These days, you don’t have to have a good memory, you just need good memory tools.
The older I get, the more I fear dementia. It’s not super prevalent in our family gene pool, but eventually it attacks all of us. So I’ve researched how to keep the synapses firing. And more important, sought memory tools to take a load off of my already too full brain.
It turns out that the most effective leaders use tools to help them concentrate on the most important tasks at hand. So a side benefit to keeping your brain sharp might well be a more successful career.
I use Google Calendar. It has every birthday and holiday that matters and reminders of when I have to do monthly stuff, including things that should be reflexive, like paying the rent.
And I religiously note every appointment, sharing it with the other attendee(s) and putting the key details of what it’s about in the note section. Imagine using your calendar like it’s an administrative assistant and you’ll get the idea.
You can also block out time on your calendar for writing, exercise and connecting with the important people in your life who may slide into the background as those urgent tasks fill your wheelbarrow.
Whatever calendar you choose to use, make sure it works across all your platforms, desktop and mobile, so you can enter stuff anywhere… and get reminded! I also create separate calendars for things that I share with specific groups. They all appear on my screens in aggregate, but give me the convenience of sharing important information with family members separately from my work activities.
Evernote is my favorite memory tool. I use it daily to keep track of what I’m working on, short inspirational insights I want to remember later, and as a reference for everything from cocktail recipes to drafts of the things I’m writing. Some of my author friends use Evernote as their content creation tool. Others keep one Miscellaneous folder where they dump things until they have time to sort them into specific project notebooks.
You can create a notebook for each project and can tag each notebook/note with a key phrase for easy access. I use Evernote as a collaboration tool, sharing things that other members of my team are working on with me. It alerts me when they record updates.
And Evernote also accepts all kinds of input, from Word docs to graphics. Most importantly, Evernote has a magical “Search” bar, which allows me to type in a few words and find anything. It’s hidden “in the cloud,” so I never lose the data. And, like a good calendar app, it’s built to work on any platform.
GetPocket.com is a terrific memory tool with a plug-in you can attach to your web browser. When you see something you want to save for later, you hit the browser extension, and it saves the page to your Pocket account in the cloud. I scan my Pocket daily and move things into Evernote that are connected to specific projects. I use Pocket extensively when I’m looking for references for my weekly inspirational messages and doing deep dives into research for the stories I write.
Memory Tools to strengthen your mind muscle
Can we prevent dementia? Can we slow it down if we have it?
Like any muscle, your brain requires exercise and the right fuel to stay strong. Stanford Health Care points out that many of the same habits that can keep the rest of our marvelous machine chugging along can strengthen the brain. What you eat, the exercise you get, avoiding dangerous habits like smoking, all play a role.
There is also evidence that if you keep challenging your brain, it creates new synapses and the rest of your grey matter will respond. Reading, learning new hobbies and skills and staying socially active are also the key to good memory health. Writing is also a brain builder. I have no data to back this up, but I like to think that those of us who are storytellers may well be building stronger minds as we contemplate the nuances of plot, dialogue and character.
Using tools like a good calendar app, Evernote and Pocket can offload the things you don’t need to remember, so you can focus on the task at hand without fear that you are forgetting something. Mixing them with life habits that strengthen your brain may well stave off dementia.
Used effectively, they will also improve your productivity and allow you to focus on “the now” without worrying about what you may be forgetting.