Wait, what did my boss need me to finish by 4pm?
Where did I file that quarterly earnings report?
Did I leave my to-do list in the conference room?
Everyone has asked similar questions at some point in their career, but recent research shows, based on an individual's personality some may be more likely to ask them than others. The study, published online this June in Human Brain Mapping, explored the links between the Big Five personality traits and short-term neural plasticity.
The Big Five personality traits -- extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism -- are measured on a spectrum and provide a general framework for how individuals interact with one another, make decisions, and manage things like time, expectations, and stress.
Each of the 40 study participants started by taking a memory test requiring them to indicate when a letter they were shown was a part of a previously viewed set of letters. Next, researchers distributed a personality test to the participants to measure their personality preferences for each of the Big Five personality traits and analyzed the results.
In the end, results suggested high levels of the Big Five traits conscientiousness and neuroticism lead to stronger and weaker memory, respectively. But what do those results mean for the average employee looking to learn more about themselves?
First, let's tackle conscientiousness. Conscientiousness measures a person's likelihood to be organized and efficient. Highly conscientious people are goal oriented and prefer planning over spontaneous decision making. They have high measures of self-discipline and like to attack issues head-on.
Their tendency toward self-discipline and their organizational abilities make it easier for them to take in information, process it, and convert it to memory efficiently. Because they thrive on organization and structure, they are more aware of their surroundings and focus more on the interactions they have, which makes for a more mindful individual.
Keeping these traits in mind, it's not hard to see why highly conscientious individuals would do better on memory-based tasks.
Neuroticism is the Big Five trait that measures a person's tendency toward experiencing negative emotions like depression, anxiety, and stress.
Most neurotics respond in a negative way to stimulation overload and do not handle stress well. As a result, their tendency to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety have been linked with an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with health issues like hypertension, lung disease, and heart disease.
In other words, neurotics are worriers, and that can affect just about everything they do.
Since they're easily stressed and continuously anxious, they often have a hard time concentrating on the little things. Instead of taking in information and immediately converting it to memory, they let thoughts of other stressors get in the way, which is one reason they may have difficulty remembering things.
What neurotics can do to boost memory retention
When it comes to the workplace, letting vital information slip through the cracks can be damaging for careers. The good news for neurotics is there are some simple ways to boost memory retention at work and at home. Here are two strategies for increasing memory retention in the office:
The Santa approach: What is Santa Claus famous for? Making a list and checking it twice. That's where you should start if you're highly neurotic and trying to make sure you don't forget anything important.
Keep two lists. One you write at the beginning of the day with things you want/need to accomplish, and another with "Things to remember" that you add to as they come up during the day.
Make each list visible on your computer screen, your cubicle/office wall, the back of your door, or your office whiteboard so you always have a chance to look at it before you walk out of the room. This "checking it twice" approach will help you internalize the things on your list and, hopefully, increase your recall.
The meditation approach: When you're highly neurotic, your stress and anxiety levels can have a huge impact on your ability to recall information. Combat that by taking time out of your day to meditate.
During a break, before a big meeting, or whenever else you think you'll need it, find a quiet space to sit and reflect. Close your eyes, slow down your breathing, and focus on the things that you need to do. Think about the things you want to remember as if they were a list, and picture yourself completing each one and crossing it off the list.
By taking the time to visualize your goals, you can help your brain make stronger short-term neural connections and increase the likelihood you'll recall the things you need to, when you need to.
Do you find yourself regularly forgetting important things like where you put a file or when your deadlines are? If so, implement one or both of these strategies to slow down your day and boost your memory retention at work.
Does your memory negatively impact your work performance? How do you think your stress and anxiety levels play a part in that? How do you combat the issue?
Molly Owens is the CEO of Truity, developer of the TypeFinder® personality type assessment and other scientifically validated, user-friendly personality assessments that connect people with powerful insights about their strengths, talents, and traits. Find Molly and Truity on Twitter and Facebook.