Monday, May 2, 2011

Can't remember diddly? Try these memory tips.

One of my most embarrassing moments occurred several years ago when I answered the phone and heard a friend ask, “Dayle, are you coming to the meeting?” Turns out, I had forgotten about a meeting that I—the team leader, no less—had called. Luckily, I lived close to the venue and rushed right over, but my face was red for weeks.

How did such a thing happen? Was old-age setting in?

The truth is my method for remembering failed me. I had marked the meeting on a wall calendar—something that usually worked for me—but I never thought of it again. Apparently, this “old dog” needed to learn some new tricks. In that vein, I went out and bought my first day-planner.

If you find your memory fading, maybe it’s not your age at all, but time to rethink your methods. While much has been said about the value of using “memory enhancing” drugs, I prefer a natural approach. The following pointers won’t help you remember every planet in space, nor the names of the American Great Lakes, but for daily tasks, these work well for me:

Visualize it.

Tell me your phone number—or any other number—and I can remember it without writing it down. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but if this technique works for me, it can work for you. Here’s how it’s done. Say you’ve dialed directory assistance for a number, but your pen won’t cooperate. No problem. As you hear the number being spoken, visualize yourself writing it down, and visualize it written on paper. Then when you need it, simply recall the mental image and you’ll have the number.

It may sound too good to be true, but I’ve used this technique for years to remember not only phone numbers, but my bank account numbers, my families’ Social Security numbers, my computer access codes and personal identification numbers. I even remember numbers from 30 years ago. With identity thieves everywhere, memorizing numbers seems like a smart move.

Make a note.

I prefer the trusty “to-do” list for remembering multiple tasks, but for quick reminders, I keep a pack of sticky notes on my desk for capturing fleeting thoughts. Posting them in strategic places helps, too. For example, if I’m busy working on a deadline, when I suddenly remember I need to take a load of clothes to the dry-cleaners, I scribble “take clothes to cleaners” on a sticky note, then post it on the back door.

If you fancy electronic notes, numerous options are available. My personal favorite is the “calendar” feature in Microsoft Outlook. Once you put the event on the calendar, you can set a reminder notice to pop up anywhere between two days or five minutes prior.

Another option is using your cellular phone’s “to-do list” or “memo” feature when planning your week. After you’ve entered the information, and set a reminder date and time, your phone will beep prior to the task or event.

A place for everything.

When my daughter lived at home, she constantly lost her keys. And every time she did, I quoted the old adage: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” If you don’t have a standard place for putting your keys, you probably waste valuable time looking for them. Wall hooks work best for me, but having a “key drawer” could also do the trick. When you’re at a friend’s house, always put your keys in your pocket or purse. If you follow through, you’ll never lose your keys again.

Verbalize it.

Because I am geographically challenged, it’s easy for me to go shopping and forget where I parked.  Most parking lots and garages display numbers or letters that serve as visual reminders, but to help me remember, I repeat the letter or number aloud, until I’m inside the building—B2, B2, B2. Oddly enough, it works. I get a few curious looks on my way in, but it’s better than walking in circles later on. Verbalizing also works when being introduced to someone. By repeating the person’s name, I have an easier time recalling it later.

Mark the calendar.

I use two types of calendars. One is a yearly calendar with squares for recording doctor appointments and meetings. You can find these wall-size, or small enough to fit in a handbag. My day-planner is about the size of a standard book.

The other calendar I use is called a “daybook,” which is a perpetual calendar for recording birthdays and anniversaries, and any event that falls on the same date each year. Once you write an event in your daybook, it can be referred to year after year.

Get extreme.

Occasionally, I have to get extreme. When I kept forgetting to pick up an odd size replacement bulb for one of my lamps—even after trying the usual methods—I took a black marker and scrawled on my hand, “Get bulb!” Worked like a charm.


This article first appeared in The Dallas Morning News.
All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks - this is going to help a lot -especially since there is a meeting this afternoon and I scheduled it!

  2. Great tips. Unfortunately I will forget them when I shut off my computer. I think I need to make a copy!!!

  3. I tend to visualize it the most. I tend to go blank - and then I think of the object. It takes a bit of doing, but it works.

    Mrs. M.

  4. Good advice! What happens when you forget these tips? I use all of these techniques but at times even forget them! lol

  5. Love your ideas! My mantra... A place for everything and everything in its place. Works for me. I am also a list maker.
    I am a visual learner but I have accepted I can't do numbers. Nothing works for me. I mix them up and cannot remember them. I like the writing on the hand :)

  6. Oh, how I want to grow up and be you. I have always wanted to keep a day planner. My daughter does, and I've tried. My failure is epic. That's so strange too, because as a teacher, I keep an impeccable planner and uber organized classroom.

    I'm going to try the visualize one.
    And the hand writing? Works for me!

  7. Hi Dayle...I do several of those, too, but, for the life of me, I cannot memorize phone numbers. Numerically challenged, I guess. hee hee Susan

  8. Dayle,
    I love your "extreme method" - I think I will try that one the next time I go to the store and come home without the vinegar I went there for! I have the most trouble with names, though and I think repeating the name over and over might work for me too. Thanks for the mental tips!


  9. Great tips, Dayle! I tend to visualize things, too--and that helps quite a bit. I also try to write everything down...and that helps as long as I don't forget where I put the list! :)

  10. Great minds think alike. I use most of these same methods. I don't do the number tip, I'll try and remember about it though!


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle