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13 Tricks to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

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13 Tricks to Help You Remember What You’ve Learned

Memory is fallible. If you forget everything in this article, remember this fact: Researchers estimate that we lose 90% of everything we learn immediately after learning it. Ninety percent. Have I got your attention now?

Trying to recall information can be like digging a hole without a proper shovel: Sure, you can implement what you have to make the hole, but the tool you employ is makeshift. Or perhaps you only have your hands.

When our minds begin to absorb new information, there is a limited amount of time before that information becomes useless to us. For several reasons, our brains are in a constant process of forgetting. Most of the details that you learn are lost to you within a short time, because your brain only has limited space. And your brain doesn’t actually know how to determine if a detail will be useful to you at a later time… so it just forgets it.

Throughout your learning process make time to ensure that you will remember the information you want to remember by following these 13 simple tricks.

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1. Acknowledge How You Learn

Articles are published every day about how the educational systems of the world are flawed, for various reasons. Perhaps the most fundamental component that is missing from these systems is the process of learning itself: students are not learning how to learn. Facts and figures are thrown at pupils, and they are asked to memorize them by rote. Students are not told about the process of learning and what goes on in that process, how the brain commits information to memory and how to recall it. Each example in this series relates to either the learning process or the ability to recall – incorporate these activities into your own processes to enhance your ability to remember.

2. Motivate to Remember

When you are interested in a subject, you are more likely to remember what you have learned. Motivate yourself with authenticity. Is this a subject that you are passionate for? If the answer is yes, then you are on the right track. If you have a zest for knowledge already, then you know this is the case when it comes to learning. Learning one task begets an insatiable urge to learn more, and your hunger grows as you realize how much there is to learn in the world. On the other hand, if you find that you are unmotivated to learn something or if you have a shallow relationship with the subject, then your brain in turn will be less interested (and therefore, less likely to be able to recall it). When you select a subject that you know you will find engaging, then you will have a greater opportunity to remember all about it.

3. Concentrate to Remember

Concentration utilizes a great deal of brain power, and signals your mind to fix a process or subject into your long-term memory. Your attention must be undivided, and your focus must come naturally. If you are fatigued or distracted, then it is very difficult for your mind to commit information into memory. Set up a peaceful space without distraction when you are going through your learning process, and you will be more likely to recall the details you’ve learned.

4. Listening and Reading Aren’t the Best Ways to Learn

When you are trying to learn and recall something, listening and reading pale in comparison to other forms of learning, like group discussions or teaching. In order to learn something well, you must be concentrating, and often we are struggling with the information we learn from simple hearing and seeing. Activities must be hands-on and, as humans, all of our best learning comes from making mistakes. So get as involved as possible in the process so that you can learn at your best.

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5. Calculate Recall Times

You’ve got to challenge your mind to recall what you’ve learned. This allows your memory to not only show you that it’s working but the process itself improves your ability to summon the information you’ve learned. According to the experts, there are a myriad of times that are best for when to try to recall. (One UCLA study argues that the best time to recall something is right before you are about to forget it!) The simplest solution: study again after one hour, and a third time after 24 hours. The argument is that you will lose what you’ve learned quickly, so study it again within an hour. Also, after a full day passes you are likely to forget the information if you do not review it. While this is a broad-yet-effective solution for the recall problem, there is a better way.

SuperMemo.com houses a calculator that determines the best time to test your memory recall. Basically, a computer program figures out the moment that you’re about to forget something, and challenges you to recall it – precisely in that moment. Warning! The user interface is stuck in the nineties and the material may seem a little kooky. But I assure you, if you want to become a memory machine, this site has exactly what you need. (For more information, read this Wired article about the site’s creator, Piotr Wozniak.)

6. Take Breaks

Break up your learning, and give your body & mind time to relax. You should pepper twenty minute breaks throughout your study time, with a long break in the middle for a meal. Ideally, learning should be done on a cycle. Unfortunately everyone is different, so there is no magic number of minutes or hours that you should study. On average, an individual can remain focused on a task for about 45 minutes, so this is a good number to start with. For some, the length of your study time may be even longer. As you go through your process, pay attention to mental and physical cues to fine tune the length of your learning time (i.e. mind wandering, fidgeting, etc.). Adjust your study time accordingly.

7. Study Before Bed & After Waking

The best time to learn – or review information that you’ve learned – is just before you go to sleep and right when you wake up. Before you go to bed and right after you wake up, your brain secretes chemicals that are designed to make your memory more concrete. At other times of the day, the mind is continually refreshing the contents of your short-term memory (causing you to forget things). Also during the day, your mind is overloaded with constant information, so there is not much room for anything new.

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8. Scrutinize, Connect, and Elaborate

Learning is not a static activity. Your brain is trying to make connections between the information you are learning and what you already know. So look deeper at the processes and make connections. For example, if you are learning about airflow and Bernoulli’s principle, compare your existing knowledge of laminar flow in water to further cement the new info you are learning. Similarly, by examining the processes of a task, or the details of the information, you allow your brain to have a better grasp of what you learn. Again, don’t just look at the facts and figures. Develop a working knowledge of the details and the process, thereby providing your brain with a framework for your learning. Moreover, when you connect the information with that which you already know, then your mind will remember the particular similarities within the processes.

9. Teach What You’ve Learned

Teachers make mistakes. When they fail or make a mistake, they’ve got to learn how to correct the mistake. And mistakes are good. Research shows that when you make a mistake whilst teaching, you must go back and check your work, which familiarizes you further with the processes of the task. Furthermore, when learning is hard, you are performing at your peak, and you are more likely to recall the information at a later time. Because teaching takes a great deal of concentration, your brain kicks your memory absorption into high gear. So teach what you’ve learned.

10. Force Recall

Everyone will tell you that flash cards are the best way to remember something. And they’re just about right. By forcing your brain to bring back what you learned through recall, your brain has to concentrate to get that information into your consciousness. Any kind of trivia game can help with this, provided that you don’t look at the answers – or Google it! – before you give your ability to recall a good college try.

11. Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Repeating an activity, process, or detail can help you to recall it. If you incorporate what you want to remember into an everyday activity, you are exponentially more likely to remember it. Consider this example: put your doctor’s phone number into your password to access your computer (e.g., DoctorMark5236798). Should an emergency arise where you need to recall the number, you won’t have to go searching through the phone book. Essentially, by performing a task daily you’ll have no problem conjuring the information right when you need it.

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12. Stay Healthy

Eat right and stay in shape – your mental health depends on it. Whenever you are famished or dehydrated, your mind can meander into Never Never Land, or else it can propel itself into panic-mode out of hunger. Therefore, maintain a steady diet. Avoid foods that are high in sugar as they will cause you to crash. Consuming too many calories can make you feel sluggish, so stay away from processed foods. Instead, eat plenty of produce and lean meats to keep your brain healthy. Exercise regularly as well. A good cardiovascular workout improves your blood flow and your immune system, which helps to restore your mental energy for more learning.

13. Reflect Upon What You’ve Learned

Spend just 15 minutes reflecting on what you learned at the end of the day. This will boost your confidence in your learning process as you are recalling the information. Your process will be further edified: you will be eager to get back into learning the next day, putting more effort into your activities and what you learn.

Memory is fallible, as I stated earlier. Do you recall what I asked you to remember at the start? Perhaps you do but maybe you forgot. Scrolling to the top to reread it is easy enough right now but you might not always have that luxury. If you incorporate these tricks into your learning habits, you will see a marked improvement in your ability to recall what you’ve learned.

Featured photo credit: By Cawpwoa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons via commons.wikimedia.org

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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