What can I do about my absent-mindedness?
June 7, 2006 9:29 PM   Subscribe

I daydream, miss meetings and appointments, and generally act like a space cadet. Any pointers or resources on absent-mindedness?
posted by lunchbox to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I used to do that - I missed dinner with my grandparents when they visited from interstate, and my appointment at the hospital when I broke my hand. I got inspired reading Getting Things Done (late last year, I think. Just google it - by David Allen). Although I don't actually follow the mythos, what I've taken away from it is mostly 'write it all down'. I also read 43 folders for a while, although the first year was a lot better for strictly organisational material IMHO (don't be too put off by the Mac aspect - I'm a windows user). These days my diary and to-do lists contain pretty much a complete record of what I have to do, so that they later become an accurate historical record of that day/week, which is pretty good. (I just use paper - see the Hipster PDA).

I am not necessarily reformed, but improving.
posted by jacalata at 9:48 PM on June 7, 2006

I've had the same problem for most of my life. I've solved it by a combination of self-imposed behaviors:

1. Copious list-making, for shopping and to-do stuff. I keep one general list on the computer and have several specialized lists for career / extracurricular stuff. I also keep one sticky note for when the computer is off, kept in the same place for easy reference.

2. A daily calendar for scheduled stuff like rent or appointments. (I recommend The Daily Show daily calendar, it entertains as it reminds.) Also set alarm reminders on the cell phone. Whenever adding a reminder also add one for the day before, so you don't get reminded at the last minute.

3. For tasks that require concentration, listen to music. I read somewhere that it suppresses active imagination and thus prevents flights of fancy when you want to focus. Anecdotally, I can testify that it helps to keep me on task when I'm programming.

And if all else fails you have a good sob story to get a script for Ritalin...
posted by Operation Afterglow at 10:05 PM on June 7, 2006

Get a phone with a calendar or outlook sync. Whenever you first hear of a scheduled event, put it in your calendar. have an alarm ring 30 minutes to a day before, depending on the event.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:33 PM on June 7, 2006

or Adderall
posted by lain at 11:22 PM on June 7, 2006

As has been alluded in some comments, this tends to come with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), hence, the recommendations for medication.

I use lists myself. And rearranged my life so my irresponsibility has minimal impact on my life.
posted by Goofyy at 1:44 AM on June 8, 2006

It's kind of a copout to instantly claim ADD/ADHD for absent-mindedness. I have the same problem and it's because I run around after two kids all day as well as a multitude of other activities, and it's just hard to keep track. I know damn well I don't have ADD; I just have a lot going on.

The absolute best thing I did was get a month-by-month wall calendar with big-ass squares for each day, and hang it by the phone in the kitchen, where I see it many, many times a day. Everything goes on there, from doctor's appointments to dress-up day at my kids' daycare to extended family birthdays and anniversaries.

I tried an organiser, but I never remembered to carry it and when I did, I forgot a pen. I tried computer-based stuff but it sat in the background and I rarely checked it. The calendar has worked well for the last five months, and when I've forgotten something it's because I neglected to write it on the calendar.

I also write lists, but tend to lose them or throw them out. I find they're good for short-term things (grocery lists, things to do while I'm out of the house) but not longer-term stuff like studies, holiday planning, etc.
posted by tracicle at 2:32 AM on June 8, 2006

When I'm in the office and I remember something I need to do at home, I send myself an email to home, and have generally disciplined myself to DO IT NOW! once I've read the email. It's usually something like 'put tickets in bag'.

Bigger tasks that I need to devote some time to are put in my Yahoo calendar, with several reminders. I also have a wall calendar, but remembering to write stuff down on there is hard.

Birthdays, etc. go in the Yahoo calendar. I do just about everything electronically these days, so writing stuff down doesn't come naturally any more.

For appointments, at work I set Outlook reminders, and for personal appointments I set a phone alarm.

