productivity techniques (or: remembering stuff)
Mood: thoughtful
Posted on 2010-10-20 12:22:00
Tags: reviews essay
Words: 579

I have a terrible short-term memory. As such, I'm constantly afraid of forgetting something important - all of my open loops stress me out.

For events, keeping a calendar is a godsend. I use Google Calendar, which is accessible at home and at work, and automatically syncs with my Palm Pre so I can access it anywhere. Having constant access to my calendar makes me a happy guy! (before getting the Pre I had tried Google Calendar and gone through phases of disuse)

For a todo list, though, I've tried a number of different things without much success. My current theory why nothing has stuck is that a lot of my todos are things that I need to take care of in the next few months. So putting them on a list and staring at them until I finally decide to do them is almost as stressful as having to remember them.

One thing I've done that's worked well is putting time-based todos on my calendar. The easiest example is for checking on a rebate that I send in - after I send it I put a calendar entry 6 weeks from then to follow up on it. It means I have zero to remember, which is the goal. If I get more information about it (i.e. I get an email saying it's in processing with a URL) I can just add that to the calendar entry and resume forgetting about it.

I suppose I could do the same thing with general todos (pick a date for each one and add it to the calendar), but they're generally so flexible that I might want to do it early, etc.

Similarly, I'm terrible at dealing with email. I currently have around 25 emails in my inbox. (although it was up to 40 before I made a concerted effort to scrub them last night) Some of these are just general information that I need to capture somewhere. I tried setting up a personal wiki for this, but it never really got traction because I don't visit it enough. Many of these are reminders of things that should really be on my todo list. And just like todos, having a bunch of emails in my inbox with stuff that I should really do at some point stresses me out.

So I was excited to discover yesterday (which is what prompted this post). is a service that lets you forward them emails with a date, and on that date they will send you a reminder. This is brilliant for a few reasons:
- In Gmail, it shows up as the next thread in the conversation of the original email, so you have all the context you had when it was in your inbox.
- The way you specify the date is by where you forward it - if I want a reminder on December 17, I'd forward it to There's a whole section of different formats you can use, including time from now and future day of week.
- The original message isn't gone, of course, so if you need to access it before the reminder fires you always can. I think I'll label them with a special label to make this easy in Gmail.

Anyway, I'm going to try integrating this into my daily email checking routine for a few weeks and see how it works. Hopefully it's as useful as it seems right now!

What are your techniques for keeping on top of things?


Comment from cifarelli:

25 emails, huh?

Don't ever, ever, ever look in my email inbox! ;)

Comment from gregstoll:

Well, it doesn't help that occasionally look over at David's inbox and see his usual 3 or 4 :-)

Comment from brittongregory:

Short answer: Getting Things Done combined with Remember the Milk.

If something should get done pretty soon, it goes on the to-do list. If something maybe should get done someday, it goes on the someday/maybe list, which I check regularly once a week for things that I might want to put on my to-do list. If it's something that I need to do later -- next week, or next month -- I put it in RTM with a date and a "timegated" tag, and have a smart list set up so that timegated items only show up when their date comes.

For e-mails with info that I need to capture, generally I just archive them and rely on Google search. I do have a bunch of (taggable!) notes on that I use to store info, though, and sometimes I file info away on that -- again, it's searchable, so I don't stress out too much about how I tag it. How do you generally archive your information? How do you generally use it?

If you want, I'd be happy to have an offline conversation and throw around some ideas. Like you, I have a terrible memory, but having a family forced me to really get on top of things, and my current system has kept me at Inbox Zero for almost two years now.

Comment from gregstoll:

Hmm, this sounds like a pretty good system. Maybe I should give Remember the Milk a shot (signed up months ago but never really tried it)

Archiving my information is a mix of email, text files on my computer, and the aforementioned wiki. I've always been interested in something like Evernote for a giant "bucket o' stuff", but I've never tried it.

Comment from djedi:

I almost like my system. I have on my iGoogle homepage (which keeps things synced between home and work) a todo list. On there, I make a strong distinction between near future (1-2 weeks supposedly) todos and longterm todo's. However, anything schedule or time based, I put on my google calendar (which also shows up on my homepage). I think it's a system very similar to Britton's.

I do occasionally keep very short term reminder emails in my inbox at home or work, but I usually prefer to just archive them and use my calendar or todo list and search for them later.

Comment from yerfdogyrag:

I'll second GTD and Remember the Milk (dunno if RTM is on the palm). I'm still pretty horrible with keeping track of things, but I'm less horrible than I've been.

One fun thing: I've been using RTM to remember what I ate at a restaurant. I eat at a restaurant. Keeps me from getting the same horrible thing over and over. When I remember to check it.

Oh, yeah. It does have the ability to associate a todo list with a location, so it buzzes when I'm at Home Depot with any items I need there.

This backup was done by LJBackup.