How memorization and essentialism doubled my work productivity

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.


Excellent use of memory, Capriccio. I wouldn’t mind getting back into tax preparation. Working in manufacturing accounting is eating away at my soul.

Thank you Tracy :slight_smile: I thoroughly enjoy tax accounting even though the busy season can be grueling. Now that tax season is over I’m looking for a CPAs Anonymous that can help me transition back into society…

The art of memory is good for this field because the required knowledge base is so vast! With practice all the tax concepts come naturally, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t accelerate the absorption.

I think I initially gravitated toward cost accounting because I worked in manufacturing as a temp during college; but I ended up doing taxes as a volunteer intern and I couldn’t stay away.

Thanks for sharing! Encouraging story!

@Capriccio would you mind telling some memorization technique for memorizing textbook. As I am a CA student. If it would help me .

@Sherlock0 I would not memorize a textbook. I think textbooks are a poor format for learning in the first place, and their density is intimidating to read, let alone to memorize. When you read a textbook, get the essentials out, memorize those, meditate on those, integrate them into your memory, figure out how to use them, and leave everything else. Remembering, understanding, and applying the underlying fundamentals of your field will take you the farthest.


Thanks for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it and learned some valuable lessons from you…

I also use memory techniques in my office work. And I feel so confident and strong, as I can handle any situation far better than most of my office staffs with the help of mnemonics. It is just crazy!!!

Good stuff…love hearing about your success with this. I have done something similar with Microsoft Excel. In a summer job that I had years ago, the guy I worked for warned me that he was going to take away my mouse so I had better learn the keyboard shortcuts. That was 20 years ago and I have saved an incredible amount of time using those shortcuts. Total gamechanger!

Wow thanks for sharing and congratulations on your added productivity.

talking about files moving, I think it’s much faster if u have a specialised file manager provided suitable input/search. :joy: But keyboard shortcuts are really useful too. Nowadays keyboard shortcuts are already fairly standard many computer users.
The way u apply link to app menu is a great idea.