You know a number of strategies that let you work smarter, not harder. You know how to sound smarter. You even know that taking regular walks can improve your memory function and even take years off your brain.

But there's an even easier way to improve your memory and perform better at tasks requiring attention to detail:

Seeing the color red.

Researchers had study participants complete different tasks. Some required creativity, others required attention to detail. Tasks were performed on computers that displayed either a red or blue background.

What happened?

  • Red background: Participants performed better on detail tasks 
  • Blue background: People generated two times as many creative ideas

Why? Good question. The researchers don't really know -- but they do have a theory.

"Thanks to stop signs, emergency vehicles and teachers' red pens," said Professor Juliet Zhu, "we associate red with danger, mistakes and caution. The avoidance motivation, or heightened state, that red activates makes us vigilant and thus helps us perform tasks where careful attention is required to produce a right or wrong answer."

Keep in mind the goal of the study was to determine how different colors could be used to enhance marketing efforts. Take toothpaste marketing: Red was more effective when combined with problem avoidance, like avoiding cavities. (Which makes sense, since we're conditioned to associate red with danger.)

Blue was more effective when combined with positive intentions or goals, like having whiter teeth.

So instead of using a favorite photo as your computer background (or if you're me, using one of the Mac defaults), try changing the color depending on the task.

If you need to pay close attention, think critically, and avoid making mistakes, make the background red.

If you need to come up with new ideas or find a way to solve a problem, make the background blue.

It's a simple change that takes seconds -- and it just might make you smarter. Or more creative.

The choice is yours.