I write down everything: To dos, books I want to read, groceries I need to get, websites I want to visit, gifts I want to buy, goals I’m trying to reach…I mean everything! Part of me does that so I can make the task or action a real concrete thing. Once I write something down it becomes attainable – it’s the first step of a plan to accomplish it. But the other part of me does it because I don’t want to forget it.
I rely on written list, emailed lists and lists in apps all day long to remember things. But what about when you are in a situation when you can’t write something down? You’re at the gym for instance and you have a great thought or remember something you need to do later… but there’s no pen and paper around. Or you’re taking a break from technology and don’t have your smart phone with you while you’re on vacation and inspiration hits you.
Never fear…I’ve come up with this list of ways to commit things to memory until you have a chance to jot them down:
1. Focus on an Object: As you remember what you need to do — look at something that will jog your memory about it later. If you need to buy toothpaste and you’re at the gym focus on the TV where the news anchor is smiling. Think about her smile and your toothpaste – maybe even pay attention to the story she’s talking about to give you some extra insurance to remember what you need to get. Even if you forget that you need toothpaste later – you will think of that story or that anchor’s smile and it might bring the memory back.
2. Put Something Out of Place: When you think of something – take an object like a cup, your jacket or a shoe and put it in a place where it doesn’t belong. Think about what you want to remember and walk away. Later on you’ll say “why is this here?” and it will help you recall that task from before.
3. Say It Out Loud: This happens to me a lot – I’ll forget if I set my alarm clock or not. It drives me nuts! Because then I waste time panicking and checking on it when I should be resting. But a better way to do this is – as you’re doing the task — say it out loud. Saying “I’m setting my alarm for 6:30 tomorrow morning” will snap you out of “automatic pilot” because you’re now using your eyes and your ears to remember the task you’re working on.
Also if you want to remember to do a task say it out loud several times – this will help you commit it to memory. It also helps if you sing it – for some reason that works for me. I’m not kidding.
4. Tell Someone About It: The act of telling someone about something you need to do holds you accountable. So you’re more likely to do it – or that person will remind you to do it. So talk about what you need to get done or a movie you want to rent with a friend and even if you forget about it he might bring it to your attention in a follow up conversation.
5. Visualize It: If you need to get cupcakes, nail polish and take your dog to the groomer but you don’t have time to jot these things down on your list – visualize them. Make up a little story in your head about these three objects. For this example I would get creative and pretend it was my dog’s birthday. So of course I’d take her to get primped at the groomer for her big day. She’ll get her haircut and maybe even put a little nail polish on her tiny nails for the occasion. And what is a birthday without cupcakes?
Have you ever walked into a room and then realized you didn’t know what you needed to do in that room? I read a study from the University of Notre Dame that found that the act of walking through a doorway wipes your memory. It’s true – it’s called an “event boundary” and it makes it difficult for you to remember thoughts or decisions made in another room. That explains so much, right?
You can use these techniques until you have a chance to add the tasks to your to-do lists. What other ways do you remember things so you can be more productive?