We all forget things. An important task, a birthday, an idea—it’s fair if you’ve forgotten one of these in the past. Nobody expects you to be perfect.
Though harmless, forgetting things can cause you problems. Maybe the important thing you forgot was a key work assignment your boss was counting on, or maybe the birthday you forgot was your best friend’s (even worse, a family member or girlfriend). Again, not the end of the world, but being seen as forgetful doesn’t look good.
The problem isn’t that we’re forgetful—we simply ask too much from ourselves. We expect ourselves to remember every thought, even though research shows that we can have over 6,000 of them per day. Trying to remember a single thought within such a large amount of them can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Even though it’s a difficult task, a single thought, a random piece of data remembered can be as valuable as gold. That’s why today I’m going to teach you a simple process to remember everything that comes into your head.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen
The first step to remembering everything is to stop trying to hold everything in your head. Make it a habit of capturing anything that crosses your mind into an external system. Examples include thoughts, events, tasks, action items, and recommendations such as books, movies, podcasts, and YouTube videos.
You can use any tool for this. I use Todoist, but you can accomplish the same result with Things 3, Apple Notes, Notion, Evernote, or Roam.
One trick I’ve learned is to make it easy for myself to capture things. Here are three ways I do this:
These three options make it easier and quicker for me to get things out of my head and into my external system. This is the most important part of my process as I’ll eventually end up taking action on the things I’m capturing throughout the day.
You may be wondering where to put these captured thoughts and how to organize the various folders/projects in your system. Most task management systems such as Todoist and Things 3 have an “Inbox” section where all new items go, so don’t worry about arranging your newly captured thoughts and action items just yet. You’ll be doing this in step two.
Equally as important as capturing the information in your head is making sure you’re detailed with your notes. Have you ever experienced that moment of writing something down and then looking back on it and thinking, “What was I trying to say?” That’s exactly what we don’t want to happen, so make sure you’re as detailed as possible.
Instead of writing “Call John” you should write “Call John to discuss the upcoming marketing plan for Client A.” This is more specific and makes it easier for your future self to remember why you need to call John.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey
Now that you’ve captured all your random thoughts and action items throughout the day, what do you do with all of them? This is where your daily review comes into play.
Every day at 5:30 p.m., you’ll organize your inbox items by placing them into their appropriate folders and giving them a specific day and time to be worked on, making sure each item is clear and actionable. You’ll also plan your next day from morning to evening during this time (this way you're not thinking about what to do the following day).
Regarding the folders you should create, this is personal and my folders may not translate well into your workflow. But, as a starting point, I recommend splitting up your life into the major categories where most tasks fall under.
Here’s an example of a simple setup:
Now if you don’t like 5:30 p.m. for your daily review, try 6 or 7 p.m. I wouldn't recommend any later than 7 p.m. as I used to do my review at 9 p.m. and I found myself going to bed stressed about my next day right before bed (not good).
Give yourself thirty minutes to hustle through your review. Usually, you can get it done in 15-20 minutes. If this sounds like a long time, my thought is always this: "I'm trading 30 minutes of my evening for a productive 24-hour day." Seems like a fair trade to me!
Remembering everything isn’t something that comes from having a superior brain. It doesn’t happen because you were born with a photographic memory or the ability to recall everything with incredible precision. No, remembering everything comes down to a two-step process:
This two-step process has allowed me to be extremely thoughtful and productive. If I have an idea to do something nice for my fiancée, I capture that thought. If someone on my team asks me for something, I capture that action item. If a friend is pressing me to listen to a podcast episode, I capture their link.
Like clockwork, at 5:30 p.m., I sit down and review everything I captured throughout the day. I then set a day and time to take action for my fiancée, colleague, and friend.
Getting things done is a messy process.
Leadership lessons from a Spartan king.