If you can’t figure out how to keep track of everything, there’s one small trick that can make a big difference.
When Mental Notes Make You Mental: How to Keep Ideas from Disappearing Into the Ether
Because Who Doesn’t Enjoy Catching Lightning Bugs?
While tapping merrily away on my series about household management, I kept running into a snag.
I would type “do this part later” or “make a mental note” or “remember to…”
Only…what if you can’t do any of those?
I know there was a time when I couldn’t capture and hold onto a thought long enough to even get it onto a To Do list.
Faulty executive function skills can make deferring an action tricky. When I used to make a mental note to do something later, the thought would instantly flit away like a fire fly on a summer evening (poetic, eh? Thank you, I tried).
My BFF (not), distractibility, made it impossible to keep the thought while also making it impossible to tackle the action right away.
What a jerk. I’m thinking about unfriending him.
And, in case you’re wondering, writing stuff down didn’t work either. I rarely had pen and paper, and if I did, I’d lose whatever I wrote down anyway.
Memory of a Goldfish
But what’s the one thing I always have with me? That’s right – my phone.
Even in the bathroom. (TMI, maybe, but I know you guys take yours in there, too – don’t worry, I won’t tell.)
So, I would text myself.
Then I’d be like, “Oh! Who texted me?”
I wish I were joking.
Anyway, when I had my old phone, I would text myself my To Dos as I thought of them. Just a quick text to my own phone number.
Now, with my smartphone, I send myself an email.
Unless Emailing Yourself About Vampires Is Normal For You. I’ve Heard Worse.
Here’s how you can use Gmail to capture your thoughts before they fly away.
- In the subject line (anywhere in the email works, actually), type a unique keyword. And by unique, I don’t mean you’re special for choosing it. I mean one that would never show up in an email from someone else accidentally. I’ve used “YYY” for many years now, and it works splendidly.
- Verify the “To:” field. Make sure it’s going to your own email. You’ll see why in a minute.
- As soon as a thought pops up in your mind or someone makes a request, send yourself the email.
- Use spaces after the keyword (and before if it’s not the first word). A Gmail search won’t find it if it’s part of another word.
Found that one out the hard way.
- With Gmail, at least, you can filter out unwanted emails. Between not deleting old To Do emails and using “YYY” for other random thoughts, it’s nice to keep the list unmuddled.
For a tutorial on how to create this filter, click here.
- If you have a really terrible memory, include enough words to remember what you meant. Because if you just type “money,” you could forget whether you’re supposed to give it to your kid, put it in your purse for groceries, or bury it in a mason jar in the back yard.
- Autocorrect can be a real chucklehead. Nothing more baffling than an email that says “YYY vampire” when you meant to send “YYY camporee” (true autocorrect story). So check before you send.
- Set aside a time each week to look through all your “YYY”s and transfer your thoughts (perhaps to a To Do list). After all, no point in sending yourself a reminder if you don’t look at it.
I do this as part of my Weekly Paperwork Review Day. If you don’t have a set day for that (yet), use a recurring weekly reminder in an alarm app to “check ‘YYY’ emails.”
- You can use your keyword in outgoing messages to others, as well. I use it whenever I email my husband and kids something I want to follow up on. It helps me nag more efficiently. And relentlessly.
Here’s a screenshot of my most recent “YYY” emails, just to show you how this all works.
Washer…Drain…See What I Did There?
But why, you say, would you not just use a note-taking app?
Well, with an email reminder:
- I can quickly archive individual emails with a click and get them out of sight (but still accessible).
- Email is most likely always up, and I’m always in it. No need to open another app. If you’re like me, you probably have too many apps open on your phone, anyway.
- Anyone can send me a reminder, idea, or To Do. My family is trained – if they want me to notice something, they add “YYY.”
- I can forward emails from other people to myself and add “YYY” so I remember to do something with them later.
- And I can, as I said, add “YYY” to an outgoing email so it stays on my nag-radar.
If you still want to use a note app, that’ll work, too. Just use one that’s in the cloud, such as Evernote.* Don’t use one local to your phone or your thoughts will go down the drain when you run your phone through the washer.
If you don’t have a phone, keep a notebook/pen combo in your pocket.
If you don’t have a pocket…um, wear something with a pocket?
I have never mastered either (the notebook or the pockets), but I have faith in you.
I Didn’t Say Take One Before the Conference. Your Call, Though.
Emailing works for most of those momentary notions you want to capture. However, if you suddenly think of something you need to do soon, like today or tomorrow (example: pick up your valium prescription because it’s teacher conference night), use an alarm app.
For super duper important reminders, do both. Redundancy is your friend.
I Can’t Wake Up! (or, Apparently, Remember What To Do Next!)
When it comes to alarm reminder apps, I suggest I Can’t Wake Up!
I am not exclaiming that to the hills. It’s a terrific app and all, but I have limits on what I will randomly yell (broad limits, but limits just the same). The “!” is part of the name.
Stay tuned for a post on apps that help me get by. I’ll include more about how I use this one then. For now, just know it’s a great app to capture mental notes that need near-immediate action.
I prefer it over others I’ve tried because:
- It’s fast and simple. It’s the easiest one I’ve found for hastily setting an alarm.
- It unceasingly rings until you shut it down (my family considers this a drawback – my son claims PTSD now when he hears that tone).
- It’s very hard to turn off accidentally or silence without realizing it.
If you already have an alarm reminder app you love, use that. I realize you don’t need my permission, but I’m granting it anyway. Just know that alarm apps can be used for more than recurring reminders and appointments (and, oh yeah, waking you up). You can use it when you think of something right now that needs to be done tonight before dinner.
Hey, Mom, Nice Tats
Before I started corresponding regularly with myself, I had a lot of trouble keeping track of all the ideas and thoughts flickering around in my consciousness. I would repeat things over and over to myself, scribble thoughts on my arm (some days I looked like I had just gotten out of prison), and tell other people to “remind me to…” All those methods were helpful.
None were helpful enough.
Now when I’m putting on makeup (you’re welcome, world) and notice my mascara is getting clumpy, I send myself an email.
When my son flings sauce onto his new shirt (and mine) at Olive Garden (again), I remind myself on my alarm app to wash them as soon as we get home.
When I’m at the gym (suspend reality for a moment) and my earbuds stop working, an “YYY” email reminds me to throw a different pair in the bag for next time (okay, imaginary sequence over).
When my husband wants me to make a doctor’s appointment for his hemorrhoids (he reads my blog so I thought he’d enjoy that one – kidding, honey – btw, do you still need that appointment? (he hates me)), he knows that sending me an “YYY” email will definitely get it onto my To Do list on Review Day.
Hard Core Flake Alert
I still haven’t found a 100% foolproof system (thus the need for redundancy – it’s just…my life). I sometimes forget what I’m thinking before I can even get it into my email. Or I pull up Gmail, see an interesting email in the inbox, and totally forget I’m sending myself a note.
But it works much more often than not. I rarely have to worry about forgetting something that’s important anymore.
Unless I want to.
Trust Me. I’m a Doctor.**
I can trust myself to get things done. And other people can trust me, too.
So I got that goin’ for me. Which is nice.***
Okay, I’m off to finish my paperwork series, Home Management 101 Tips for Busy Moms (and Everyone Else) (Update: It’s all finished! Click here for Post 1). ‘Cuz now I know that when I say “remember blah blah blah,” you have a plan.****
*I do use Evernote – just not for jotting down quick thoughts I need to remember. Evernote, if you’d ever like to sponsor me, call me. We’ll do lunch.
**For the record, I am not a doctor. Just wanted to get that out there.
****No reason – I just like asterisks.