Frequently I get asked how I remember things with my broken short term memory. The short answer is , I make a list. In this little article I’m getting into the subject of lists and how to go about them. Not making too much or too few lists and what not.
This is purely my way of getting by with memory disfunction and a lot of the stuff is applicable for people with fully functioning brains as well. Because everyone’s mental energy drops during the day. And in the end only sleep can recharge the brain.
It’s also nog a ‘one size fits all’ solution. There are lot’s of variations within the field of memory and how to memorize stuff. This is just a representation of how I do it. And I hope some of you will get some inspiration for managing ones own memory deficiency. We all have it. We all forget stuff.
I thrive with stability, a good nights sleep, a steady day planning. And my day to day is where my first list comes around the corner. My weekly planning. It’s a weekly representation of what I’m doing that week. The must do’s and how much time a have for other stuff which I can use to plan things. Or not.
I am working with a fairly simply point system. During my recovery period I have experimented with how much an activity costs energy wise. For my daily load balance I derived the number 28 from these experiments. So in order to be able to get on the next day and be my cheery self I don’t want to go over that number.
So I have a maximum points in cognitive energy which is set to 28. My Energon (Transformers reference !) so to speak. I can use these point during my day and must not go over them. For example, reading an easy book for half an hour , minus 1 point, A hard one minus 2. Outdoor appointment 3 points down.
I can also collect points by resting, well not totally, like mediation for 15 minutes 0,5 points added, running for an hour 1 point added. All adding and subtracting towards the 28 total points available.
So that’s the rundown of the first list. It’s not an exact science by the way, it’s my guideline for the week. There are weeks which will be better, or weeks that are worse. But staying near to the 28 points will mean the majority of my weeks should be stable.
But there are more lists, a list for when I set foot outside my door. Which contains of stuff I need to bring. Phone, keys, wallet, headset and so on. That list has been replaced by a ready to go bag which contains most of these items. Basically a list in a different form. Always ready for its purpose.
There is a list for whatever pops in my mind. So stuff that comes to mind and I want to remember. It’s basically the collection of my short term memory.
Within my daily planning there is stuff to do. Which will get on a to do list. I really hate that list as it is the never-ending list of lists. It gives you the feeling that you are never finished. Which you are not. But this can be contained.
I have a small to do list which only contains 3 items , which have the most priority at that time. Ones I completed these 3 I trash the list. Which means I have finished something.
Breaks , my and everyones best friend. It’s impossible for me and the rest of us to be fully cognitively active at a high leven all day long. Yes even for the superstars among us. Cognitive energy declines during the day. And recharging only really occurs when sleeping. Processing the experiences of the day takes place during our sleep. And we have to process it all in order to recharge.
Taking breaks have the function of recharging in between. So in my planning they are there all during the dat. These have 0 in value, so they don’t do anything against the decrease of my cognitive energy. Only meditation and exercise will do that.
The one thing you must remember is not to start the to do list and knowing you cannot finish it. It leaves an open ended task at the end of the day which will haunt the mind during the rest of the day. So quitting earlier sometimes is not a problem.
If you are doing a high cognitive energy task, plan it strict. Make sure there are no distractions. Mail off, phone out of reach, take a break before starting , stop when the planned time is up.
Someone which has trained for doing high cognitive energy tasks has about 4 hours of real energy during the day to do these effectively. So going over that time hardly does the job any good, grinding it out for 8 hours might be fun for the hashtag ‘#alwaysbusy’ but really does not do you any favors. The elimination of distractions does.
The day planning and to do lists are what you can do at the maximum of one day. And very important, leave room for unexpected stuff, You can’t plan a day from dusk till dawn with pre planned activity’s , meetings take longer, so then also do breaks. You must not skip breaks. The day needs to breath , have room to grow or shrink. Otherwise you will loose steam and energy and that all takes away from doing stuff properly , and your day will be run by the unexpected.
Practical lists, or more notes are the final variety in my list repertoire. I write a daily entry in my journal which has all the stuff I did, my mental and physical state and whatever thoughts need writing down.
Besides the journal , I write when I read books. For some just a quick scribble to remember some things so I don’t need te re-read pages and get on reading. And notes when reading books I need for future reference. The things I want to remember I take notes and later I will work these notes out till full blown notes which takes a larger picture into account. I have a lot of summary’s of books I read. Very handy if I want to revisit some of the knowledge.
I used to memorize a lot and could revisit a lot out of the top of my head, nowadays that is very hard, and writing helps me with this proces.
Finally, write the lists and notes on paper, with a pen, or pencil. Not in digital formats. Not in an app, not in words excel or whatever just write it down.
Ok maybe just a format for the weekly planning, but fill it out by hand.
Writing as an activity, etches the writings in the brain. And amazingly enough also in my damaged brain. So buy notebooks in all shapes and sizes and start writing.
This is the first epistle about life with brain damage and the practical side of things all people can benefit from. Nobody has endless amounts of (cognitive) energy. But with some simple methods you can improve some aspects.