Sammy Jankis wrote himself endless notes. But he'd get mixed up.
August 6, 2008 6:02 AM   Subscribe

Can I learn to be less forgetful and scatterbrained?

I'm constantly forgetting where I put my keys, wallet, purse, etc. I've never had a pair of glasses that I didn't lose completely. Occasionally I'll leave for a concert or sporting event without bringing the tickets, or leave for work without my gym bag or my lunch. I miss minor appointments (like haircuts) frequently.

The biggest problem, certainly, is that I'm not as organized as I should be. A compounding factor is that I'm pretty busy, and if I have to remember to do 10 things, it's likely that I will forget a few. I've tried making lists and writing myself reminders, and I have a calendar on my computer that reminds me of the important stuff, but I still find myself turning the house upside down last night looking for a camera that I misplaced (I left it at my parents house). This makes my life more difficult than it needs to be, and is a source of stress between me and my SO.

I'm looking for organization tips, or tricks, advice, and methods that have worked for you to either "re-train" my brain or to slow down and not gloss over the minor details of my life.

Thanks in advance!
posted by rinosaur to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Funny you should mention Sammy Jankis (from the movie Memento). If I remember correctly, he wrote a lot of notes, but he also tried to put things in exactly the same place each time. He did his best to develop a routine. He knew what where to find each thing, because he knew that he always put each thing in the same place.

Put a bowl near your front door, and whenever you enter your home, put your wallet, keys, etc. in the bowl every time you come home. Tada! You'll never lose them again.
posted by taojones at 6:14 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the bowl. I have one and it changed my life. No more wasted time digging through the couch.

Q: I just got home, where should I put this small but important item?
A: In the bowl!

Q: Where is/are my keys/wallet/workbadge/concert tix/tic tacs/loose change?
A: In the bowl!

See? Easy peasy.
posted by ian1977 at 6:22 AM on August 6, 2008

I tend to do the same thing, I'm pretty organized but I'm also pretty absent-minded. My two biggest strategies are routines and sanity checks.

Routines help you in ways like the one taojones mentioned, if you always put things in exactly the same place, there is always exactly one place to look for them. Teach yourself to stick to the routine no matter what, so that if you see something where it shouldn't be (like your wallet next to the computer instead of by the door) immediately put it back in the right place so you can stick to your routine later. Never say "Oh, I'm sure I'll remember later," assume that you won't and plan ahead.

Inevitably routines get disrupted and something goes wrong, which is where sanity checks come in. Before going out the door on the way to a sporting event, make a quick mental checklist of the things that you need to bring, and verify that you have each one. For tickets especially, I visually verify that I have them before leaving. Similarly, before you go home from somewhere, make a list of everything you brought and verify that you are bringing home each one. It's easy to stop doing these kinds of checks because 99% of the time they aren't necessary, but if you get in the habit of double-checking you'll rarely miss anything.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:32 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've found the most important part of a calendar or day-planner is that it's always accessible and you use it constantly. You need to be looking at it 5, 10, 50 times a day.

This type of system may also help your disorganization, especially if you incorporate minutiae into your every-day planning. ie, "put tickets in wallet", "pack camera into bag", "put gym stuff by the front door", etc.
posted by Adam_S at 6:55 AM on August 6, 2008

Consider using mnemonics, in particular I think the link system would help you for remembering lists.

Keep using them regularly, and take a bit of time when using them to memorise something and you may find they help quite a bit.

Fundamentally though, I think notes and routines are more reliable, so don't forgo them if you're trying out a memory technique.
posted by edd at 6:57 AM on August 6, 2008

I know you're looking for braincentric techniques, which I don't have for you, but here are some supplementary things in the vein of stuff already mentioned.

You mentioned the calendar and computer reminders, but is any of that mobile? I live out of my Palm Treo. I don't remember much without it because my head is always somewhere else. It beeps at me in advance of anything I need to do and keeps me on track. Calendar, memos, task lists, reminders. I've had good luck with Remember The Milk too.

