You have this great thought, a great idea, or something that you have to do just after what you’re doing right now. You say to yourself “I need to remember this.” Thirty seconds later, you forget what it was. A couple of hours later, you have this strange feeling that you were supposed to remember something, but you have no idea what. Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever had that strange feeling, remembering that you forgot something? I’ve had it many times. Almost every time I said to myself “I will remember this,” I didn’t.
Is there any way to overcome this? Today I will describe what I try to do in order to shake this feeling once and for all. (Spoiler alert--I still forget stuff from time to time, but much less than I used to!)
I’ll start with one obvious tip--write everything down. This sounds simple, and most of us have tried it many times. There are a few reasons why we fail in writing things down:
- We do not write everything down. We think we do, but I bet there are a lot of things that you don’t take note of and that are not on your todo list. We tend to write down tasks related to bigger commitments--write that report, send that letter, pay that bill. But in many cases we do not write certain things down--call Tom tomorrow, clean the office, a gift idea for your significant other, a brilliant plan for what to do in the evening… For some reason, we think we will remember these kinds of todos.
- We have too many places where we add things to remember. If you write your ideas on sticky notes and you do not have a single place where you store them, then you won’t find them later. It is the same as not writing something down at all. The same goes with having too many todo lists and starting a new one every time you have something you want to write down.
- You have no idea what you meant when you were writing it down. You know what you mean when you are writing it down. But when you read it later, you just don’t know what it was about. This has happened many times for me in the past.
- You don’t have the possibility to write something down. This is a hard one. You are driving a car, in the middle of the workout, or in a place where it is not polite to take notes (concert hall, church, etc).
- You are in the middle of another activity and you don’t want to interrupt it--for example, you could be in the middle of a pomodoro.
There are probably many other reasons why we fail to record our ideas. The above are the reasons I can relate to because I was (and sometimes still am) struggling with them. How do we solve them? Well, here are a few tips:
- Choose one single place for recording all of your ideas and things to do. Let it be your smartphone, a notebook, flipchart, piece of paper, wall--it doesn’t matter. It has to be the only place you use every time you want to write something down. If you use your smartphone, always use the same app. If it is a notebook, then use the same page. You should try to always have it nearby. It should be available every time you want to jot something down.
- Use a specific phrase when an idea comes to mind. For me it is the phrase “Dominik you have to remember…” Every time I think this, I hear an alarm in my head with the warning “Look out, you are about to forget this.” Whenever I think this, I automatically record that important thought.
- Write down the thing you want to remember, but give it a context, key words, tags, or something else that lets you know what it was about. Instead of just writing down “call Tom tomorrow,” write down “call Tom tomorrow--ask about the insurance company he mentioned.”
- When you don’t have the possibility to write something down, use something that is around you and treat it as a trigger for later. I know this is a hard one, but with some training it may work. For example, when I am in the middle of a workout and I have an idea for my next blog post, I try to associate it with something I can see. Let’s say I want to write about the importance of having a definition of “done.” During my workout, I see a man with a yellow dog. I would think something like this: “Dominik, there is a yellow dog. Next time you see a yellow dog, think about this post you want to write.” Believe it or not, it works for me. The stranger the thought is, the more probable it is that you will remember it. :)
Following the above guidelines allowed me to limit the number of times I think to myself “I knew I was supposed to remember something, but what was it…” I know one thing--being sure that everything I want to do is written down makes my mind a little less chaotic. I don’t wonder any more what I am forgetting to do. And I can just do the things I’ve written down :)