Everyday you decide many times that you need to remember to do something in the future. You might want to remember to buy flowers for your wife on the way home from work or take the trash out after dinner. At work you might be in a meeting and decide you need to call another client or update a file after the meeting. The process of deciding to remember something in the future and then remembering it or not is called prospective memory.
Lapses in prospective memory are frequent even in young adults. We get busy and forget to remember. Fortunately, most lapses don’t do much damage. Some however, as with a surgeon or airline pilot, can be very serious. So I am always on the lookout for scientific studies that have practical insights into how to avoid prospective memory lapses.
For example, new research by NASA reviews the literature on prospective memory and offers a good list of suggestions for how to avoid lapses. The key method includes using a checklist and being very specific about when and where you must remember something (implementation intentions). The impact can be dramatic:
“Dismukes points out that having this kind of concrete plan has been shown to improve prospective memory performance by as much as two to four times in tasks such as exercising, medication adherence, breast self-examination, and homework completion.”
Other ideas include using reminder systems (phone/calendar reminders or another person), do important tasks now (avoid need for prospective memory if it is really important), do not multitask or allow for interruptions, link task to a well established habit and create reminder cues that are hard to avoid (note on your mirror).
While we have covered these suggestion in other Cognitive Design posts it is good to see them collected together. You can access the full article here (need to pay) or read a related (free) article from the same researcher, Remembrance of Things Future: Prospective Memory in Laboratory, Workplace and Everyday Settings.