10 ways to stop forgetting things—and get more done

Forget to reply to that email again? Miss your deadline? Here’s how to remember more.

You forgot that thing you were supposed to do for your boss. And that favor you were going to do for a friend. Or to pay that bill that was due.

Is forgetting one of the main reasons you don’t get things done?

How good are you at remembering what you need to do?

The second worst time management excuse, behind “I don’t have time,” is, “I was going to do it, but I forgot.”

Are you guilty of saying you are going to do something and then don’t because you forgot? Forgetting is not an excuse, but a root cause of your productivity issues.

Whether it is to-dos, appointments, obligations, or bills, forgotten tasks often cause more work down the road.

10 ways to stop forgetting

We all want to stay on top of our tasks and obligations. What we need are good habits and strategies to remember what we need to do.

1. Set an alarm. We all have alarm clocks on our phones, yet few of us use them. Setting an alarm is the simplest way to remind yourself. Need to call that customer back by end of day? Set your alarm for 5 p.m.. An alarm is the down and dirty way to jog your memory.

2. Put it on your calendar. Calendars are often underutilized. Don’t just make appointments for meetings, but also for tasks that you need to do. This not only reminds you, but has the added benefit of allotting time to get the work done.

3. Write it down (on your to-do list). What do you put on your to-do list? Many people only write down the big things. Ironically, the big things are usually pretty easy to remember. It is the small ones that you need to write down. Put it on your list—that’s what it’s for.

4. Set a reminder. Alarms are great for one-offs. However, for regular or repeating tasks, go ahead and set a reminder. For example, I have a reminder on my iPhone that goes off every Wednesday at 7 a.m. to tell me to put the trash out. Nine times out of 10, I have already put it out. But the few times I hadn’t, it worked like a charm. (By the way, Siri makes it very easy to do this.)

5. Do it now, so you don’t have to remember later. This one sounds like cheating, but the best way to avoid forgetting a task is to do it immediately. Do small tasks right then and there, especially if it’s only going to take a few seconds or minutes.

6. Have someone else remind you. Accountability goes a long way. Have a family member, friend, or even co-worker hold you to performing a certain task. (Kids are very good at this. My eight-year-old son reminds me of things I “said I was going to do” all the time…)

7. Put it on automatic. One of my favorite ways to avoid forgetting tasks is to put them on automatic. Set and forget. This works great with automatic payment of bills. You’ll be surprised how many things you can automate. For example, every six months Amazon automatically sends me a new water filter for my fridge. I don’t have to remember or even go out and get one.

8. Don’t say yes in the first place. Want to avoid forgetting that favor that you promised? Or that extra task you agreed to take on? One of the best methods is to say “no” from the start. If you are overloaded with your own work, don’t agree to take on more. You’re just setting yourself up to disappoint others.

9. Have someone else do it. Delegate tasks if you can’t get the job done. Just remember that when you delegate, you still have to remember to follow up. After all, you can delegate the doing of the task, but not the accountability.

10. Use your list! Your to-do list should be your best friend. If you are following rule #3, then your list will have your back. When your list reminds you of something you forgot, you know it’s working.

Craig Jarrow is the author of Time Management Ninja, where a version of this article originally ran.

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