How to Remember (Almost) Everything
We are inundated with exorbitant amounts of information on a daily basis, and to be honest, I am surprised that anyone remembers anything. Between the incessant red bubbles popping up on our phones, the technology that allows us to chat with multiple people simultaneously, and all forms of media giving us multitudes of information at once, how do people remember what they need to remember? Well, maybe they don’t.
If you are finding yourself forgetting things or constantly feeling like you have too many things to remember, you are not alone. The rate at which we are being fed information on a regular basis is a lot for our brains to keep up with. Add in the growth of technology and media and you have a recipe for information overload.
In order to keep my mind clear and make sure I am remembering everything that I want to remember, I have come up with a few things that have helped me get random reminders, bits of information, and ideas out of my head and into a place where they are top-of-mind when I want or need to recall them.
Pick a system and stick with it.
If you are a paper person and want to keep everything written down on paper, do that. For paper lovers, notebooks, binders, and paper planners are great ways to organize events, tasks, reminders, and lists. If you prefer scheduling and accessing your reminders digitally, do that. Digital lovers can use default phone apps or digital note-taking systems like Evernote or OneNote. Either way, you can create a system that ensures you are remembering everything you need to both digitally and physically. The key is to stick with the system you choose.
Some people like a combination of digital and physical (for example, putting all your events into Google Cal, but writing down all of your lists in a notebook), and that way works too! If that’s what floats your boat, do it. The important thing is to avoid switching between digital and physical methods for one purpose. For example, say you find yourself moving your to-do list system from a notebook into a digital note-taking app. Flip-flopping between systems will increase your likelihood of forgetting to transfer something from one to another. Take some time to figure out what works best for you, and once you’ve figured it out, do your best to stay consistent and stick with it.
Have one place for appointments.
This is probably an obvious one, but having a place to put down scheduled appointments and events is very important if you want to remember where you planned to be and when you planned to be there. Having a planner or calendar means you won’t double book yourself and will remember all of your scheduled events, no matter how busy your life is. Every time you schedule an event, write it down.
If you want to take it one step further, you can also use your planner or calendar for tentative events too. When trying to plan something tentatively on a date, write it down on that date in pencil (or on a post-it that you stick on the day, or however you want to differentiate between something scheduled and something tentative), so that if something else comes up for that day, you will remember that you have a tentative plan.
Keep a brain dump.
A brain dump is essentially something that allows you to get everything that is in your head, out of your head, with the ability to revisit everything later. It’s a place where you can write down all of the random tasks, reminders, and action items that pop up in your head so they don’t have to continue crowding your brain space.
Many people create a brain dump list right before bed or right when they get up. A brain dump is a great addition to a morning or evening routine because it provides an outlet for you to clear your mind before sleep or work. That said, a brain dump can also be a catch-all space that you can add to as the day goes on. If you want to use your brain dump to jot things down as you think of them throughout the day, just make sure it is easily accessible. If you are a paper-and-pen person, put it in a notebook. If you rarely have a notebook on you, put it on your phone. Having your brain dump in a place that is incredibly accessible makes it easy to write down your sudden thought and makes you less likely to give yourself an excuse not to.
Using a calendar or a brain dump is only useful if you check in with it daily. Your brain dump and your calendar contain all of your thoughts, tasks, events, reminders, and everything else that you want to remember, but you’re never going to be reminded of any of them if you are not checking in with them regularly.
For a brain dump to be useful, it is helpful to go through it daily and clean it out like an inbox. To clean it out, simply go through your list and move things wherever they need to go. For example, if you added “schedule dentist appointment” to your brain dump, your daily check-in is a good time to take that reminder and move it to your to-do list. Maybe you remembered trash collection isn’t happening this coming Monday because it’s a holiday and you added that to your brain dump. During your check-in, you can move that directly into your calendar so you know the right day to set out the trash. Wrote something down that you don’t feel is important anymore? Cross it out!
Going through upcoming events on your calendar and your brain dump regularly helps you stay on top of all the little things that popped into your head throughout the day without making you feel like you need to take the time to put them where they need to be the second you think of them.
Use lists or sections in your system for like-items that you continually reference and add to.
Let’s say someone recommended a book to you and you wrote that on your brain dump list. At the end of the day, where does that note go? It doesn’t make sense to put it on a calendar since it isn’t something that has to be scheduled, and it might not make sense to put it on a to-do list if you won’t be getting to it for a while. Find a spot in your system where you can put a list of books to read. If you don’t have a large list of books to read, maybe your list is broader than that and is more of a “recommendations from friends” list where you put books, movies, restaurants, and things like that. Now, the next time you get a recommendation, or you need to remember a recommendation that was given to you, you know exactly where to go.
Save as you go.
For things that accumulate a lot of paperwork or digital files, create a dedicated folder (or box, or binder, or digital notebook section) where you can put things as you collect them.
The best example for this? Tax documents. You are sent tons of tax documents at various times and need to remember where all those documents are at one specific point in the year. When tax season comes around, it can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful if you have to rummage through all of your documents and emails to find exactly what you are looking for. To save yourself that hassle, put all tax documents as you get them in one spot. If your system is physical, put all your physical items in your designated spot, and print all the digital items so that they can go in there as well. If your system is digital, save all your digital documents as they come in and scan your physical ones so that they can go in too. Now, when it comes time to prepare your taxes, you can remember where all your important documents are since they have all been saved in the same place.
Another example might be paperwork for your car. If you keep all car-related documents in one place, when you need to remember what work you have had done on your car, or if you decide that you want to sell it and need the original paperwork you received when you bought it, you know where to find all your car-related items and can easily find exactly what you need.
Don’t be embarrassed!
Don’t be afraid to put seemingly insignificant tasks on your to-do list just because you think it might be silly and don’t be afraid to keep lists or collections of documents that others might think are weird or unnecessary. Do what you’ve got to do to keep yourself organized and to remember the things that are important to you. What is important to you is unique to you and should be your business and no one else’s. Take me for example, I am writing this list that many people probably think is silly or unnecessary, but hey, if it works for me, that’s all that matters! It’s an added bonus if it manages to help someone else too.
While all of this might seem like a lot of tedious work, all I can say is that after doing all of these things, I am able to easily remember every task I want to remember, find a list of every TV show that has been recommended to me, and I can locate all the documents I need for tax season in less than a minute. The point isn’t that I can recall information in my head whenever I want, but that I have a system in place that reminds me of things I need to remember and allows me to locate documents and information whenever I need to. If this is something you’ve been struggling with, I hope this post can help you to do the same!