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Jason St-Cyr
Jason St-Cyr

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11 tips for remembering that thing you were supposed to do

I’ve always had memory recall issues. I’ve spent most of my life/career using little ‘tricks’ to cope. For example, I leave a light on in a room, so I force myself to come back to turn it off. Otherwise I’ll forget I have to do something in there.

This post has a few of the tricks I use, and maybe it might be helpful to you too?

Think, Think, Think – Winnie the Pooh

AS AN ASIDE : This isn’t to say I have no memory. I have huge databases of ridiculous things stored in here. It can be hard to recall on demand.

I can find my drummer’s mom’s house that I used to go to 20 years ago, but please don’t ask me what the address is.

Similarly, I have thousands of song lyrics memorized in my head but they won’t come out without the music playing. Or they’ll come out randomly when you say two words that seem to have nothing to do with the song but somehow trigger me into singing the entire thing at you in the elevator.

I can also remember that there was somebody who wrote a blog article about a topic 5 years ago that relates to a thing we are doing now, but that conversation is the trigger that pulls it out.

Let’s get started with the list… 11 tips that might help you today!

1. Make a checklist

The simplest tool I use is a Notes app on my phone. I have a checklist of things to bring from one place to another. If my partner says “We need to remember to bring over some butter” I’ll never remember that.

Grocery lists, food orders, pretty much anything. In the list! Need a list of things on how to remember things? PUT THAT IN A LIST!

2. Put it in your face

Another common and easy one is leaving something visible. Let’s say I need to vacuum a room, but I can’t do it now. I will not remember to do that later.

So I put the vacuum somewhere highly visible in that room. Somewhere bad. Like in the middle of the floor. Hard to miss!

3. Repeat it out loud

People’s names are hard for me. When I meet you at a conference, I need to read that name to learn it. I’ll often look at somebody’s badge and then make sure to say the name to them very soon in the conversation to embed the word/sound association to the face in my head. I will also try to make sure I use it when saying goodbye to again reinforce it in my head. Doesn’t always work, but far more effective than hoping I will remember something overheard in a loud room during cross-conversations.

4. Write it down

I tend to remember better by seeing things. This is why I gravitate towards docs rather than listening to podcasts. During training sessions, I’ll often have to type out what’s being said so I can see it. I’ll even type out what is on the slides, even if the slides are shared, just to help reinforce it.

5. Deal with that browser tab right now

Some people keep a bajillion browser tabs open, but I can’t do that. I have my browser open only for the things I need to come back to immediately (or continuously).

Anything else, if interesting, needs to be processed immediately and closed/bookmarked.

This way, when I come back to my browser 10 minutes later, I can remember what I was doing and actively working on.

I will sometimes even open a tab to a document I need to work on. Then, when I come back after some distractions, I remember what I was supposed to be doing.

6. Use the inbox

For work, I use a number of productivity tools. Outlook is by far the most effective:

  • Microsoft Viva (formerly Cortana) – I’m really liking this new feature in my inbox. It scans your emails and starts finding things you said you would do. I set the reminders on those so I will get something in my inbox that triggers me to follow up on a previous email.

  • Unread email: Triggers me to read it (no matter if I’ve read it before). I purposefully mark something unread to make my future self come back to it. This combines well with the next tool approach…

  • “Inbox zero”: I use my inbox as a task list of sorts. While I never achieve Inbox zero, I prioritize pruning that inbox. If it’s quick, I deal with it immediately and get it out of the way.

Bonus? This gives the impression of a high response time.
Downside? So many interrupts.

7. Use a planning tool

I love Kanban task boards. I used to use Trello a lot, and I’ve used everything from Azure DevOps/Jira to Microsoft Planner as well. This allows me to store ideas of things to do, but also then prioritize them and put them in an appropriate ‘stage’. This allows me to run multiple projects and always know what’s going on in each one and where things are.

A simple list works for things that need to be done, no matter what, and are urgent and simple. As soon as it gets complex, task boards are a better choice.

8. Ask Slack to remind you later

Sometimes I read a thing in Slack and I’m not somewhere where I can follow up immediately (meeting, on the road). If I don’t do something in Slack immediately, I will forget about it.

The “Remind me about this” feature is so helpful for this.

Also: has this feature always been there and I’ve just never used it before? Really helpful!

9. Keep a list of things you want to say

I have a number of recurring meetings with people, but I have trouble remembering what I want to talk about in calls. For each recurring meeting, I keep a note list of a few bullet items that I want to bring up. As I think of things, I jot it down for later. As I bring them up and resolve them, I remove them from the list.

This includes personal things about people in that meeting. I genuinely want to follow up with people about their lives, but I can’t recall it on demand, so I have to write a quick prompt like “Vacation?” to help me remember the details about individual situations.

10. Make it available to search engines

I sometimes write a blog article (or something else searchable) to make sure I have a record somewhere of whatever I learned. I think most of us have had that moment of googling something to find our own answer as the result. It’s amazing how often we encounter the same issues in this industry.

11. Invite yourself to what you need to do

I add time in my calendar to “do [x]”, or to remind me about an email to send, or a place to go. Part of this is the reminder popping up at a specific time saying “YOU HAVE TO GO DO SOMETHING NOW”, but part is also about booking the time so that I will actually be able to do this.

I can be annoying to me sometimes.

Follow the trail

Probably the general theme is “leaving breadcrumbs”. If I can give myself a trail back, I’ll be able to follow it back to what I needed to do or needed to remember.

I’m always looking to add to the arsenal… What things do you use to remember?

Bread crumbs. Bread crumbs everywhere! (Toy Story Meme)

Originally tweeted by Jason St-Cyr (@StCyrThoughts) on January 14, 2022.

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