I've found as the years go by, I get more forgetful, so am assuming I will need more prompting as time passes to remember stuff.
posted by essexjan at 3:23 AM on June 8, 2006

I'm frequently called scatter-brained, so I have found the Levenger Pocket Briefcase very helpful for my many lists. At work, I use a 11" x 14" sketchbook to track my many assignments, highlighting them as they are completed.
posted by Scoo at 3:57 AM on June 8, 2006

a $20 palm zire helps with wierd, non-regular appointments, and will beep at you when you are away from a paper calendar.
posted by mecran01 at 6:00 AM on June 8, 2006

Let me second a palm pilot. You can add all kinds of beeping reminders and lists that will keep you life organized. Any appointments I want to keep, birthdays I want to remember, television/radio shows I want to see, etc. I even have it beep me on days I need to move my car from one side of the street to another (street cleaning rules) - this alone has paid for the device many times over in avoided tickets.
posted by any major dude at 6:06 AM on June 8, 2006

I could not remember anything while in college. My dad bought me a Franklin (Covey) planner. It was what he used at work.
I loved it. I now use the one for my computer and palm.
posted by nimsey lou at 6:19 AM on June 8, 2006

There is a subset of Attentition Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) called "inattentive Type". Google has brought up mostly junk for me on it, but any decent book on ADD/ADHD will cover the differences between ADHD and ADHD-I. It is a possibility.

I find that my sloppiness is often connected to a lack of inspiration or a a missing sense of "connectedness" to what I'm working on - I like my job, but sometimes I just don't care. And it shows. So I need to keep myself motivated and keep my energy up with exercise, etc. Fear also helps (deadlines, etc), but it generally stops after a while. Positive motivation works better in the long term.
posted by GuyZero at 6:41 AM on June 8, 2006

ADHD isn't a copout; it's a descriptor of why things might be going badly. I rely on coffee instead of prescription drugs. It helps me focus my scattered thoughts. I have to triage incoming information. Interesting talk at the library I might want to go to - put the notice in my datebook. Meeting a friend after work next week - Write it in the calendar, and say out loud - Meet Joe at 5 on Thursday June 8 at Cafe Boeuf. Review calendar every morning. Make yourself aware of which schedule items are high priority, or not.

There are a lot of ways to organize your schedule. The key is to pick one, and stick to it. Don't try new organizing tools unless the current tools aren't working. You must develop the habit of using the tool, and it's much harder when you change any part of the process. I found Getting Things Done useful. A good book on Attention Deficit might help, as well, with strategies for dealing with it. I liked Driven To Distraction

Using a PDA, whether or not it's your cellphone, allows you to move the calendar between home and work pretty easily. These procrastination tips are helpful to me.
posted by theora55 at 6:51 AM on June 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

NO idea if this helps or applies to you but I discovered that when I don't get enough sleep, I become very absent-minded.
posted by blahtsk at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2006

A regular, heavy dose of chocolate works well for me.
posted by tuni88 at 8:03 AM on June 8, 2006

For tasks that require concentration, listen to music.

Disagree. I absolutely cannot concentrate if I don't have near-silence, and music with lyrics is especially distracting. (Classical music is usually great, though.) Earplugs, preferably silicone, are incredibly helpful.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:07 AM on June 8, 2006

All of the "absentminded" behaviors you're reporting are typical to inattentive attention deficit disorder, also known as ADHD-I. You should probably check out ASRS ADHD Self Report Symptom Checklist (18 questions ) from NYU med school's psych. department, just to be sure.

If the statements in it seem to describe you reasonably well (as they do for me), then going to a psychiatrist can make a world of difference in your life... you'll be extremely glad you did, because coffee and chocolate can only take you so far. If you do have ADHD, the first time you take a psychostimulant will be like a revelation--you'll have your brain back, at least for a few hours.

As others have mentioned, Driven to Distraction is a great book--but it has been supplanted by more recent books from the same authors--the most recent being Delivered from Distraction, which I found to be quite excellent.
posted by LimePi at 9:01 AM on June 8, 2006

Sorry I'm late.

1. Drink more water
2. Get more exercise
3. Eat more fruit and veg.
4. Drink less coffee and less alcohol
5. Get enough sleep
6. Make lists and keep a schedule
posted by magpie68 at 2:41 PM on June 16, 2006

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