Let me give you my story on how the art of memory has changed my life on a practical level.
I am a Certified Public Accountant, and I prepare tax returns. I work at a firm where I am far younger and much less experienced than everyone else. I have no peers in age or accounting experience. My situation requires me to be a fast learner and to pick up at an accelerated pace. In an effort to learn at this required accelerated rate I combined two powerful concepts to double my productivity: essentialism and memorization.
I cannot talk about memorization without talking about essentialism. The concept is from the book of the same title “Essentialism: The Disciplined Art of Pursuing Less” by Greg McKeown. The central idea of the book is that you get more done by focusing the majority of your energy on the one or two things that are truly important, and you cut out everything that is not necessary to those few important things.
I applied this to my work process. Where in my work process might I be taking unnecessary steps? If something is taking three steps to perform, could I get it done in two or one? Could I hasten some steps just by changing how I carry them out?
Then it hit me: keyboard shortcuts!
In the November months we had an intern with us performing some scanning work and I would double-check all his scanning work. This means incessantly moving in and out of file directories on the company hard drive, and it’s tedious. Not only that, I was at the mercy of the most unproductive instrument at the computer user’s disposal–the mouse.
Thus, I went and found a printout of all the keyboard shortcuts for Windows 7. I memorized all the shortcuts that pertained to directory navigation. I am sure that there are about 10-20 that I use on a regular basis. Suddenly, just like that, I was navigating in and out of the directory files with incredible speed and accuracy. I was able to switch between windows faster, transport windows between the monitors instantly, and the same tasks were taking half the time at most.
By and large, I eliminated the mouse.
Tax season comes around, and I applied the same concept to the computer software. I memorized the most important keyboard shortcuts for our software, and I memorized the input menu for personal tax returns. This menu consists of 100 links to different tax input screens that could be accessed by simply typing in a number from 1-100, of which I regularly only use the first 50. For example, “10” is “Salaries and Wages,” 11 is “Interest,” 12 is “Dividends,” 16 is “Business Income,” etc. If I enter 16 I will go to a screen where I may enter business revenues, cost of goods sold, and various expenses for the business. I memorized all the input screens by number, as well as some other important keyboard shortcuts for the software so that I could quickly navigate with a simple key stroke and immediately key in information on different input screens.
I applied the essentialism principle as well. I examined my tax prep process and looked for steps that I could cut out, or if there were better ways to perform the same task. I found that, compared to last year, I was cutting down tax prep time by 10%, 50%, and sometimes 70% for the same returns!
The result? I doubled the number of tax returns I prepared compared to last year.
I did work some more hours than last year, yes, and I am more experienced, yes, but essentialism and memory were the primary instruments in the increase of productivity. The combination of these two forces made tax preparation feel almost effortless, as though I was simply breathing.
Here is my demonstration of the intense practical value of the art of memory.