Try This Trick for Remembering Tasks

Ever make a list of to-do tasks, only to forget to look at it? Or set a timer as a reminder, but when it goes off in another room you don’t hear it? Now researchers at Harvard University have uncovered a simple alternative approach to recalling tasks — “reminders through association.”

Here’s how it works: You want to remember to call the doctor this afternoon. Your granddaughter left her Legos on the kitchen table, which is unusual. Make a mental connection that when you put the Legos away later, that’s your cue to remember to call your doctor.

“We showed that cue-based reminders are more effective when the cues chosen are both uncommon and particularly noticeable precisely in the moment when the task is to be done,” says study coauthor Todd Rogers, associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “So just associating your kitchen table, which you see every day, with your intention to call your doctor isn’t as effective a reminder as using your granddaughter’s Legos that were left on your kitchen table, if that rarely happens.”

In the study reported in 2016 in Psychological Science, 87 participants were asked to complete an hour-long computer task for which they’d be paid. They were also told that an extra dollar would be donated to charity if they remembered to pick up a paper clip when they collected their money. About half were told an elephant statue would be sitting on the counter as a reminder to pick up the paper clip; the others were just thanked for participating.

The results showed that 74 percent of people who’d been given the elephant cue remembered to pick up the paper clip, compared with only 42 percent of those with no cue.

“We live in a world with so much stimuli competing for our attention. These kinds of reminders, similar to tying a string around your finger, can sometimes be more effective than electronic or written notes,” Rogers says. 

Article provided by AARP Staying Sharp

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