How to Remember Things You Have to Do

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Do you sometimes forget the things you have to do?

How to you remembering the things you have to do but don’t fit into your calendar?

How to build habits so they will become automatic?

how to remember things you have to do

From time to time, when I want to do something regularly, but not every day, I tend to forget to do those things.

The hardest habits to form are the ones where you respond to an external event. The event usually happens at random intervals. For example, pause and reflect every time you go outside.

I can give an even harder one, pause and count to ten when you get angry.

Let’s first look at what intervals there are for various activities, and how to remember to do things.

Remembering daily tasks

These are the things you do once a day, every day. Flossing your teeth, meditating, exercising, reading.

I have found that the daily routine is the easiest to keep.

For that reason, I have a 20-minute walk on the days when I’m not running. So, my brain learns that every day is an exercise day.

Calendar works just fine for these types of tasks

Things you have to do a few times a week

Exercise is the most common activity people do a few times a week. The main problem is we tend to rationalize that if I skip one day, we can make up for it in the next off-day, and then we don’t do it.

Step-by-step our once every other day habit deteriorates into never habit.

Put it in your calendar.

Set it in stone!

time quote franklin

You may delay, but time will not. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Once a week or less frequently

Weekly tasks are where I keep forgetting the most.

Oh, we had this meeting on Monday? I totally forgot about it, let’s do it next Monday. As this cycle repeats itself, the regular Monday meeting will be history. Same thing with calling your mother, meeting with friends, and other semi-regular activities.

I don’t think you can call something you do once a week a habit. Put these infrequent tasks in your calendar with a notification and it shouldn’t be a problem.

And then there’s one more frequency people forget easily. This is something you can’t put in your calendar.

All the time or constantly

  • Sit up straight,
  • breath with your belly,
  • smile more often,
  • talk more softly.

These are the habits we need to be present at all times, not something we just do once a week or day. We keep forgetting to act as we have decided until we’ve internalized the behavior patterns.

But when we forget, then the pattern doesn’t form.

How to make these habits stick?

In response to something random

You can remember and conditioned yourself with memory aids and repetition.

However, I have found that if I have to behave in a certain way in response to something that happens randomly throughout the day, then I am completely unprepared and fail almost all the time.

Random events are where I forget to do the new behavior, and this is where I need help the most.

For example, the other day I read about a mindfulness habit from David Cain. I wanted to try it out. Here’s what you need to do:

When you open a door, drop your train of thought outright (you can pick it up again shortly) and watch your hand grasp the doorknob. Pull the door open with purpose and patience. Feel its weight. Watch as a new scene is revealed. Feel the new air of the room you are entering. Listen to the sound of the first room give way to the sound of the new room. Feel this transition with undivided attention.

The problem is that I can’t remember to do it!

Every time I open the door, I don’t remember to do it. I will do it less frequently until I don’t do it at all.

Some other examples of reacting to what happens around you. Meeting people or dealing with an unexpected event. For example, try not cursing when you hit your knee on the corner of the furniture.

excellence quote Aristotle

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit. ~ Aristotle

Techniques how to remember things better

I’ve compiled a list of methods that might help you remember things like new habits, daily or weekly to-do list items. The techniques are not about what you memorize as facts, but remembering certain behaviors that you want to become your routine.

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I hope you’ll find something here that works for you, too.

Post-it notes

Handwritten notes on post-it notes. You can put them almost anywhere:

  • On your desk,
  • bathroom mirror,
  • toilet seat, wall.
  • Put the note on your clothes or in your slipper.

On gadgets and tech:

  • the screens of your computer,
  • tablet,
  • phone,
  • TV.

You can use the background image of your gadgets as a place to write reminders for yourself.

how to remember things

In your car:

  • on the steering wheel,
  • inside of the windshield or
  • driver’s seat.

You can put the post-it note on the

  • debit/credit card,
  • purse/wallet,
  • on the cover of the notebook/planner.

My mother’s had a deteriorating memory problem. She wrote notes for herself on everything. When to take medicine. How old the food was? When were the birthdays of people important to her? What she wanted to talk about when she met you. If the post-it notes work with clinical deteriorating memory problems, they will work for you.

To-do lists

There are many ways to keep a to-do list.

For daily tasks, I use a simple list of items I expect to complete on any day (in a Word document). The Word document also contains a larger list of items I want to do in the future, but that do not fit in one day. You should keep the master to-do list further down the document and transfer daily or weekly tasks to the first page each morning or the evening before.

Why the Word document?

There are a ton of online tools for keeping a to-do list. I have found that the more convenient they are, the less effective they become for me. It helps to remember things when you have to manage them manually.

You can keep your to-do list electronically using your phone. Mobile devices let you use the alarm or reminder features as you have them with you all the time.

What I have found, however, is that setting repeating events makes you less sensitive to the alarm and you might start to ignore them. To avoid desensitizing yourself to alarms, set even the repeating alarms manually.

calendar quote burke

I have my whole life organized on an 11×17-inch tear-away weekly calendar. ~ Brooke Burke

Use the calendar for everything

Put everything into a digital calendar!

