How to Memorise Effectively and Increase Productivity

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Being able to memorise things well can help increase your productivity. Every day we must make decisions, try to understand things, and solve problems to be effective. There are simple processes involved as well as complex ones, but many of those processes involve working memory.

Working memory helps us stay motivated during the day to finish tasks, stay positive and learn, as well as make better decisions. Doing all these things well will mean you can make more efficient use of your time. Later, we’ll go through some excellent strategies you can use to help memorise things better. First, though, we’ll define memorisation and find out a little more about working memory.

Let’s take a walk.

What is memorisation?

Memorisation is the process of learning something in a way that means you will later be able to remember it clearly.

Memorising is a fantastic way to keep the brain active as we age and is an important skill we can use throughout our lives. The benefits of having a good memory also go far beyond helping us to be more productive, such as helping to slow cognitive decline as we grow older, which makes it easier to learn new skills and memorise things as we enter our autumn years.

Four things happen in the brain when you memorise something:

  • Encoding – This is the process of sorting and categorising our thoughts and the events in our lives. Encoding stores information in the sort of long-term memory so we can recall it, allowing us to make sense of the information. There are three types of encoding, visual, acoustic, and semantic. Semantic encoding helps us understand the meaning of something.
  • Consolidation –Helps sort through the information that’s in your short-term memory before they are converted into long-term memories. There are two forms of consolidation that occur before final consolidation. First, synaptic consolidation happens a few hours after learning something. These memories are linked with the hippocampus and neocortex, where processing occurs. Then, as time passes system consolidation takes place and some long-term memories are no longer linked to the hippocampus.
  • Storage – After processing, short-term memories are stored in the pre-frontal cortex, and long-term ones are stored in the hippocampus, where episodic memories are formed. The basal ganglia help us form habits and process emotion, while the amygdala attaches emotional significance to our memories.
  • Retrieval – When we retrieve memories, our brains reproduce the neural activity that occurred in the brain when a specific memory was created. The key types of retrieval include free recall, serial recall (where we remember things in the order they happened), and cued recall.

When we’re memorising information, our working memory plays a vital part. Thus, it makes sense to explore how it works next.

Working memory: The details

There are various forms of memory we can use; most are types of short-term or long-term memory. One form of long-term memory is called episodic memory. You can think of this as a sort of filing cabinet in which you store all our history, knowledge, and memories of past events in our lives.

Short-term memory is more transitory. It’s what helps us keep information easily to hand, like remembering someone’s name and position at a company when you’ve just been introduced in a business meeting.

Working memory is not wholly separate from short-term memory, instead, it is what allows us to use information gathered in a short period rather than just remember it. It is what allows you to quickly recall that your friend is looking to secure a similar position as the person you just met, for instance. Then, you can make a note to introduce your friend later over email to help them in their job search. When you’ve used the recently acquired piece of information it is usually stored in your long-term memory, so we can use it again if needed.

So, working memory helps us use information and keep it in good order so that the onslaught of information we are faced with every day does not result in utter chaos.

An Illustration of working memory. A black head with cogs inside to represent the brain, beside a question mark.
An illustration of working memory. Image by Tumisu, from Pixabay

Here is a list of functions your working memory has.

  • Helps you prioritise information so we can work on the most vital tasks and leave others until later.
  • Enables you to retain essential information so you can use it effectively.
  • Makes it easier for us to follow instructions, a critical skill to have in the workplace.
  • Allows you to keep several steps in mind in a process, as when you’re cooking something, without constantly needing to refer to the recipe. Indeed, taking note of how often you need to check a recipe may be a good indicator of how good your working memory is.

Bear in mind, that research shows that working memory, along with visual-spatial memory shows a greater age-related decline, but chunking information into groups can help improve capacity slightly, though working memory is still limited.

Soon, we’ll share some cool memorisation techniques. Next, let’s ask why we need to develop good memorisation skills.

Why memorisation is important

There are several reasons why the ability to memorise things is a useful skill to have, apart from slowing cognitive decline. Here are some benefits of good old-fashioned, but often derided, memorisation.

It trains your brain to remember

While it may seem a waste of time to memorise things like lines of poetry or passages from a novel or other text, this kind of endeavour exercises the brain so that over time you can retain more information and make your brain more receptive to remembering things. Challenging your brain in this way is also an excellent way to promote better mental health.

It promotes neural plasticity

Research has indicated that by engaging in extended sessions of rote memorisation, people are able to recall more information because it helps strengthen neural connections with the hippocampus, a structure of the brain essential to the formation of episodic memory and important for spatial memory. In other words, memorisation improves neural plasticity as we age.

Memorisation can make your brain more agile

Memorising a list of facts can help make your brain more agile and flexible because it creates more activity and connections between neurons in the brain. When you can grasp something quickly, you will have more brain power to spare that you can use on other things. This is bound to help you work more effectively.

Doing exercises to improve your memory helps improve your focus

Learning to memorise things well helps you learn to focus for longer and more easily, particularly if you start learning to memorise things at an early age.

