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The System – Never Forget Anything Again

11 minutes to read.

I have an awful memory. But I consider myself productive.

Let me explain…

Say I’m at a coffee shop, and think of an amazing business idea. Then I get a text from my fiancé asking me to get dog food on the way home. I know that neither of those things are happening if the only place I store them is in the mish-mash of tissue I keep in my head.

Because I know that about myself, I have a system. This is my system to never forget anything.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is for anything I have to do within the next week. This consists of two separate to-do lists: Due and MinimaList

MinimaList is exclusively for my grocery list. The reason I prefer this app is because it is a single list that is ready for typing the second it opens. I don’t have to navigate through other categories of lists to get to it. It’s right there to add and remove items instantly.

You: “Oh wow a shopping list – how life changing. 🙄”

Hey, give me some time. I’m just getting started.

I start with this because I will be recommending four list-making apps with similar functionality. However, there is a lot of value in using the perfect app for a specific kind of list. It puts your brain in the mindset dedicated to that task and in this case, makes sure I actually use it. I am constantly adding and removing things to this list, so speed is important. Before, when I used a single list app for everything, I found myself not using the grocery list at all because it took too long to get to. This meant a lot more trips to the grocery store for me and my awful memory.

Which brings me to the second part of my short-term memory, Due.

Due reminds me of any task I have to do within the next week. (Not appointments, those go in long-term memory.)

For example, a few things I wanted to accomplish this week were:

  • Schedule a haircut appointment
  • Listen to a new album a friend recommended to me
  • Work on my app, Healthy Paws
  • Write a blog post

The thing that makes Due perfect for this is:

  • You are ready to add a task the second it opens (Again, the faster it is to get the reminder in the system, the higher chance you’ll use it.)
  • You can choose the preset reminder times to speed things up even more (Which for me are: 8am, 12pm, and 7pm)
  • It will remind you every hour to do the task that was not completed until you either get it done or reschedule it

So, on Monday, I got a reminder to schedule my haircut appointment at noon. I was in a meeting, so I couldn’t. But I was reminded again at 1, called, and put the time and date into long-term memory.

On Tuesday, a friend recommended I listen to the album “Process” by Sampha. I couldn’t at the moment, but I set a reminder to listen to it when I got home from work at 7pm that night.

On Wednesday, I got a reminder to work on my app. I ended up being busy with other things that day, so I moved it to 7pm Thursday to work on it when I had more time.

Then today, Sunday, I got a reminder to write this blog post at noon, so I drove to a coffee shop and here we are.

The point of me explaining my mundane week is this…

Without my system I might have remembered to write this post or work on my app at some point. However, without a reminder from past me, there’s a good chance I would think, “Oh I’ll just do it next week.” But rational me doesn’t want to put things off until next week. So I added this layer to where the act of having to move the task to work on Healthy Paws from Wednesday to Thursday creates enough resistance to remind myself, “I already pushed this back once, I need to make sure I do it this time.

On top of that, I would have never listened to that album without it going into my system, and I ended up liking that album a lot. It helps with more than just work, but with anything.

And finally, the most useful part of my short-term memory system, are recurring reminders. I use this for things I would ideally do on a regular basis. I don’t always do these things when I get the reminder, but it’s me telling myself I probably should.

  • Take my medicine every morning
  • Read every night at 9pm
  • Call my parents every Sunday
  • Review my expenses in Mint every month

I like these because it solidifies a routine. Ideally, I would read every night before bed and call my parents every Sunday, but without a reminder nagging me I could quickly fall out of that routine.

Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is for appointments and general brain dump.

Appointments are simple, most of you probably already do this, so I’ll go fast.
For set appointments I use a calendar app.
I use Fantastical, but any calendar app will do.

The reason I don’t use Fantastical for tasks, even though it has great list functionality, is because of the two things I mentioned earlier. Opening Due puts be me in the mind set of getting things done, and Due is easier to use and set up reminders. In Fantastical, it’s only marginally slower to add tasks, but 2-3 taps slower to find them later on.

The main things I want to touch on for calendars are: Put every appointment you have in your calendar and use multiple calendars.

The reason I say put everything in your calendar is because once you start relying on it, you will forget anything not in there. When I had no calendar I would forget maybe 20% of my appointments. Using a calendar I forget 0 appointments, but because I rely on it so heavily, I probably forget 90% of things I don’t put in there.

Side note: If you are the kind of person that uses a paper calendar, and that works for you, that’s fine. But those aren’t always with you and don’t send reminders an hour before you need to be somewhere. Give digital a chance. :)

And multiple calendars are important because they allow you to filter events, color code types appointments, and enables you to share specific calendars with different people.

My calendars are:

  • Work, for anything day job related
  • Jobs, for anything side project related
  • Local events, for anything going on in the city I want to be aware of (whether or not I end up going)
  • A Lady And a Dude, which is a shared calendar between me and my fiancé for things we both need/want to go to

That is just how I organize my calendar though. Let’s move on…
Now, my all time favorite tool, Evernote.
In 100 years when they can artificially create consciousness in a computer, they’ll be able to create an exact replica of me exclusively from my Evernote notes. That’s how often I use Evernote.

I’ll start with how I organize my notes into notebooks, then I’ll go into how I organize and use the notes within those notebooks.

Side note: I use Evernote Premium because of extra functionality like OCR, PDF annotation, scanning documents, etc. However, everything I’m about to say is just as helpful using the free plan.

I have 4 notebooks: Inactive, Jobs, Personal, and Work.

