It happened again. Somehow, you forgot to return that one important phone call. Or maybe it was a report you needed to send out, but you didn’t. Whatever it was, it fell through the cracks. Now, you’re feeling overwhelmed, incompetent, and guilty as you try to clean up the mess.
How did we get here?
It all started with a simple mistake. Someone asked you to do something, or maybe you decided to do something. And then you said to yourself, “I’ll just remember that. I don’t need to write it down.”
And then it slipped your mind.
Many people do this to themselves on a regular basis. They have good intentions, but it just doesn’t work.
Stop telling yourself the lie, “I’ll just remember that” — and write down anything that matters.
You may be thinking, “That’s so simple.” And you are right. Writing things down isn’t rocket science. A 6-year old can do it.
We all know that it’s a good idea to
capture a task, deadline, or commitment when you think of it. You know that
when you write things down, you are far more likely to remember them. This
habit can help you avoid the panic that comes when tasks fall through the
It’s simple, so why don’t we do it?
Because we have built up the habit of telling ourselves this lie. “I’ll just remember this, so I don’t need to write this one thing down.”
There are at least three ways in which writing things down helps.
The first reason is right on the surface. Writing things down creates a physical or a digital record that can be referenced or searched later.
As a best practice, it’s a good idea to set up your workspace in a way that allows you to catch that thought or commitment the same way every time. Perhaps you always write things down in a notepad, then tear out the page and put it inside of your in-tray to “process” and add to your calendar or to-do list later.
But as a practical matter, sometimes thoughts and commitments catch you outside the office (perhaps on a fishing dock, on while you are walking your dog). In those situations, you might use a note-taking app on your phone, or perhaps send a text-message to yourself. Either way, as long as you have some place to look for that note later, you’ve done the capturing part.
The second reason this helps is because the act of writing something down engages your brain in a way that’s different from thinking of an idea or hearing someone ask you for a favor. It forces you to process the thought and do something with it, which actually helps you remember it better.
The third reason is that it helps you get yourself out of what Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist and author of The Organized Mind, refers to as the “rehearsal loop”. When you have something on your mind and you are concerned that you might forget it, your brain locks you into a cycle of constant internal nagging. That’s not productive, because the brain will remind you about your task at the most inconvenient times — like when you are watching a movie, talking to a prospect, or trying to drift off to sleep.
Make a commitment to write down everything that matters.
If you find yourself thinking “This is a small thing, it doesn’t matter if I don’t write it down” — ask yourself whether you need to do it at all. Here’s my rule of thumb. If you need to do it or delegate it, then it matters — and it should be written down. Unless, of course, you decide to do immediately.
To set yourself up for success, build one standard way of capturing ideas and commitments. Ideally, it’s a notepad within an arm’s reach of your desk. You might strategically place a few more similar notepads in other places where things might occur to you (kitchen, living room, and the car, for example). Then, whenever you think of something, or whenever someone makes a request of you, capture it right away — and watch your mental space clear and your productivity soar!
How do you capture your ideas and commitments? Sounds off in the comments! I’m always looking for new ideas.
See also: One Tip to Improve Your Relationship with Paper Files