This also means you will have an easier time of it later in life as you work to learn new ideas and acquire new skills. Research into short-term memory suggests that having an underdeveloped short-term memory means you may have problems grasping core concepts in various subjects. By contrast, those who have a more developed short-term memory also have a better working memory and thus a greater capacity to learn.

Working memory plays a role in creativity

There is evidence showing that people who learn to focus and try to develop their working memory through doing memory exercises regularly can free up their minds and be more creative.

Now that we know the chief benefits of memorisation, it’s time to take you through some of the best memorisation techniques out there.

First-rate memorisation techniques

The aim of a memorisation technique is simple, to help you make sense of information with no context, so you’ll have a better chance of recalling it. There are numerous techniques you can try, but here we’ll break down some of the best into two main categories — visual memorisation techniques and verbal memorisation methods.

Visual memorisation techniques

These might work best for you if you’re a visual learner. Here are 4 popular techniques that fall into this category.

  • The story technique.
  • Mind mapping.
  • Creating flashcards.
  • Acting things out.
  • The journey method.

Let’s explore each in a bit more detail.

The story technique

If you are creative, this one might suit you. It’s an excellent way to help you remember a list of things. You just have to remember the first item on your list and then link it with others using your imagination and pictures to visualise links between all the items you wish to remember.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping can be a fantastic way to visualise things and come up with ideas. Mind mapping can help you:

  • Learn more effectively.
  • Develop a greater capacity for learning.
  • Become more productive.
  • Improve your problem-solving skills.
  • Have more fun when memorising stuff.

Be sure to personalise your mind maps to make them more effective learning aids.

Creating flashcards

If writing stuff down is your style and you like to give things a personal touch, flashcards may be the perfect memory aid for you. You can use them to break down information into more manageable chunks that are easier to remember.

You can:

  • Combine using flashcards with other methods, both verbal and visual.
  • Use them as prompts during presentations to help make sure you cover vital points.

For the best results, don’t overcomplicate your flash cards.

Acting things out

By acting things out, you can attach emotions to whatever you’re learning that make it easier to recall. As an example, you might re-enact a historical event to help you remember the details of it.

The journey method

This is a terrific way to remember a long list of items.

With this technique, you must imagine a familiar location, like your house, and fill it with each thing on your list, creating outlandish imagery as you do so to keep things interesting and fun. If your list is extensive, break it up into sections and put each of the items in a given section in a specific area of your house, then put the items in another section elsewhere in your imaginary house.

Lastly, imagine yourself going through the house and coming across each object you’ve placed there.

Verbal memorisation methods

These techniques are likely to work well for you if you have a way with words or prefer to rely on instructions.

Some useful ones include:

  • Chunking.
  • Spaced repetition.
  • Rhyming.
  • Spelling mnemonics.
  • Taking notes – with a pencil.

Let’s delve deeper into each one.

Chunking  

Chunking involves splitting up information into smaller pieces that are easier to remember. Also, one item in your memory can represent multiple others. Research suggests that the optimum number of items to have on your list is between 5 and 9. You can group information in whatever way seems most sensible to you.

Spaced repetition

We tend to forget things unless we are repeatedly exposed to something at regular intervals. So, go over new material very often at first, then less often, then try to recall the information without referring to any notes you may have taken. After a while, that info will stick in your head, and you’ll be able to remember it with little effort.

Make sure there is a gap of a day or two between your attempts to recall information at first, then you can start to leave it longer between attempts.

You can check out the steps of spaced repetition detailed in an earlier post, here.

Rhyming

Putting info into rhyming verse can really help you remember information because our brains like patterns. It’s why many of us remember adverts with a catchy jingle.

So, why not get creative and start coming up with nice little rhymes to unlock the power of your memory?

Mnemonics

Sometimes, we struggle to remember a word or what it means or refers to because it sounds remarkably similar to something else, as in the case of stalagmites and stalactites. You can also use mnemonics to help you recall how to spell a particular word.

For example, to help you recall that the word necessary contains one ‘c’ and two ‘s’s,’ you could tell yourself that it has ‘one collar and two sleeves.’  Another one you can use for this word is ‘Never Eat Crisps, Eat Salad Sandwiches And Remain Young.’

Use mnemonics to make remembering something a cinch.

Two puzzle pieces fit together with the word mnemonics and memory written on them.
From Shutterstock, brought by the author.

Taking notes — with a pencil

Writing things down generally helps improve recall because by doing so, we force our minds to prioritise certain pieces of information over others and actively participate in absorbing new information.

It also means we must record the information in our own words, making it easier to remember.

Wrapping up

We’ve covered what memorisation is, delved into working memory and how It functions, and talked about how memorisation can benefit us. Hopefully, now you know a little more about it, you can use some of the techniques to learn how to start memorising information effectively and becoming more productive.

So, go forth and start practicing memorisation to transform your memory into your new productivity superpower today!

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold an MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site, and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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