Inactive is for any notes that I’ve deemed are no longer useful. These are ideas I’ve had that I no longer like or extensive notes I took for something that only happened once. This is so I can get these notes out of my way but still have them there and searchable – just in case.

The Jobs notebook is for side project work and ideation. This one may not be relevant to you, but I love starting new side projects like apps, websites, or even this blog. If you are like me in that way, I highly recommend siloing that information from your personal and work notebooks.

Now, the Personal notebook was a little harder for me to organize because it is such a huge category, but I think I finally have it in a good place. This notebook is for anything related to me as a person in the world. Where my other notebooks are to help remember things I need to accomplish a task, this notebook is just the things I need to remember throughout life.

Then the last notebook I have is, Work. This is dedicated to anything I am working on at my day job.

Like I mentioned before, I believe in organizing things in a way that put you in a mindset to do that task.

I have my notebooks set up this way is so when am writing a blog post or working on Healthy Paws, I know to go to my Jobs folder, this keeps me focused on that task and not distracted by things I have to do for my day job, taxes, or something else.

If you think of my notebooks as “categories”, my notes are “sub-categories”. So every note within my notebooks are still pretty independent from the other notes in that notebook.

Side note: To clear things up a bit in the notebook/note hierarchy, incase you aren’t familiar with Evernote – “Notes” are grouped into “notebooks”, and a note is really a collection of smaller notes (for the sake of simplicity, let’s call those smaller notes “pages”).

Imagine this:

  • Notebook
    • Note
      • Page
      • Page
      • Page
    • Note
      • Page
      • Page

Now that we have that established, let’s get into my notes and pages.

In an effort to keep this leaning towards helpful and not boring, I’ll just explain the Jobs and Personal notebooks.

There are two types of notes I have in jobs. Things that help me with side projects and then the side projects themselves.

Let me walk through a few:

  • GilOsborne: This note is for my blog. In here, I have a page for each blog post idea where I have working outlines for those ideas.
  • HealthyPaws: This note has pages for things like design details or marketing plans. I also have a different note for every version of my app that I’ve built or plan on building. (I do this so I can group a long list of features into smaller version releases. Doing this gives me a much more manageable list and a much faster positive feedback loop when I push to the app store – which keeps me motivated and avoids burnout)
  • Ideas: In this note, I have pages for every random idea I come up with. In those pages I have an explanation of the idea and why I think it could work.
  • Ideas-ShortList: This is the same as the Ideas list – it’s just where I put the better ones.
  • iOS Dev: In here I have a page for libraries where I put Swift libraries I think I might use someday. I also have pages for resources on things like code design or monetizing apps.

Since most people aren’t “Side Project” kind of people, I just did enough of my Jobs notebook to get my point across.

However, for my “Personal” notebook, I’m going to touch as quickly as I can on every note:

  • Books: In here, I just have pages with the title of every book I’ve read, when I read it, and any insights I might have gained.
  • Business Cards: Whenever I get a business card from someone, I scan it in Evernote and throw away the paper.
  • Documents: Similarly, whenever I have a document I need to save, I either throw the PDF in here or scan the paper document with the Evernote scanner functionality.
  • Health: In here, I have a page that is a list of things I need to ask the doctor next time I go, a page for any doctors I have and their contact info, a page for anything I’ve been diagnosed with, and finally a few pages on diet and exercise.
  • Instapaper: I read a lot of articles on Instapaper. So I have an IFTTT trigger set up to automatically add any highlights as a page in this note.
  • Me: I have a page for “Appearance” which is where I save things like the shampoo I use, soap I like, description of my haircut, etc. I also have pages for things like the size clothes I wear at different stores, my bucket list, Briggs personality score, places I’ve been and when, quotes I like, personal goals, a list of things I want to improve about myself, and anything else that relates to me that I want to remember.
  • Places: There are pages in here for things like: hiking, restaurants, vacation, etc. that each have a list of those types of places I want to go someday.
  • Professional: Where the “Work” notebook is anything pertaining to projects with my current employer, this is more notes on my career overall. In here I have recorded Tech Talks I’ve been to, interview tips, a list of places to get a personal assistant if I were to ever need one, etc.
  • Settings: This is just a list of preferred settings for things like Slack, Duck Duck Go, Terminal, or anything else I want to save.
  • Wedding: In here, I have pages for our honeymoon, reception, website, and things that I need to make sure I have ready for the wedding.
  • Notes: Then finally, notes is the “catch all”. This is where I put anything random that I can’t really categorize but I would like to be able to search for if I were to ever need it.

That is how I organize my Evernote’s notebooks and notes.

I just have one last tip…

Before most of my notes get into any of those pages, they almost all start in my “unsorted” note. This note is not in any notebook, it just stays at the root of Evernote. This is my default note where any new page goes when I have something I want to record. It acts as triage for when I want to quickly add something into Evernote, but don’t have time to properly file it.

A few things I have in my triage right now are:

  • A PDF on Email design
  • A list of all the Slack channels I am a part of
  • Student loan tax information for last year

This keeps Evernote quick and easy when it needs to be, so nothing gets left out. Then I go in and organize that note every few weeks and make sure all the pages are put away in the right place.

Finally, if you want to see all of this in action, this is what my Evernote looks like.

So that is how I go through life using technology to make sure I never forget anything. I hope you were able to gain something from this to improve your own workflow.

If you enjoyed this, please subscribe to my newsletter for new posts or take a look at some old ones.

If you didn’t enjoy this… Well, I suppose you can’t win them all. Thanks anyway for reading all 2500+ words of something you didn’t like.

Thank you,

Gil

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