I also do The Bowl of Remembrance, but it tends to overflow with flotsam. Maybe have a primary bowl and a "junk I need to figure out what to do with box" for all the other stuff like receipts and that piece from that thing and whatever other secondary things come home in your pockets. But keys, phone, wallet, glasses, sunglasses, camera, chapstick, the tickets for the show, etc., those go in the Special Bowl. If you're bad with bills you could have an active bill bowl/box/tray next to it that holds only unpaid bills. This won't help you if you left something at mom and dad's but maybe they can maintain a Special Bowl for you there!

For lost glasses, which sucks because you can't see well enough to find them, try Zenni Optical. Get yourself a couple of their $8-19 glasses to have as backups. They have some good looking styles. You just need all the details of your prescription including pupillary distance. If you lose them, get more!
posted by Askr at 7:09 AM on August 6, 2008

To avoid forgetting tickets or the like I will often have the entry in my calendar like this:

Mathowie's Original Jug Band @ The Venue
Get money quonsar owes me for tix

Everytime I see the entry for the event I am reminded that I need to bring the tickets (duh). To avoid losing them, you need a central area for pending pieces of paper. I don't use the same bowl I use for my wallet etc., but you can if it works for you.
posted by grouse at 7:10 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

My solution has been to own as little as possible, and have only one place where I put each thing. Keys go in the bowl, electronics components are sorted, clothes sorted, etc.

If it's a lot of work, you should get rid of some stuff.
posted by phrontist at 7:19 AM on August 6, 2008

I second other people's advice for having systems, but another key element that makes these systems work for me is being really strict with myself about keeping to them. So I never ever lose or misplace my keys because I only ever allow myself to put them down in the right place, and I literally will not put them down elsewhere. So if for some reason I cannot temporarily put a specific item down in the place designated for it, them I won't put it down. I will have to hold it until said designated place is accessible, because if I'm not that strict with myself, them I will lose things. The other thing that really makes my life work is what Askr said about using alarms on a mobile device. I don't have anything as fancy as a Palm Treo, but the calendar and reminder feature on my Nokia phone does the job. So if I need to remember to take tickets with me, I will work out what time I will be leaving and put a remnder in my phone for about 15 mins before, which will beep in my pocket and say'Pick up tickets'. And if I need to ask someone I will see later a question, I will set a reminder for the relevant time. And if I need to pick up my clothes from the drycleaners before they shut next Monday, I will set a reminder for 2:30 next Monday. If people want to give me directions on how to get somewhere I make them write it down. I know that for more than 3 items I will have to write a shopping list. Etc. This way people don't think I'm actually senile :-)
posted by alicegoldie at 8:12 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have many of the same problems. I do try to keep my amount of stuff down to a minimum, which helps to some degree, and I keep that rule standard whether it applies to stuff in my apartment or stuff I'm taking with me to another location. Example: I only have three things I really need for my day: my phone, my keys and my wallet (which is also very small, thus negating the need for a purse). I carry a purse in the summer, just because I have fewer pockets and also carry prescription sunglasses. I bought a tiny umbrella that fits in the purse; that's where it lives. But that's pretty much it. (Lots of organizing sites will speak of the help and hindrance of a "landing pad" just inside the front door. It collects everything, which is nice and predictable, but it also collects everything, which is awful and messy. Keep it small and check it often.)

One of the things that can be a huge problem for me and others is the nonportability of reminders. Post-Its fall off; if you put something in your online calendar, you have to constantly sync the work computer with your home computer or mobile device or paper Day-Timer. This article talks about "interruption science" and to-do lists, but the principles discussed are similar: lots of people simply use a single source where EVERYTHING goes. I like to keep a Moleskine in that aforementioned purse; it has everything from reporting notes from work to names of paint colors to funny comments to appointments. Yeah, it's stream-of-consciousness, but it's all there.
posted by Madamina at 8:34 AM on August 6, 2008

seconding Organisation!

