It pays to be mentally sharp. The more facts and figures you have at your fingertips, the more you know about specific situations, the more you recall past experiences and outcomes, the easier time you will have understanding the problems and opportunities you face, and then coming up with productive and successful ways to work through them.
While your natural range of mental sharpness varies from year to year, month to month, day to day, and even hour to hour, there are some tricks and techniques you can use to squeeze the maximum out of whatever brainpower you have available at any given moment.
Here are a few of the most useful:
Make Information More Digestible
You encounter tons of information every day. Most of it slips away, as it should, because it’s not important or it’s easily retrievable next time you need to know it. Whenever you come across some information that you need or want to retain, however, you can make it easier to capture and keep with a few conscious procedures:
- Review it several times until you begin to see patterns and you get a sense of its meaning.
- Break it down into smaller, simpler chunks.
- Think of an example, an analogy, a story, or an image that ties the information as directly as possible to your own work and life.
You can also use memory tricks, of which there are many. For example, one of your memory tricks might be to frequently think of a coat hook. You can then visualize something hanging from the hook that reminds you of the information you’re trying to remember.
Exploit Your Sharpest Moments
Your brainpower fluctuates throughout the day. Since you can’t escape this fluctuation, it pays to recognize your sharpest moments and exploit them to do your most important thinking and learning.
For example, “morning people” can use those early hours to analyze problems, make plans, or review and learn some important information. If your brain doesn’t kick into high gear until later in the day, you can take advantage of those peak moments to make a plan or set up tasks for the next morning.
During your inevitable low periods, it’s better to avoid demanding or challenging mental activities in favor of routines, chores, and tasks that you can do easily.
Create Crib Sheets
Another way to make maximum use of your brainpower is to leave yourself notes that you’ve created while your braining is humming at top efficiency.
Start with a summary of the information you’re trying to learn or remember, but in your own words, as if you were explaining the essence of it to a stranger. After the summary, include an appropriate amount of detail. Explain the matter as if you’re talking to someone who needs it broken down into easy-to-understand terms.
For example, it’s helpful to synthesize complex relationships between people or things into simpler ideas, perhaps even black-and-white rules you can follow without thinking. You can also capture the essence of longer documents or even ongoing discussions and negotiations.
These notes will help you retain the information you’re synthesizing, and also more quickly re-grasp the essentials next time you return to this matter.
Another way to stoke your memory for easier recall is to involve your visual retention systems. The way you recognize, analyze, and retrieve visual information tends to use specialized areas of the brain, so bringing them into play effectively adds another layer to your memory.
If the information you’re trying to learn and remember includes visual elements like charts, graphics, photos, and other illustrations, pay extra attention to how they look and what they are trying to convey.
It’s also helpful to create your own visuals – even if they’re just stick-figures or simple graphs. The act of creating a visual is usually even more memorable than studying one created by someone else.
Either way, visuals greatly enhance memory.
Although taking these and other steps to perk up your memory requires a bit of extra effort and intention, the results can be extremely valuable in sharpening your ability to produce more effective results in your work and your life.
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