About two weeks ago, when my office started having everyone work remotely, I got assigned the duty of Minutes Taker for several various weekly Skype meetings.
Y’all, not to be dramatic… but it is the absolute bane of my fucking existence.
Now, I might be exaggerating just a smidge, but truly minute-taking is really, really hard for me. The task requires several executive functions (you know, that group of functions ADHD brains aren’t exactly well-known for being able to pull off): focus, quickly deciding what is relevant in a large amount of information, and the topic of today’s discussion, working memory.
It’s the ability to hold on to new information so we can turn around and use it in some way. Working memory allows us to hold information without losing track of what we’re doing.
In the case of minute-taking, working memory helps the minute-taker listen to and process what is being said and simultaneously take summarizing notes of what was discussed…all while people continue to talk at a normal, usually quick, speed. (I feel stressed just describing it. It’s certainly not a job that plays into my strengths!)
As I’ve tried to figure out the best way to approach this new duty of mine, I’ve gotten to thinking about working memory in the office workplace in general (even if the physical space is currently my house). I think most of us have learned about alarm and visual reminders by now, so I thought I’d share this with you…
Three newer (to me) strategies I’ve come to find helpful in compensating for my poor working memory:
Templates can be super helpful in making sure you gather all the information you need prior to starting something or walking away from an interaction.
The burden of remembering every detail you’re out to get is no longer on your brain alone. Additionally, templates can help you stay focused on the information you need rather than all the information you’re receiving.
I’ve actually started using templates for the meetings in which I’m taking minutes. Once I was familiar with what type of details I’ll be expected to include in my finished product,. I created a template table with blanks for the need-to-know stuff. For example, for one meeting I made a table with columns for the person presenting, the general topic, the decision the group made in regards to the top, and a couple other specific details. It serves as a reminder of what information to listen for and what information can be discarded. After the meeting, I can go back, review the table, and form a sentence for the official minutes I send out.
I also use templates for emails I send regularly with highlights where I need to add information, like a username or an amount.
I use a lot of checklists, even for basic things others might easily autopilot. Just like with the templates, the burden of remembering every single step I need to complete is removed from my brain and is instead on a document. Before I started using checklists I would overlook important steps on tasks I do multiple times a day, because my working memory had a hard time differentiating what steps I had done that go-around vs the one before.
Matt D’avella has an awesome video on checklists I highly suggest:
Reverse checklists (pretty sure I didn’t coin the term) are lists of things I have finished.
Without that, if someone asks me, “Have you sent the such-and-such to so-and-so?” or “When did you make the this-or-that for the who-or-what?” I will look at them like a deer in the headlights. My brain freezes. I got sick of feeling like I looked dumb, so I stared quickly making a simple note after doing things I might get asked about. The act of recording them alone helps my memory but then I also have something I can refer to later.
It feels a lot better to say, “Let me double check my notes real quick to make sure I give you the correct information,” than it does to say, “Uh…”
Another useful thing about reverse checklists is they make it a little more seamless to return to a project if I get interrupted. Instead of spending a bunch of time trying to figure out what I have or haven’t done (and sometimes accidentally repeating work I mistakenly thought I hadn’t done) I’m quickly reminded of where I left off.
Pen and Paper
Carrying a small notepad and a pen with me whenever I go to meet with (or these days, call) someone is a little action that makes a huge difference for me. Oftentimes conversation about the scheduled thing will end up including random updates about an unrelated work topic or lead to me being asked to do something in regards to a different account.
Jotting down what was said or asked on a piece of paper to then transfer to my main task list after the conversation is over results in a much higher chance of me actually remembering what was said or asked.
The takeaway: when it comes to compensating for a poor working memory, it’s all about creating an external system to take the burden off your brain.
Alissa writes regularly about her journey through life with ADHD and anxiety. You can read more about Alissa and her Wonky Brain Club here.