Stop Trying to Remember Everything

During every day of our lives we’re bombarded with things to remember. People ask us to do things, get things, be places, and follow up on things. Most commonly based on our educational backgrounds, we’ve come to the conclusion that we need to remember everything.  

Things need to be stored in our heads for immediate recall at a moments’ notice and if we fail in this regard we’re failing as people.  We spend our time in school developing techniques to stuff information between our ears all the while creating greater stress and demands on ourselves. 

Being practical about the problem we should first look at history.  The written word originally evolved for, among other reasons, the purpose of capturing information for future generations.  The sharing of information from person to person through time is a critical aspect of writing and yet we seem to have forgotten that very lesson.

Writing can provide clarity, accuracy, and relevance to thoughts and ideas for ourselves and others. While that sounds great, it doesn’t explain what it has to do with remembering things. 

If you don’t have to remember something, don’t 

In a critical analysis of information you need to determine is that piece of information worth the effort to have it available for immediate recall? In the majority of instances I would say it is not. So if you don’t need to remember it, what do you do with it if you still need it?

This is where your trusted system comes into play.  Capture that piece of information in your system and then walk away.  It’s that simple.  If you’ve defined your trusted system in a way where you do truly trust it, that being you know then information will be retained and accessible when you need it, then not keeping that piece in your mental RAM should be just fine. 

Capture everything 

We spend mental cycles deciding what we should capture and what we shouldn’t.  The biggest culprits of this are: people with systems that are not capture focused and people who treasure their systems. Let’s take a closer look at both. 

Systems that are not designed to be capture friendly usually fall into one of three camps: location limited, method limited, organization limited.  Location limited systems require you to be in a specific place to do your capturing, such as at a computer.  

This was often the case when laptops and mobile devices were less ubiquitous but you will still find many instances of this today. Method limited systems force you to use their “best” method whether it’s plain text, structured forms, or some other requirement placed on your capture by the tool you are using.

Organization limited means the system imposes requirements of organizing the information such as through tagging or categorization prior to allowing the capture.  In any of these cases, the system creates friction on the process of capture and to reduce that friction you are likely to try and remember instead. 

Treasured systems are most common in the analog space rather than the digital one (since electrons are cheap.) It’s the paralysis you can see when someone who is a notebook and pen person gets a nice shiny new notebook. 

They often can hesitate to use the notebook because they, on some internal level, don’t feel what they are capturing is worth of the book in which they are performing the capture. People facing these situations typically receive the recommendation from me to acquire an inexpensive notebook for general capture and then later when processing transfer content to the “special” notebook (but that’s for another discussion.) 


Ways to do capture things 

To successfully free up your memory from “operating trivia” while still ensuring you have all your bases covered find a system where you can capture immediately, quickly, and efficiently. Don’t worry if you have to revisit the system to organize your thoughts.  Avoid the whole “touch once” mindset (that’s for advanced work anyway) and concentrate on redirecting things from your headspace to your system. 


Isn’t there a right way to do this? 



What do you mean, no? 

Just what I said.  No.  There is no one right way to do this.  Capture is an action that is personal.  Whatever way is going to get you to do it consistently and in a way you can rely on later is the right way for you.

Don’t fall prey to popular misconceptions or the latest “new hotness” in the productivity world.  Capture should be simple and smooth with minimal bells and whistles. 


How do I get started? 

That’s the easy part. Just start capturing and stop trying to remember everything.  Try writing things down, entering them into your smartphone, using index cards, pocket notebooks, audio recording apps, etc.  Play with things and pay attention to the methods of capture you keep coming back to.  Don’t be afraid to change if a method doesn’t scale for you.  The key is to keep stuff out of your head and in a place where you can get to it when you need it. 

Here’s the best part…when you capture things (especially writing them down) they’re easier to remember!