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How to Keep Your Working Memory Sharp – 5 Tips


“On average, humans can hold roughly 7 things in their working memory at any one time. This means we sometimes need simple strategies to maximize the limited capacity of our working memory.” – George A. Miller, Harvard University.


Our brains are fascinating powerhouses equipped with astounding and under-appreciated capabilities.

One such cognitive marvel is the working memory, a mental sticky note that juggles and manages information, aiding us in completing basic and complex tasks seamlessly.

Recent studies have found that training strategies can help you enhance your cognitive abilities and keep your working memory sharp.

This article discusses five tips to keep your working memory operating at peak performance. Putting these techniques into practice will improve memory retention, reduce cognitive overload, and enhance mental focus.

What is the purpose of working memory?

Working memory serves a crucial role in our thinking and learning processes. Its purpose is to temporarily hold and work with information as we engage in various mental tasks. This allows us to process new data, solve problems, and multitask effectively. Working memory also aids learning, comprehension, decision-making, and resisting distractions. 

Why Do We Depend On Our Working Memory in the Workplace?

We rely heavily on working memory in the workplace due to its pivotal role in cognitive tasks and productivity. Working memory enables us to process, retain, and manipulate information for immediate use, allowing us to handle complex responsibilities effectively. Whether remembering important details, following instructions, or multitasking, working memory ensures we can execute tasks efficiently and make informed decisions.

What is the difference between long-term Memory and Working Memory?

Long-term memory and working memory are like two distinct storage systems in our brains. Long-term memory is where we save information for the long haul, like our home address or childhood memories. It’s like a vast library of experiences and knowledge that stays with us over time.

In contrast, working memory is our mental notepad; it holds information temporarily, just long enough for us to use it for immediate tasks, like remembering a phone number to dial or solving a math problem. So, while long-term memory is like our treasure chest of lifetime memories, working memory is our real-time thinking buddy, helping us navigate daily challenges. 


 “We normally avoid mental overload by dividing our tasks into multiple easy steps, committing intermediate results to long-term memory or to paper rather than to an easily overloaded working memory.”- Daniel Kahneman.


What are Common Examples of How We Use Working Memory in Daily Life?

Below are three common examples of how we apply working memory in everyday life: 

1. Grocery Shopping: A Mental Shopping List

Picture this: you’re at the supermarket, embarking on your grocery shopping mission. Working memory takes the lead as your mental shopping list, holding onto every item you need and ensuring that you don’t overlook a single one. It effortlessly manages the details, making your shopping experience more efficient and organized. 

2. Commuting: Navigating While Engaging

Now, let’s shift gears to your morning commute. You’re behind the wheel, listening to an engaging podcast, and relying on GPS directions. Working memory plays a dual role, holding onto those crucial directions while allowing you to absorb the podcast content without missing a beat. It keeps your journey on track and enhances your multitasking abilities. 

3. Workday Juggling: Managing Tasks with Precision

In the world of work, imagine you’re handling a flurry of emails, attending back-to-back meetings, and seamlessly switching between tasks. Your trusty working memory steps in as your mental task manager. It holds onto essential information, prioritizes tasks, and ensures a smooth flow of work, boosting your overall productivity.

These everyday scenarios demonstrate that working memory is a versatile cognitive ally, effortlessly managing information and enhancing efficiency across various aspects of life. 



“You don’t understand anything until you learn it more than one way.”— Marvin Minsky.


Five Tips for Keeping Our Working Memory Sharp

Research indicates that it is possible to enhance working memory through various strategies and training. Initially, working memory was thought to have a fixed capacity, but recent studies challenge this belief.

Psychologists have found that practicing and training can expand working memory capacity, allowing individuals to hold and manipulate more information at once. Further, memory exercises can improve the brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant information and enhance working memory, leading to better cognitive processing and mental sharpness. Consider the following tips and strategies. 

Tip #1) Follow a daily routine

Creating a daily routine helps improve working memory by reducing the mental effort needed to plan daily activities. Your brain doesn’t need to constantly remember what comes next when you have a set schedule.


  1. Suppose you allocate specific time slots for tasks like reading, writing, or exercise. In that case, your working memory is freed up to focus on the task at hand, leading to better memory retention.
  2. If you set aside 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM for focused work on a project every day, your working memory doesn’t have to constantly remind you of this commitment, allowing you to concentrate more effectively. 

Tip #2) Stop Multitasking

Multitasking can overwhelm working memory by forcing it to switch rapidly between tasks. Focusing on one task at a time reduces this cognitive load and enables better memory retention.


  1. When you concentrate solely on reading without interruptions from checking your phone or emails, your working memory can efficiently process and store the information.
  2. While reading, immerse yourself fully in the text without interruptions to let your working memory absorb and retain the content more effectively. 

Tip #3) Start Using Checklists

Checklists break tasks into smaller, manageable steps, making it easier for your working memory to handle them. This strategy enhances memory by reducing the mental strain of remembering all the details simultaneously.


  1. When tackling a project, creating a checklist that includes actions like research, outlining, and writing allows your working memory to focus on each step individually.
  2. When working on a project, create a checklist with specific tasks like “Research,” “Outline,” and “Write,” enabling your working memory to manage each step effectively. 

Tip #4) Put Information In Context

Associating information with context or visuals improves working memory by providing additional cues for recall. When you link data with context, it becomes easier for your working memory to retrieve that information later.


  1. Visualizing the location where you placed your keys helps your working memory remember where they are.
  2. When you put your keys in a specific spot and visualize that location, your working memory can efficiently recall their placement when needed. 

Tip# 5) Use Breaks Productively

Mindfulness exercises during work breaks can enhance working memory by reducing stress and distractions. This allows your working memory to stay focused and perform better during tasks.


  1. Taking a few minutes during breaks to practice deep breathing can refresh your mind and improve memory retention.
  2. Practice deep breathing for a few minutes during work breaks to calm your mind and enhance your working memory’s ability to concentrate on tasks effectively.


In sum, while working memory may have its limits, there’s evidence to suggest that both capacity and filtering mechanisms can be improved through training and practice, leading to more efficient information processing and better cognitive performance. 


“When it comes to compensating for poor working memory, it’s all about creating an external system to take the burden off your brain…” – Team Supernormal.



Our working memory assists us in managing, processing, and manipulating information, contributing to many aspects of our daily cognitive performance. We sharpen our working memory when we apply training strategies such as following a routine, single-tasking, using checklists, contextualizing information, and using work breaks productively.

Moreover, integrating these techniques into our daily routine equips us with the tools to optimize our working memory, bolstering this brain function across a range of tasks. To ensure our mind continues to perform optimally, let’s embrace these strategies, not as quick fixes but as lifelong habits, remembering that the journey to improving our working memory is a marathon, not a sprint.


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