The Deceptively Simple Technique I Use to Mitigate Working Memory Impairments
I’ve suffered working memory impairments for more than nine years, ever since a relatively minor head injury left me with post-concussion syndrome, which I’ve written about before.
Working memory is defined a few different ways, but the one I find most useful is the ability to temporarily hold and manipulate information in your mind while doing tasks. It’s one of the executive functions, and you use it all the time to navigate through the day.
If I leave my brain to its own devices, I get easily sidetracked, forget what I’m supposed to be doing, forget to do simple things, and generally just make a mess of what I’ve set out to do.
I’ve tried a lot of productivity methods over the years, from the Pomodoro Technique to the Bullet Journal. I still use a lot of them in specific situations, but they just didn’t fill the specific need I had. Several months ago, I started using a whiteboard with a simple running list of what I had to do over the course of a day, but I still struggled a lot. I mentioned it to one of the specialists I see for my condition, and he said I should try a pocket-sized notebook or my phone instead of the whiteboard. Something I could easily slip in a pocket and carry around with me.
This is just how I do it; maybe it could work for you.
I use a small notebook instead of an app because I need something I can use immediately, at a glance. Using an app on my phone means starting the screen, signing in, switching to the app, and so on. Too much friction.
It’s a to-do list, but I use it differently than I remember using to-do lists before my injury. Before, a to-do list was just a back up. Now, it’s almost like an external working memory of what I’m supposed to be doing.
Now, when I get up in the morning, I start on a fresh page in the notebook. On the first line, I write “Now:” I leave the second line blank. Starting on the third line, I write a list of the things I need to do without worrying about their priority or the order I need to do them in. That will come later. Each item gets a letter. On a typical morning, my notepad page might look like this:
A. Drink water