Why We Need Memory Tools

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By Dr. Cynthia R. Green

Memory tools, such as list making, force us to pay closer attention to the information we need to remember, and they give that information meaning by placing it an organizational scheme. In addition, they let us control what we need to remember by giving us the opportunity to review it. Here are my top five reasons why list making is beneficial:

    1. Lists get us to pay attention to things we need to remember. Using lists, just like using any technique to boost your brainpower, will focus your attention more actively on the information you need to remember. Why? When we work with information, we pay closer attention to it.
    2. Lists help us remember the things we need to remember but not memorize. We deal with three kinds of information:
      • Things we really need to remember

This category includes certain things we really must remember, such as our name, address, phone number, PIN numbers, email addresses, and the names of people we work with closely. Committing this kind of information to memory is essential.

    • Things we don’t really need to remember. Let’s face it, there are some things we really, truly don’t need to memorize. For example, the number to a restaurant that you visit irregularly or the channel of a station you never watch.
    • Things we need to remember but not to memorize. This is information we need to remember for a brief period of time to help us function effectively. Such information includes appointments, errands, and phone calls we have to make. In general, however, we do not need to commit this kind of information to long-term memory.
  1. Lists help us control information. As discussed in step 2, many of us suffer from information overload. Not only is there more that we need to recall, but we have more sources of information to worry about. While before you may have received a letter, memo, or phone call about something you needed to do, today you get information in many more ways, including voice mail and email. Most importantly, technology had increased the pace at which we receive information. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with it all. The best way to deal with information overload is to take control of the information and organizational tools, such as list making, help us to do exactly that.
  2. Lists get us organized. When we are organized, it’s easier to find and remember the things that we need. We all know that life is easier when we have a system for placing and finding information. Lists allow us to organize information so it’s easier for us to remember. Organizing information allows us to give it meaning, which makes it more memorable.
  3. Lists help us feel better. When we are organized we forget less and do more and generally are more effective and productive. Feeling effective is important to our self-esteem, since we feel better about ourselves when we see ourselves as capable. Being more productive means we are making the most out of our time, so we have more time to do things we really want to do. This is how list making can help us feel better.

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