Why do we need a memory? At its most basic level, our memory is there so that we do not need to relearn things; to take examples from early life, things such as learning how to walk, talk, read, write, ride a bicycle, etc. At a broader level, the memory’s function is to allow us to access relevant and accurate information at the right time. To access relevant information, research has shown that we are more likely to remember important things by writing them down and leaving our memory the job of knowing where the information is written down rather than burdening it with holding all the details in the immediate recall section of the memory stores. In other words, using tools both to jog our memory and to provide the full detail needed.
There are various strategies which will allow you to use your memory efficiently. The main strategies in the office environment involve realistic, prioritised to-do lists and the good management of diaries and contacts, as follows:
- Use as few places as practicable to keep written information, which will limit the number of places you need to search to find information; a diary, a list of contacts and a notebook are invaluable tools for this, and whilst most offices have electronic versions of all these, a personal notebook is always helpful to take notes from calls or other communications which can then be put into electronic form later.
- Keep to-do lists either electronically or in hard copy, prioritise the tasks and ensure they are realistic for the day/week involved. Remember to include routine administrative tasks to avoid having them build up.
- Tick off completed tasks as they are done, review the to-do list and revise it as necessary on at least a daily basis.
- Put all future appointments and deadlines in the diary as quickly as possible, putting in countdown reminders/cue dates before the expiry of deadlines at appropriate intervals, whether monthly or weekly.
- Check your to-do list and diary at the beginning and end of each day to help you plan ahead—for example, being proactive about things such as whether a meeting room needs to be booked for a meeting later that week/month, whether travel arrangements need to be made for any meetings and diarising reminder dates for chasing responses to emails or letters which have gone out that day.
- Use your diary to forward plan tasks (or salami-sliced tasks) on defined days/times and ensure that it is reconciled with others in your department or unit as necessary.
- Use alarm/reminder systems to remind you, say, 15 minutes before a meeting or a scheduled time for calling someone.
Consider whether there have been any times when you or another member of your department or unit has forgotten to do something at work and what method of diary or other management tool could be used to guard against that happening again. Think about how you can best use the resources available so that sufficient checks and balances are in place, remembering that it would be unfair on your memory to expect it to recall everything, no matter how important everything might be.