I have a terrible memory, but I am very good at doing the same thing over and over again...
Going out the door; got keys, money, phone; all good!
Where are the envelopes? In the envelope file!
Where are my glasses; in the dashtray of the car!
Where's my calculator; on top of the speaker!


It takes a little more time and effort to be anal. Well worth it in stresslessness though!
posted by BadMiker at 8:51 AM on August 6, 2008

Not sure where I heard this technique from, but to make sure you never forget tickets, do not leave until you physically touch the tickets to your forehead. I've integrated it such that when I open the door to leave, the tickets are touching my head, leaving me with one hand for my keys and to open the door. It makes opening the door a bit of a harder effort - If I have an empty hand, or if the door was easy to open, I know something's wrong. With this technique I have never forgotten tickets.
posted by Meagan at 9:16 AM on August 6, 2008

Yup - sounds just like me - scatty is my middle name. I got a Palm TX PDA -- I can keep a To-Do list on it -- this has saved my bacon a number of times, but you have to remember to check it EVERY morning. The Palm calendar beeps at me to remind me of appointments (even when it is turned off, it will turn on to beep at you!).
Also N-thing the bowl to put things in -- I have one by the front door and one in the bedroom where I put my specs, my watch, etc., last thing at night. Saves a ton of time in the morning, hunting for things.
A few other tricks:
- Get yourself a midsize backpack - small enough to take everywhere (including restaurants), but large enough to carry your purse, a zip-up organizer bag, and a letter-size folder. Keep *everything* that you are going to need for the next week or so in the backpack. It's a pain (literally sometimes), but you always have the theater tickets and the check that you need to pay in, with you when you need them.
- Carry a zip-up organizer bag which holds the essentials for your work (I use a large makeup bag for this): a spare pair of glasses, a PDA, any other tools that you use (I keep a spare Hard Drive with my data backups, and a few small tools in my own). Keep this with you, in your backpack, so you always have your essential "stuff' to hand when you leave for work.
- Get a set of in-trays and keep these near to where you open your mail. Put bills and letters that require some action in the top tray, put things that need to be shredded in the middle tray, and things that you want to save in the bottom tray. Clean this out and process the bills every two weeks.
- Practice visualization when you lose something. My tendency is to panic. My wonderfully calm SO has taught me to sit down, close my eyes, and walk through all the things that I did after I got home, to remember where I left things. It does work, if you can stop panicking that you lost something important and time is running out to find it ...
posted by Susurration at 9:24 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Okay, where's the obligatory Getting Things Done (GTD) recommendation? I guess I'll have to make it, as it definitely works for me (so long as I keep up with it). I manage mine with Tracks and print out a copy of my next actions list every time mine starts to get stale.

Keys/wallet/GTD List/misc. pocket stuff: put it all in the exact same place when you get home from work. Bedside tables and coffee tables are great for this. Just use the same one each time. This one trick alone will save you time and frustration, as you no longer have to remember where you left these things: you know where you left them, because it's the only valid option. Think of it like that. Eliminating that trivial choice frees you from wasting processor cycles on it.

For things with hard deadlines, you just have to put them into some sort of calendaring device (your choice) and put alarms on them. I use Outlook at work (because its what my college uses) and Google Calendar at home.

Stuff that you need to remember to take with you the next time you leave the house: put it by the front door so you almost have to trip over it to leave. Do something similar for things at work that you have to remember to bring home with you.

Diligence is the key. To the extent that you can force yourself to write down next actions, mind your list, and put your things where they belong, you'll be more effective in managing your busy life.
posted by wheat at 11:36 AM on August 6, 2008

Slow down. If you can't slow down because you don't have enough time, get up earlier.

Take the time before you leave anywhere to see if you have everything.
I have a little "leaving" list that I refer to on particularly stressful days to ensure I take what I need.

