The Science-Backed Memory Trick That Just Might Work for You
Have you had trouble remembering to complete a task that you vowed not to forget? I know I have. Who hasn’t?
Despite our best intentions, we all have had moments where we forgot to do something important. Even if we write to-do lists, once those tasks are mentally filed away we can only hope to retrieve them from our brains at the right time.
This just happened at Aha! when one of the Customer Success managers forgot to reschedule a demo with someone else on the team. Another team member quickly jumped in to help out, but not before we had an impromptu round of “who’s on first.”
So how do we get around this very human conundrum?
There is good news: New research suggests that the added step of linking to-dos to distinctive cues can help us remember to follow through with action.
Study participants who were told to look for a particular thing as a reminder to complete a task were 36% more likely to follow through. In another experiment from the same study, participants were told to look for an alien plush toy when redeeming a coupon—leading to a 40% increase in coupon usage. Across the board, researchers found that the more distinctive the cue, the higher the completion rate.
These results do not surprise me. I know from my own experience that remembering through association actually works. Here are a few tips for making this low-tech trick effective:
Our senses are assaulted with information all day long. A good reminder stands out. Sometimes I intentionally leave a book upside down on top of a box of vitamins on my bathroom counter when I really need to remember something the next morning. I see the book is in the “wrong” place and know I have to return a call that I got after dinner or make an appointment for one of my kids.
Whether you put a dog toy in your shoe as a clue to give Fido his medication or put a sticker on your cell phone case so you won’t forget to email financial reports to your boss, this clever hack requires a bit of advance planning on your part. Choose simple everyday household items and start building your custom reminder system ahead of time.
You know your habits and daily patterns better than anyone else. Leave the item out in plain sight—where you know you will see it—to trigger your memory and spur you into action. To help yourself out, clear away unnecessary clutter so that it will be unmistakable. That way you will be sure to stop and take notice.
The next time you want to complete a task that comes in when you don’t expect it, give your brain some much-needed assistance—with a visual cue that you can’t miss. And when you are reminded of something you would have normally forgotten, congratulate yourself on one small victory.
The only tricky part of this method? Remembering that you will probably forget. So while you don’t have to go elephant-sized, make sure your reminder is, well, memorable.
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