How to advance your career by improving your memory

Card-counting poker players aside, memory doesn’t appear to be central to most people’s jobs. But a good memory can help you out in a thousand small, significant ways every day.

Remembering the name of your boss’s spouse, your many passwords and the important things to add to your to-do list all make for a much more efficient workflow.

A good memory is both useful to you and impressive to those around you and will undoubtedly enhance your career prospects.

Improve your memory by improving your diet

Improving your memory isn’t all about mind games and problem solving. Some of the biggest benefits can come from looking after yourself better.

Limit your intake of sugary foods and drink plenty of water. Avoid high GI foods as sugar-induced peaks and troughs can seriously interfere with memory and make concentration difficult.

Exercise to make your recall sharper

Half an hour of aerobic exercise each day boosts oxygen flow to the brain, improves mental clarity, lowers stress and promotes good sleep. All of those things help memory too.

There is evidence that exercise boosts a brain chemical called norepinephrine which plays a strong role in memory function.

The key is making it regular. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking each day should make a noticeable difference.

Sleep your way to a good memory

This may be the single most important thing you can do to improve your memory. Getting enough sleep helps your brain store long-term memories and prepares your short-term memory for another day.

Aim to get 7 or 8 hours a night and avoid alcohol if possible as this disrupts sleep patterns. Look at your ‘sleep hygiene’ too; have consistent sleep and waking times, make sure your bedroom is dark and do not use TV or computer screens in bed.

Concentration

This sounds obvious but we are often so busy doing several things at once we don’t give our brains the chance to memorise the important things.

When you put your keys down, notice where you are. If it helps, actually say to yourself. “I am putting my keys down in the kitchen”. It is thought to take several seconds for the brain to really commit something to memory. Give it that time. Multitasking often means we are giving several things our partial attention. Give your full attention to the things you want to remember. That applies to conversations as much as anything else.

If you are talking to someone, stop reading screens or watching TV or whatever else you might be doing. You will be surprised how much richer the conversation feels when you can concentrate on it fully.

Environment

Although it may be difficult at work, try to create a conducive atmosphere to memory. Don’t have the radio on, try to encourage as few interruptions as possible. Ensure your table and chair are adjusted so that you are comfortable. Take regular screen breaks.

Memory techniques

Simple tricks can make a big difference when it comes to remembering specific information.

Mnemonic Devices are memory tools that give meaning and organization to a random group of words or concepts. You can come up with an acronym (BIG - Brian In Graphics) or an exaggerated visualisation (The film Life of Brian being set in the graphics department) or a rhyme (Brian looks like a lion).

It also helps to break down information into manageable smaller pieces. This is called ‘chunking’. The classic example of this is phone numbers. Most people will struggle to remember 100007100 but 100 007 100 is much more realistic.

Supplements

There may be some benefit to memory function in taking a multivitamin each day. Omega 3 supplements are also thought to help brain function.

Coffee

Coffee can certainly help us feel more alert and research suggests that in one particular area it can help us remember things too.

Although coffee doesn’t appear to help us make better memories initially, it does seem to assist us in recalling things we have seen in the past 24 hours. That then helps us convert short-term memories into long-term ones.

Don’t overdo it though as too much coffee is bad for both concentration and memory recall.

Meditation

Practicing meditation can help with memory recall. The way this works is not entirely understood but it is thought that by slowing the brain down, meditation allows for a more focused short-term memory.

Meditation also helps reduce levels of stress and tiredness, both of which are known to interfere with memory function.