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Last Updated on April 16, 2018

The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read

The Only Way to Remember Everything You Have Read

Our brains aren’t made to remember everything that we encounter. Unless you’re one of the rare individuals who has a photographic memory, it’s likely that details about the content you consume fade quickly.

How often do you recall reading an article, but forgetting what it’s about? Have you ever recognized a movie title but failed to remember the plot? If you frequently forget the things you’ve read and the movies you’ve watched, you aren’t alone.

Think about what you had for lunch yesterday or what you did last weekend. Those memories are probably blurry because they aren’t critical for your survival. Our brains have about 8 GB of capacity for immediate recall, and only the most essential information will make the cut. This can leave us with a blurred picture of nonessential information. Learn more about this in my other article: You’ve Been Using Your Brain Wrong: Human Brains Aren’t Designed to Remember Things

The human brain is not designed to help you handle with massive amounts of data. We’re bombarded with stimuli every day. If we processed and remembered everything, then it would probably make it difficult for us to function. Your brain sorts through all your experiences to weed out the significant and insignifcant things that we encounter.[1]

The first time you read something, finishing it is the only aim.

It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been looking forward to seeing a movie or reading a book. Unless the content is linked to your survival, chances are that you’ll forget what you’ve seen or read soon after viewing it.

Part of this is because your primary objective was to watch the film or read the book. When you’ve never seen something, your urge to finish the story is your main concern. After you’ve satisfied your desire, you probably won’t remember what you’ve seen. Finishing the movie or book is not the same as remembering all the details.

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Human beings store memories through a process called encoding. Our brain is better at encoding information when it can associate new information with pre-existing experiences.[2]

The first time we encounter information is akin to us passing strangers on the street. Your neurons process that you’ve encountered someone, and that’s the end of it. There’s no recognition, and after you leave the situation, you probably won’t remember who you saw.

    Some people do remember what they see, though. Why?

    You might feel frustrated when you can’t recall what you’ve just seen, but it can be even more maddening when you run into someone who seems to have absorbed everything. This is the friend that recites details from the movies that you watched months ago. Long after the finer points of a text have slipped your mind, they’re still talking about it. How do they do it?

    These people don’t have extraordinary memories. They simply take in the information actively. Since they’re actively processing information, they are able to experience the book details or the movie scenes repeatedly in a short time. They revise and synthesize the information so that it becomes their own.

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      It’s like taking the same route every day and running into the same people. You begin to recognize people and observe more about them because they are already familiar to you. Likewise, your neurons can easily make new connections when they have been asked to revisit and analyze new information instead of passively observing it.

      The key is to see, connect, and then repeat.

      The more you actively engage with the content that you are consuming, the more readily you’ll remember it. As your neurons revisit the same subject over and over, it’s easier for them to make new connections.

      Think of it like taking a walk through the woods. At first there is no path, but if you take the same route every day, eventually, you’ll create a trail. You’ll be able to move quickly and easily in a place where you used to have to move slowly. Your brain handles memory like this too. You want to build a well-worn path for your neurons.

      Don’t rely on your initial memory

      The first time you go through something, you’ll probably forget many details. You may find it difficult to absorb specifics because there’s too much new information. When you watch movies or read books, you may find yourself obsessed with what will happen next. Your goal is just to get to the end.

      It’s helpful to revisit the content several times. You may find that since you already know what happens, you’ll be able to appreciate the details.

      Replaying or rereading isn’t enough

      You can look at the same piece of information over and over, but it doesn’t mean that it will stay in your head. Rote memorization (memorizing by repetition) doesn’t allow you to make meaningful connections with what you’re seeing.[3]

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      To remember something, you need to apply it. Instead of passively taking in information or actively trying to memorize it by rote, it’s important to make connections. If you can apply what you’ve learned, get feedback, and re-apply a concept with feedback, it’s much more likely to stick.

      For example, reading a recipe alone won’t help you learn to cook. Cooking a meal and having the combined feedback of your taste-buds and the comments of others will stand out in your mind. Watching someone do an exercise never has the same impact as doing it yourself. A framework is all but useless unless you apply it.

      When you apply a concept or practice to your life, it becomes easier to internalize the information. Think about the first time you had to travel to work versus now. At first, you had to think about each step on the route, but now, you don’t even have to think about it. It is the combination of repetition and application that solidifies neuron connections.

      Have a question at the back of your mind before you read/watch it

      When you pick up a book or sit down to watch a movie, have a purpose in mind. If you don’t, your default mode will simply be to get to the end of the book or film. Have a question that you’d like to answer before you begin.

      For example, reading The Power of Habit without a purpose will not be very helpful. It will seem useless to anyone who isn’t ready to build a habit no matter how good the book is. On the other hand, if you think of a bad habit that you’d like to quit before you start reading, you can instantly connect what you’re reading with your own life.

      When you spot related chapters or ideas in books, find ways to connect them. Highlight them, write notes, or clip the sections that are related. Taking notes by hand is an especially valuable way to help you remember important concepts.[4]

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      People who watch lots of movies or read lots of books, but can’t remember them, waste a lot of time. They haven’t taken in any information that will actually help them. To avoid forgetting everything you see, apply it immediately after you see it, and revisit the concepts often.

      Have a mind like a steel trap

      Chances are that by tomorrow you will forget what you’ve read in this article unless you save it, highlight it, and make a point of relating it to your life. Bookmark this and come back to it so that you can remember what you need to do to have better recall on the media you consume.

      Watching movies and reading mindlessly is a a waste of time. Make the most of everything that you see and read by finding ways to engage with the content. Think of what you’ll be missing if you allow these learning opportunities to pass you by.

      Featured photo credit: Vecteezy via vecteezy.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Published on January 16, 2019

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

      We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

      You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

      You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

      That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

      Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

      1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

      Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

      We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

      To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

      At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

      The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

      2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

      Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

      The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

      In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

      It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

      It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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      So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

      • Are you a great strategist?
      • Are you an effective planner?
      • Is Project Management your strength?
      • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
      • Are you the ideas person?
      • Is Implementation your strength?

      Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

      3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

      One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

      Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

      Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

      Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

      4. Take Time for Planning

      “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

      One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

      You can take the time to think about:

      • What’s the purpose of the project?
      • How Important is it?
      • When does it need to be delivered by?
      • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
      • What are the KPIs?
      • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
      • Who is working on this project?
      • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
      • What tolerances can I add in?
      • What are the review stages?
      • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

      Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

      5. Focus on Priorities

      Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

      Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

      One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

      1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
      2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
      3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
      4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

      James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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        The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

        If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

        If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

        6. Take Time Out

        To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

        If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

        Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

        In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

        Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

        7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

        Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

        I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

        Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

        If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

        8. Stop Multitasking

        Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

        So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

        When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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        If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

        9. Work in Blocks of Time

        To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

        I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

        Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

        Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

        Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

        Then take another 10-minute break.

        Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

        By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

        10. Get Rid of Distractions

        Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

        “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

        Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

        If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

        11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

        You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

        Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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        Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

        12. Take a Time Audit

        Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

        Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

        You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

        Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

        Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

        At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

        If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

        13. Protect Your Confidence

        It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

        When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

        Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

        When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

        Final Words

        A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

        The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

        If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

        Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

        Reference

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