3 Tips for Improving Working Memory

Adam S. Executive Function Coach and Tutor of Prepped & Polished, LLC in South Natick, Massachusetts teaches you ways for improving working memory.

What is working memory?

Most often, when we use the word memory, we’re talking about long-term memory. Long-term memory is the stuff that’s tucked away into long-term storage. It’s your brain’s hard drive; that’s information like your address, your best friend’s name, the Pythagorean theorem, and stuff like that. Most students who struggle with ADHD, Asperger’s, and other things that challenge executive functions have no problem at all with long-term memory. Once something makes it in there, they have no problem recalling it. That’s where working memory comes in.

If long-term memory is like your brain’s hard drive, working memory is like your brain’s RAM. It’s where we process incoming information. Whenever you have two or more pieces of information buying for your attention, you’re engaging your working memory. So, working memory is the series of processes of synthesizing information so that when something new comes in, you decide what to do with it. You either apply long-term memory to it to make a decision or decide to tuck it away so it makes its way into long-term memory.

Strategies to improve working memory

1. Make important tasks stand out

Suppose you have difficulty filtering which stimuli are the most important. In that case, you want to do a better job at externalizing the highlight of what stimuli you really need to pay attention to.

1. Do things right away

So the first thing is, do things right away. For example, if your mom tells you to take out the trash, take out the trash now. Do it before you have the opportunity for something else to come along and knock that idea out of your working memory.

2. Use devices to remind yourself

You can use items as their own reminders. For example, if you’re trying to remember to check your schedule every day before you go to school, leave your schedule out where you sit down and have breakfast. When you sit down and have breakfast in the morning, you’ll see your schedule.

3. Ask people

You trust Mom, Dad, teachers, and friends to remind you of things that you need to hold on to for later.

4. Highlight important information

Remember, reading can be a real challenge, so you want to do what you can to make the important stuff jump off the page.

5. Use notes and technology

Put yellow sticky notes everywhere. Remember to do this, don’t forget this. Use your iPhone or iPod to set alarms to remind you to do things for later

2. Reduce distractions

Step number two is reducing distractions or turning down the stimuli you don’t want to pay attention to

1. Unplug

The first thing you can do is unplug. When it’s time for homework, turn off your phone or your computer. If you don’t need it for schoolwork, get off of Facebook. You can use tools like Mozilla Firefox or other websites to limit your access to certain websites. If 3 to 5 is homework time, cut yourself off from Facebook. It’s going to make you focus on what you need to focus on.

2. Get rid of clutter

If you sit down in a workspace that has books and papers and notes and everything all over the place, that’s dozens of little pieces of information screaming for your attention. Get rid of them. Throw what you can and put away the rest so you can focus on just what’s right in front of you.

3. Cross items off to-do lists

If you are using to-do lists, which is awesome, cross items off when they’re done. Get them off the paper; get them out of your head.

3. Write it down

Strategy number three is write it down. If you have a faulty working memory, take the burden off it. Externalize everything by putting it on paper.

1. Write out complicated problems

if you’re working on a challenging math problem or probably need step-by-step solutions, write out the steps; otherwise, it’s really easy to get to the end and forget where you started and the whole thing doesn’t make sense anymore.

2. Write out step-by-step instructions

If you’re trying to make cookies, you need to remember what goes in and where. Use notes to help yourself keep track of where you are

3. Use technology

You don’t have to remember everything if you have an iPhone or an iPod with you. You can set a reminder to alarm you.

So those are the basics of working memory. Remember the key three steps: we want to strengthen the stimuli of important information, reduce distractions, and write everything down.

Do you have a hard time memorizing things? Which tip did you find most useful for improving working memory?

Post your tips/comments below.

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