Block time for everything you do. If it’s not in the calendar, it’s not real.

For a long time, I only used a calendar for tasks where I met other people. Meeting, seminars, radio shows, and other events where somebody expected me to be there on time.

I didn’t put my personal work tasks in the calendar.

I didn’t put my time off in the calendar.

There were several reasons I didn’t use a calendar for those tasks.

I felt that the task in the calendar will limit my freedom. What if I wanted to work longer on something because I was in a flow state? What if I miscalculated and couldn’t finish the job in time I had allotted for it?

What if something important came up, and I had already booked the time for something else?

All these excuses were just that excuses.

You can always build a buffer into your calendar to deal with cases where time starts to slip.

Putting everything in your calendar ensures that everything gets done.

The upcoming tasks in your calendar will give you a sense of urgency. You know you have to complete one task now, because the other is coming up soon.

Whatever you do, you will sometimes miss a meeting or a deadline. When you use a calendar for everything, you will run into problems less frequently.

Put everything in your calendar.

  • Work.
  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • Hobbies.
  • Everything.

Putting your personal life in a time-bound calendar seems weird for most people. But it is important.

For example, let’s say you  have to pick up your kid from school at 5pm. You have a meeting starting at 3pm, and it should last for an hour and a half. If you don’t put your kid in the calendar, it may seem it’s OK to run a little late.

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You also don’t have a blocked time to tell your brain you should leave the meeting. You are 30 minutes late to pick up your kid. And then there’s another time you are late for a family event, and then it becomes a habit.

Everything goes into Google Calendar, iCal, or another digital calendar. Set reminders to alert you.

scheduling quote Tharp

I don’t think that scheduling is uncreative. I think that structure is required for creativity. ~ Twyla Tharp

Then there’s this paper calendar on the wall. I have found it works best for daily challenges such as a 30-day challenge. The absence of the red cross on the date reminds you to take action.

Physical memory aids

If you need to bring something with you, then put it in your way so you can’t leave without stumbling upon it. Lean your trash bag against the door, put the dental floss in front of the bathroom door. Put items in a location where you’ll trip over them.

Constant reminders

This is probably the hardest.

Remember, a new habit that you want to do automatically before you have internalized it is tough.

As I mentioned, in the beginning, trying to do something every time you open a door doesn’t come naturally. So, what can you use as reminders in these situations?

wristband how to remember stuffWristband

I have had the most success with wristbands. When you first start to use it, then you really notice it and remember why it’s there. The drawback is you will grow accustomed to it in about two weeks.

To avoid getting used to its effect, I have alternated the hand I’m wearing it on or switch hands when I notice I have forgotten the thing I need to do.

You can also experiment with different materials, colors, and sizes.

Some people use a rubber band and snap it against their wrist as a small punishment when they do something they want to get rid of.

Write a note or a mark on your hand

This is a version of the wristband tool. Making a mark on your hand with a marker or writing a reminder will help you in the same way wristband would. However, you would need to remember to redraw it every time you wash your hands or take a shower.

I have experimented with the wristband and the door-mindfulness habit for a week now, and I don’t have any results with that. Now I will try to memorize the habit by repeating it to myself every morning and see if it sticks.

time quote drucker

Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else. ~ Peter Drucker

In a Nutshell: How to Remember Things Better

Remembering in more than one way. I have found that if you remind yourself in more ways than one the habit will stick better. Three of the most common ways are:

  • thinking it (with emphasis),
  • saying it out loud,
  • and writing it down.

If you combine all these, you have a much better chance of remembering to do what you need.

Write out what you have to remember over and over. In school when I had to memorize a poem, I just repeated it line by line and wrote it down for 3 to 5 times, and that did the trick. I still use this method to memorize really important things.

Although memorizing is not the same as building habits, it helps. You can memorize and repeat the goals and habits you want to internalize.

If it’s something you do regularly, always do it at the same time. Create a routine you follow every day. It is much easier to do something if there’s a fixed time for it. This way you have fewer excuses to postpone or omit your activities.

For instance, I meditate and review my to-do list first thing every morning. Routine makes it easy to stick to the habit.

How do you internalize new habits? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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Cover image credit by marijana1
Reminders: image credit by thebarrowboy
Brooke Burke image credit: JD Lasica

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Priit Kallas

Founder of FixWillpower.com. I created FixWillpower to help you reach your goals. I have struggled my entire life to be consistent and avoid procrastination. The goal is to have a good life, do the things you love and get your results with minimum effort. FixWillpower website is about how I create motivation and productivity in my life. I write about the tools and techniques, best books, scientific research, and everything else that helps you move faster and stay on track. Minimum effort doesn’t mean slacking off. Minimum effort is about effectiveness and productivity. If there is a way to reach a goal in a shorter time or with less exertion, then you should use that. I will help you be smarter and reach goals faster. About FixWillpower
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