,’ they happen to everyone – from the very young to the very old,” says Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD, founding director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
It helps to think of the brain as a series of networks. And when you’re trying to remember something, your brain establishes a new network. Memory glitches occur when there’s a break in that network.
What causes the break? Interference, which impairs your ability to focus. Interference can be anything from your cellphone ringing to background chatter in the office to your mind wandering. So the key is to try to limit interference or distractions.
Here are a few tips to limit interference and combat forgetfulness:
- Be intentional. Sometimes, you simply have to tell yourself it’s important to remember something. This can actually help because you’ll need to repeat the task or appointment to yourself. Use alliteration like “Meeting on Monday,” “Follow Up on Friday” or “Offsite in October.” For me, I can never forget a good song. So if you have to, turn that important reminder into a familiar medley.
- Color-code. Got a crazy schedule? Make it easier to remember using a calendar or planner with crazy colors. Designate bright colors for different activities. Colors are helpful because they grab your attention and improve cognitive learning. They can even relieve stress. I use an Erin Condren life planner, which already comes with bright colors and helps me plan my day hour-by-hour. I write down work activities in green, personal activities in orange, appointments in purple and fun/social activities in pink.
- Set reminders. Even when you write something down, sometimes you get too wrapped up in the day to check what you wrote in the first place. Set reminders on your phone so you get a buzz when you need to do a certain task or remember an upcoming appointment. Write on a bright post it and place it on your desk so you’re forced to look at it all day. Use little reminders as additional “helpers” for you to remember.
- Label. They say Franklin Roosevelt had one of the best memories – he could remember the name of someone he met just once, months ago, seemingly without difficulty. His secret? Roosevelt was able to remember the names of everyone he met by visualizing their names written across their foreheads. The next time you’re at a work event, try it. Place an imaginary, big, fat and colorful label on that person’s head so you’re sure to remember their name. Ask them to repeat their names one more time if necessary.
- Practice memory systems. Memory systems are like brain games in that they use image-based memory techniques to help you create visual labels and recall information faster. Because, often, the problem isn’t whether the information is within your brain or not, it’s retrieving the information from memory. That’s why memory systems involve the use of visualization and substitute words to create visual cues for remembering. Used together with visualization, memory system techniques like keywords, links and face-names can greatly improve your memory for names, dates, formulas, abstract facts, definitions and even foreign languages.
If you don’t recall anything from this post, remember this. We all have moments of forgetfulness, some of us more than others. Be honest with yourself if you tend to be absent-minded. And don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably forget something. But it’s important to find ways to limit distractions, get more sleep and keep these best practices by your side so you can improve your memory and combat embarrassing forgetfulness as much as possible. The key is being more intentional about remembering.
Did I forget anything? Please share your memory tips in the comments below.
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.