Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Work-Related Difficulties - Struggling with my Job


Dear Kathy M.,

I have been so busy trying to survive at my job that I have not been able to do much of anything else. I desperately want to keep my job (yes, I am working and it's a good job), but have now made a horrible mistake and forgot to bill a customer for the last couple of months! I should be getting written up today for this. I am so tired of saying, "I don't remember, let me look it up." I am so tired of failing. I write things down, but don't seem to ever be able to find my notes when I need them. And sometimes I even forget major parts of my duties! I come across well so people think there is nothing wrong with me, and that I couldn't possibly forget something so important, and when I tell people that I have memory and problem solving problems they don't believe me. I feel about an inch tall. I've already lost one job because of my memory problems. I don't want to lose this one. Help!

Thank you,


Kathy's Response:

Dear Nancy,

Gosh, if I had a quarter every time I've heard this story! You are NOT alone. Yes, you are an "invisible" (as am I). Yes, you have a good job. And yes, if you don't learn some compensatory strategies for dealing with your memory impairment, you will likely lose this job too!

I don't want to pull any punches here. Memory impairment is a major problem when a person returns to work. Whether you have profound memory impairment, or "minor" impairments (which are not really "minor" by the way), when your memory is leaky, things don't work -- especially at work! I look at cognition as a "cognitive loop." If any of the parts fail us, nothing works! It's like stepping on a mine field. You can avoid three and step on one, and that's the end of it!

Four Parts of Cognition

There are four parts of cognition:

  1. Information capture
  2. Information storage
  3. Information retrieval
  4. Information use

If any of these parts are missing, problems arise. The good news is that we don't need to be able to do all these things in our head. We can replicate cognitive function on paper and function very effectively.

1) Information Capture

It sounds like you already writing "memory notes." So far so good. Some people with memory impairment don't. This is a mistake. The key to being able to use information is caputuring it in the first place.

2) Information Storage

I'm also going to guess that the notes you write are in some kind of permanent form, i.e., not on Post-It notes or on the backs of envelopes. The information we capture is best kept in sequential order on the day we write it. Many two-page-per-day planners have this option, and it's a recommended one.

3) Information Retrieval

This is the part of the "loop" that often fails us. We need to be able to find the information when we need it. I have found that categorizing Memory Notes helps. When I first used a commercial day planner (two-page-per-day system), I created a column for myself on the left side of the page for "Category Names" of my Memory Notes. This allowed me to scan many page of notes without reading all the details. Saved my life when I went back to work because I could quickly find notes I needed! If you want to see what my Memory Notes page looks like now, please see:
(Note that this is part of a lesson I teach, so disregard the instruction on the left side).

4) Information Use

Using this same image, note that I also added a column to the right (which I call "To Do Cues") so it's possible to follow up things that need to be done in the future, based on the Memory Note you wrote.

Another tool you could build for yourself would be a "ROUTINES" section in your day planner. I have four cards in mine. One for daily routines, and others for weekly, monthly and periodic routines. I refer to these cards every week when I plan the next week. Using a section like this would help you avoid missing important routine tasks, such as regular billings.

Here's an example of a card that I use:

I hope this helps. You do need to develop a system that effectively replicates the cognitive functions you have lost! A lot of these things can be built into standard day planners, as long as you keep in mind ALL FOUR PARTS of the cognitive loop!

Hope this helps.

Kathy M.

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