how to deal with poor memory at work

how to deal with poor memory at work

“What is your greatest weakness?” Ah, the classic interview question. When it comes to fessing up to professional shortcomings, it’s easy to cop out with a strength framed as a weakness. You know, the usual, “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”. Honestly, people, everyone can see right through it. On the other hand, you don’t want to admit to something insurmountable, like “I don’t get along with people”. Yikes. My own personal answer to this question didn’t become apparent until I actually started my career: my memory sucksWhile most of the time I can function totally fine, my poor memory gets in the way when I need to recall dates, facts, or decisions from others. This is especially true when I’m working with someone who has a great memory, and expects mine to be the same. Over time, though, I’ve developed a number of methods to help me manage my memory — and sometimes even use it to my advantage.

Get it in writing.

Whether it’s a meeting, a conference call, or even a casual conversation — if a decision is made, get it in writing. Always take notes in meetings, even if you’re the one answering the questions. You never know when someone will ask you, “Remember in that meeting, when you said…?” Because, if you’re like me, you won’t remember. So make sure it’s written down, or in an email and stored somewhere safe. It helps here to make sure you’re organized, so when it comes time to look for whatever it is you wrote down, you can find it easily.

Keep track of your tasks.

At work, I have a lot of smaller tasks on the go, alongside a few big projects. When the big projects take up my mental bandwidth, I find it very hard to keep track of the smaller items, especially when the current responsibilities lie with someone else. Rather than trusting my poor memory, I’ve transferred the high-level status of each of my projects into a single Tracker. Even when the ball is in someone else’s court, I still have constant visibility as to the current status of my projects. I also use the Tracker as a weekly update for my manager, so I don’t need to draft a separate update message, which is nice. This method could also work for students, or anyone with a poor memory and lots on the go.

If you’re interested in making a tracker for yourself, I’ve made an Excel template for you to try: click here to check it out!

Use the Inbox Zero method.

I didn’t even know this method had a name when I started using it, but having a full and cluttered inbox has always been a pet peeve. However, I can’t just read and delete emails at work, since I might need to refer back to them (especially if I can’t trust my memory). Instead, once I have responded to and/or taken the actions requested by the email, I store it in one of my many organized email folders. That way, the only emails in my inbox are the ones that need immediate attention — and the ones I really can’t afford to forget.

This method had a secondary benefit: my work email automatically deletes all emails more than 90 days old — unless they’re in a folder other than the Inbox. None of my emails last more than a week in my Inbox, let alone 90 days, so my emails never get deleted!

For an in-depth discussion on the Inbox Zero method, check out this article from the New Yorker.

Get enough sleep.

It’s possible that lack of sleep is the reason you have a poor memory. (Insert science here.) Even if it’s not, getting lots of sleep keeps the brain fog away so you can focus on getting organized. That’s from personal experience, folks.


It’s scary to admit a professional weakness to a potential, or current, employer. But if you have a clear, effective approach to overcoming your personal obstacle at work, your honesty and resourcefulness will shine through.

Do you have a poor memory? Share your tips in the comments!