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Forgotten How To Do Your Job While On Holiday? Try This!

Forgotten How To Do Your Job While On Holiday? Try This!

If you’ve been on holiday in the recent past, only to get back to work and find yourself drawing blanks, don’t worry. It’s not the water. 

I know this because I have not been staying hydrated and I’ve experienced the same.

As it happens, being on holiday disconnected me from my usual workflow. To make matters worse, I typically access several systems to perform very specific tasks – a common feature of work in organisations today. So upon return to work in the new year, tasks I previously did by muscle memory have become tedious. And I’ve had to find ways to jog my memory of how to perform them.

There’s a science to why this happens. 

An article by John Hopkins University explains how the brain connections that form our memory get stronger or weaker depending on how often we’re exposed to an event. Being away from work (Pina Colada in hand) reduces that exposure to routine work tasks, making them a (somewhat) distant memory. 

So how does one remember how to do one’s job? Beyond the occasional use of expletives reserved for especially extreme cases, there are some techniques I’ve found helpful for getting back into the flow of work, which I’ll share.

You’re welcome.

Slow Down. Breathe.

I find that the moments when I need to recall something critical can cause some anxiety. This is not helpful because anxiety and recall don’t go well together. According to healthline.comanxiety generally affects working memory, making it hard to remember task instructions.

So I’ve developed a technique for resolving this: Slow down and breathe. This simple hack allows me to de-escalate things mentally, which in turn gives me a better chance of recall. And most of the time it’s all I need to nudge that memory back to the surface and carry on with BAU.  

But on the rare occasion that it’s not sufficient, that’s OK. It is still the perfect setup for the next intervention. 

Retracing Your Steps

Sometimes it takes a bit more than a sobering pause to bring a memory back. This is where I take a more reasoned approach. Of course, we can’t work with anything less than reason, but in this instance, I break down the task at hand into its logical steps and reason my way through it. 

The exercise helps me bring myself into the right context needed to facilitate recall. 

In an article on titled Context and State-Dependent Memory, Dr Saul McLeod explains that “Context-dependent memory refers to improved recall of specific episodes or information when contextual cues relating to the environment are the same during encoding and retrieval.”

So anytime I retrace my steps in this manner, I’m simply revisiting the context that will offer the best cues to jog my memory. 

Use Notes and Reference Guides

If you work in a place where a knowledge base is well organised and information is easily accessible, this is also a great resource to explore. 

But if you’re not as lucky, don’t worry. You can make your own in a few simple steps. 

One common technique I’ve successfully used to achieve this is email folders. When I need specific information, I ask a colleague to email it to me, and then I keep these in a dedicated resource folder. 

See Also

Pro-tip. If I spend a long time locating a resource, I email it to myself, then move it from my sent items into the resource folder. This way, I know where to find the information in future. 

Over time, I’ve built up a list of resources I can reference (or share) whenever the need arises. To locate what I need, I simply search the resource folder for any text string that appears in the title, or body of the file I’m after. 

Ask questions

When all else fails, I resort to the one thing that always yields results – ask a colleague. 

Out of respect for my colleagues’ time, I try my best to ensure my questions are clearly worded and specific to a need. This way, their time is not spent trying to figure out what the question is, so the dialogue moves quicker towards the desired outcome. 

Questions are a very malleable resource that can bend to a variety of needs. I often use them to seek ideas, validate judgments, and (of course) be reminded of what I’ve forgotten. They enable me to consult and confer internally and lean into the depth and breadth of other people’s experiences.

In Closing

There are a lot of moving parts in any job so if you experience a lapse in memory, don’t panic. Breathe easy and stay hydrated. Give yourself grace as you work through these options. The key to navigating such tricky situations is having clarity about work standards (and ethics) and ensuring these are not compromised.

As work evolves, the ability to manage knowledge gaps becomes increasingly important. To put it differently, how you respond to what you don’t know could be as important as how well you apply what you know. The need to recall something important is an opportunity to develop the right posture around knowledge gaps. With the right attitude, you’ll master the ability to procure information as needed.

And that’s a skill that can’t be taught.

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