We all know that people learn in different ways. Acquiring and applying new skills and knowledge is not done by every person the same way.
On the most basic level, you probably know people who hear something once and remember it years later. You may also know someone who can’t remember something you told them 10 seconds ago. Memory is an important component of learning. The trick is to be able to take in information so it is stored in short-term memory and then ensure it is converted into long-term memory, making it accessible at a later date.
If you think back to your elementary school years, you may recall weekly spelling tests and the workbooks where you wrote out the spelling words in lists, in sentences and in various other exercises. You may also remember using flashcards. Your teacher probably had you write out vocabulary words and their meanings or multiplication tables or other facts.
Your elementary school teachers may not have seen the latest scientific research, but they had evidence to show that the act of writing something down helps cement it in your memory. Both the repetition of the information – first you read it or hear it, then you write it, then you repeat it – and the physical process of writing helps move information from your short-term memory to more permanent storage.
Since the focus of this blog series is about improving management performance, you’re probably waiting for some connection between spelling tests and daily effectiveness at your job today. While some of us have trouble finishing all the things that need to be done each day, others of us have trouble maintaining focus on the key activities that should be the day’s top priorities.
Studies show that the act of writing about something (making a list, creating a reminder note, scheduling or assigning tasks) causes the writer to focus on that activity, use greater concentration and more effectively ignore distractions. The brain science tells us that writing things down creates an imprint on the brain – engaging the “reticular activating system” which aids the learning process and the creation of working memory.
It’s often the daily distractions that keep us from being able to recall information. The process of writing increases the accuracy of our memories or learning – meaning that we are more likely to store, recall, and focus on those activities or priorities and get them accomplished instead of getting distracted by other concerns.
Finally, there is information to suggest that writing helps reduce stress by boosting overall cognitive capacity and increasing coping ability to deal with stressors. Stress can certainly be a daily distraction, so if the act of writing can help control stress and increase focus, improved performance is a reasonable and desirable by-product for every manager.
By writing something down (and unfortunately studies indicate that typing doesn’t seem to have the same effect), you improve your ability to recall and focus on the items you have identified as important for your day. This means better performance – for you and your team. Use a daily planner or other tool to write down your priorities today and see if you agree that writing improves your ability to retain, learn and apply your management skills and help you to better achieve your daily goals.
By Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions