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I swear I’m an intelligent gal. But ask me what I did last weekend, or even what I ate for breakfast this morning, and it’s fairly unlikely I’ll have an answer. If I don’t write something down, I won’t remember to do it. I also once thought that my car was stolen because I forgot I parked it in a different lot than usual. (Seriously—I started nervous sweating and everything.) My friends and coworkers often laugh at my forgetfulness, but a new study suggests that I may, in fact, just have a smarter brain.
A study published in 2017 by researchers at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research found that being forgetful means your brain is automatically processing what is important information (and what isn’t). If the brain decides that certain information is irrelevant, it will get rid of it in order to make room for more substantial information.
Transience is the brain trying to forget. Persistence is the brain trying to remember. These two processes basically work in sync to enable your brain to make decisions in the future. By getting rid of irrelevant information, it makes room for that which is more pertinent to your life.
image via darling magazine
Thanks to a history class you were forced to take in high school, you may know that a certain event took place—say, a civil war in America. And you probably know that this war pitted the North against the South, and that all that had to do with slavery and independence. This information is important, and can help you make decisions in the future.
Knowing the basic history of your country means you understand your rights, and recognize how past events broadly contribute to current movements and discussions—like understanding why certain flags and monuments in the news carry meaning and spark debate or controversy.
But your brain probably doesn’t remember what it deems “irrelevant” information that no longer directly affects your decision making, such as the dates of certain battles or the names of each general involved. Instead, it’s focused on remembering other details that are relevant to your post-grad life at hand (think: the date your next credit card payment is due).
Yes, some people can magically remember all the details of their life, but this could just mean that their brain is slower at doing a clean-out of the unimportant information. This buildup can lead to an information overload, and makes your thinking processes slower, over time.
image via elle
Being forgetful isn’t all good news, however — especially if it’s affecting how you work. Mistakes like forgetting to print a document for a coworker or not emailing back an, “Okay, thank you!” are annoying at best, rude at worst, but most importantly, they’re common. You’re only human. And these mistakes are probably forgivable by your team.
But if you’re always running late to meetings, missing project deadlines, or not emailing clients back in a timely manner because you’re forgetful, that’s a red flag — you need to get organized. Focus on one — or all — of these tips:
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1. Organize Your Time
If you know you’re not the best at remembering things, figure out a system of reminders so that you can’t miss the next meeting. Maybe you’re a Google Calendar person, and you need to start using the reminders by scheduling everything. Maybe you need a printed calendar hanging in front of your face with meetings written in bright red ink. And maybe, maybe your work bff wouldn’t mind grabbing you before she walks down to the meeting herself. Whatever works!
photo via elle decoration
2. Organize Your Space
If you’re losing track of documents because you forget where you put them, it’s time to straighten out your desk. And if you’re struggling to respond to emails in a timely manner, organize your inbox. Try prioritizing your emails, or favorite the ones that need a response today. You can also create folders for work projects like daily to-dos, to-read now, to-read later, to-do by end of week. Or, you could mark emails that you need to get answers for as “unread”—so that you trick yourself into re-reading them—a self-serving reminder!
3. Organize Your Projects
And as far as project management goes, you should try to figure out a to-do list that works for you. Some people like handwritten lists, some people like an email to reference, others like sticky notes, or online services like Evernote, Trello, or Asana. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you could try breaking down your tasks into smaller chunks — three of them, to be exact — and tackling them one at a time. I’m also a big fan of writing myself a weekly recap note on Fridays before I leave for the weekend—it’s a lot easier to come back to work on Monday and know which projects to get started with.
Managing your workload is definitely doable, and getting organized will minimize the opportunities you have to even be forgetful. After all — you can’t forget to email your boss if there’s a sticky note hanging on the side of your computer screen that says “Email Your Boss”… right?