When I visit people, I keep everything in my bag so that I don't have to remember to find it and put it back before I go. Your camera experience, if you'd used the camera at your parents and then put it straight back in your handbag, you wouldn't have the problem.

Make this your top personal priority, to be more zen, more aware about what you're doing. Think about it several times during the day, and think of events where there were problems, and what you could do next time to avoid it. Imagine yourself doing those things. Next opportunity, actually do those things.

At your special spot (where you keep your wallet, watch etc), keep a mirror and a comb, and a notice board with a calendar, a to do list, a leaving list, maybe a things to take to the next event I'm going to list.

Printout this thread and reread the suggestions. Apply them.
posted by b33j at 3:04 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've found it helpful to put things where they should be when you'll need them, or to put physical items in the way to act as reminders.

For instance, a few weeks ago I drove my family 8+ hours to Disneyland. The tickets arrived a week ahead of time and there was no way I was going to let myself forget them. The day they arrived I went out to the garage and put them in the glove box (or glove compartment, or jockey get the idea). I forgot all about them until we needed them, and they were just where we needed them to bed.

I do this to a lesser extent to remind myself of little items. For instance, every Tuesday night I need to take out the trash. A Google calendar appointment sends me an email each week, but I kept forgetting about it by the time I got home from work. Now when I get the email I take off my watch and put it on top of my bag. I carry my watch to the car and put it somewhere visible (the cup holder works well). When I arrive home I see my watch and remember I needed to take the trash out.

Other solutions are to put things you need to take with you in front of the door. I prefer doing something when I think of the task instead of adding the item to a task list and having to remember to check it at the right time.
posted by jaden at 3:08 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I leave myself clues, usually in clusters. (Why would I have put that there..? Or hmm where is my... oh that's right! I put them together so I wouldn't forget!!(gym shoes, deodorant so I use it and it definitely ends up in my gym bag ect.) I'll do all that now. *Packs gym bag and obstructs front door with it.)

I keep things together in piles, wherever I go. How did your camera get left behind...? Form habits so you can predict your moves. Don't just run out the door!! Ever!! What do I have to do today? What's involved in me doing that (Can I get there, get in, do all the things I want to, leave, get home and then back into my house? Was I supposed to bring anything for someone??) Always look around you when you get up to depart. Did I leave something on the seat? Did something fall out of my pocket?

Do practice runs (mentally). Why do some things get remembered but not others? Routines! Get your lunch-grab your keys-out the door. Heading to fridge, nope buying lunch today. Ok got some money-grab your keys-out the door. Routines can be flexible :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:18 PM on August 6, 2008

I know you say simple notes aren't enough, but I write notes--on full-sized pieces of brightly coloured paper--and tape them to the wall, so when I go down the stairs each morning I remember vital things. I can't NOT look at the note, and it's enough to jog my memory about needing to do X, Y, and Z. It's also how I communicate with other people in the house if I think of something after they go to bed. Notes on flat surfaces are ignored; coloured pieces of paper on a white wall get my attention.

Also, try to centralize all of your daily necessary items into a single pocket or a single, TINY purse (preferably with a strap that can go over your neck so you don't put it down and lose the purse). The tinier the area you have to look in, the easier it is for you to remember if something is missing. I'm not saying go for a Queen Elizabeth-sized minipurse; just as small as you can reasonably fit everything into, plus a bit of extra space for unplanned-for shopping. I still need a backpack for my notebooks, but when I wore guy pants, everything--including, at some points, dozens of accumulated pens--would go in my pockets. I could not lose anything vital. Did I have my cell? Yup, I can feel it in my left pocket.

If not a bowl for all your important stuff, hang a bag off of the door handle to your bedroom. Important things go there, and hopefully you'll root through it as you exit your bedroom in the morning, collecting the things you need.

If I need to do something before I leave, I put a note on a chair, and block the entrance to the front hall with the chair. If I need to bring something unusual, it goes on the chair. Drives everyone else nuts, but hey, I remember to bring my friend her gift.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:37 PM on August 6, 2008

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