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Submitted by williamelledgepe on


Has anyone else noticed decreased memory with increased responsibilities?  Or is it just age?  Or both?  Any advice?

Since a job change 2.5 years ago I noticed it became noticeably harder to remember action items.  At that time my responsibilities became less linear and the array of projects changed from fewer/larger to more/smaller.  I also took on some operational and emergency responsibilties.  At first I thought it was because I had started working for a High I who had a particular addiction for shiny squirrels.  Recently, however, after receiving a promotion and a new High I boss, it is possibly a little worse - even though my new boss does not suffer from squirrel chasing.  

I used to remember details to the n-th degree, but now I find myself asking directs and skips - to remind me of what we talked about last time.  I even ask "what did I say last time?" with discomforting regularity.

Am I alone in this experience?

ashdenver's picture

I used to work in a very linear job as well.  Okay, maybe not linear but each project (up to 110 at a time) would have its own file and it was linear inside each of those. I didn't need to remember anything because, honestly, who could remember the subtle nuances of a constantly rotating base of 100+ projects all the time? I would note everything I could where needed and I would use Outlook mercilessly to update my notes, update my due dates/times for each milestone that needed to be accomplished so I could stay on-target for all of them.

Now I'm in a role where it's pretty much the same 10 projects all the time and I've been using Outlook a lot less than I used to so I'll also say "what did I say the last time we talked about this?" I used to work in a place where "if it wasn't documented, it didn't happen" and that's not really a mantra at this company so I've gotten out of the habit of documenting things as well as I should.

It might be age; it might be increased or different types of responsibilities; it might be both. Whatever the root cause, I'm thinking that documenting might be the resolution across the board. Thanks for posting this, @william - I will now tackle a documentation schema that will work for my current role and responsibilities in this new organization!


mmcconkie's picture

Sorry to hear that. I know that can be rough. To help with that, I recommend Nirvana. It's a web app. It very helpful for task management and making lists. If you're familiar with the Getting Things Done mentality then you will love this. It was created specifically with GTD in mind. Your fading memory is no match for a strong task list with project details and due dates! Good luck.

mrreliable's picture

There is absolutely a correlation between the type of work you're doing and the reliability of your short-term memory. Don't panic, that will make it worse.

Our line of of work requires intense focus on dry technical details and synthesis. During training we discuss a phenomenon we call "brain purge" because it happens to every one of our writers and causes all sorts of distress. You can spend two weeks or more on a project, researching an issue to death, living breathing sleeping the subject, turn it in, and five minutes later someone can ask you about it, and you can't remember having done it.

I've seen people who have truly been frightened by it, and it looks like you're rattled a bit. Obviously I don't know what's going on in your head, but if the memory issues are isolated to specific work tasks or environments, it's probably a normal process. I've seen it dozens if not hundreds of times where I ask a question about a recently-completed project and the iniitial response is a deer-in-the-headlights look. Then, little by little the memory and details start coming to mind along with a certain amount of anxiety. Even when we've warned people and they've experienced it before, it's unsettling.

I'm sure someone with more psychological knowlege would be better able to explain what's going on, but don't go making any appointments with the Memory Care Center just yet.

NLewis's picture

mrreliable is correct in my experience.  The more duties we have and the busier we get the more the memory tends to slip.  I'm a former member of MENSA with an IQ in the top 2% of the population.  I live and die on Outlook reminders and copious notes.  Even with those things I forget quite a bit - particularly when business is booming.  

One thing that helped me a lot was learning to rely on my directs to handle the details of their positions.  It took me a while to get used to get used to not feeling like I had to know everything.  Now I know it's okay for me not to know the specifics.  That's what they're there for.

There are still plenty of times when I have to go back to a formula I put together months ago and I'll have no idea what it's supposed to do.  Other times I'll finish a big, complex project and be quite pleased with myself, only to have it rejected because I overlooked something simple and obvious.  I think we just have to learn to live with the idea that we're not perfect.  Stressing about it will just make it worse.

brianr5's picture

I had this happen after a reorg, where our team and responsibilities grew.  Evernote really helped me out.  I'd create a notebook with a note for each direct for O3's, and notes for recurring meetings.  I put all of my action items and due dates in the note after the meeting and what was agreed on.  It really helped for keeping things from slipping thru the cracks, and for helping me to follow up on my directs and other team's deliverables earlier.  It's helpful when you know you've discussed something months ago, but can't recall the details.  Evernote stays sync'd across your devices so you can access from your pc, your phone, or tablet.  So in a meeting, it is quick to pull up a note if needed even without your pc.  

arc1's picture

Another vote for Evernote - very useful for implementing concepts from Getting Things Done, with the fundamental premise being that until you have an external system you can rely on, you're wasting huge amounts of brain power just trying to remember actions.

And I also struggled conceptually with more senior roles and not being across stuff specifically any more. Then I realised my peers were now people who didn't expect me to always know the details, they just wanted me to make sure someone did and we got the right results.

Big paradigm shift for me.

SuzanneB's picture

I'm not sure if it's age or increased responsibility but I cannot remember most of my action items (personal & business) if I don't write them down. I've loosely adopted David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology. I keep a to-do list and a list of projects. The projects list is in Outlook as Tasks. Then at least once a week (I have it on my calendar) I review everything and make sure the "next action" for each project is on my to-do list.

For directs... I take notes in O3s. And I write down my actions there (A with a circle around it). I then transfer those actions to me to-do list.

ashdenver's picture

I ran across this article the other day ...

The most interesting aspect to me was the suggestion of changing your default appointment time in Outlook to 15 min increments. I've always done the other bits - if it goes in the calendar, it gets done - but this will be fun to try in 15 min increments.