4 Strategies to Remember Literally Almost Everything

The human brain is brilliant, but it is much more with its friends.

Photo by Gemma | That's Her Business on Unsplash

We’ve all been there. It’s your friend’s birthday party tomorrow and you haven’t gotten them anything. You panic, so you go to the closest store, buy a mildly expensive scented candle, a nice gift bag, and some fancy paper to make it look pretty. You hand it to them the next day and you see that look on their face the “Oh ok. Smile, admire it for a bit, and say your thanks in a peppy voice” face. Not to forget, this friend got you a gift you absolutely loved and still use to this day. Relax. We’ve all been there. We forget things.

This though is not an indicator of being a bad friend. You care about your friend but you also have other greater responsibilities that require the best of your brilliance. This blip is simply because of a faulty system. We rely on our brains too much. Our brains alone.

🧠 Why we do the act of “remembering”

When we choose to remember something, we do it for one of two reasons. To act or react. Allow me to explain.

  1. Information to Act. This is information that you remember because it requires action. In our example, it’s your friend’s birthday next week (information), so today, you decide to spend an hour shopping for a gift and a birthday card (action).
  2. Information to React. This is information that you remember because it’ll come handy one day and doesn’t require action. In our example, it’s your friend’s birthday and you need to buy a gift (information). Luckily, you took a note on your phone that your friend loves that dark brown coffee mug you both saw last month at a cafe in the city. You even took a photo of it (reaction).

✏️ What you can do to remember better.

Here are the 4 strategies that you can use for each of the two information types (ft. mobile apps)

First off, when information comes in, ask yourself this question “do I need to take action on this or not?”

If your answer is “Yes”, then ask yourself “is this time-bound or not?”

I recommend two ways of recording “act” types of information.

  1. Calendar. This is for time-bound information which essentially indicates a deadline or a time of occurrence of it needing to be done. I recommend using a digital calendar like ones from Google, Apple, or Microsoft. I prefer Google’s due to its clean UI and ease-of-use. In our example, it’s your friend’s birthday on January 24 and you recorded it on your calendar.
  2. To-do list. This is for non-time-bound information which essentially means it needs to be done, but there isn’t a deadline or time of occurrence tied to it. I recommend using a smart to-do list such as Todoist or TickTick. I prefer Todoist due to its simple design and the ability to set priority on tasks. In our example, you needed to buy a gift and you added that on your list of to-do’s.

If your answer is “No”, then simply record it somewhere.

I recommend two ways of recording “react” types of information.

  1. Note-taking. This is best used when a piece of information needs to be consumed later on or when the information needs to be found quickly. I recommend using digital note-taking apps such as Notion or Google Documents. I prefer Notion due to its ability to quickly format texts with just a press of a key on your keyboard, and its outstanding organizational functionalities. In our example, your friend said they like the dark brown coffee mug and you took a note of that on your phone’s note-taking app.
  2. Voice recording or photograph. This is best used when words aren’t enough to remember the information or when you simply cannot type. I recommend using digital voice recorders or by using your phone’s camera. I prefer using the stock voice memo app and camera of Apple’s iPhones. In our example, you took a photo of the dark brown coffee mug to remember exactly what it looks like.

As humans, we are not expected to remember everything, but it feels good when you do. Moreover, it feels great when you don’t forget. When something does slip through the crack and you forget, don’t give yourself a hard time. At least you know you did your best!

Listen, what you’re taking away from this article won’t stick for too long, so grab a pen and paper, and write down the 4 strategies (or apps) I mentioned above and apply them to things greater than birthdays!

Good luck, Einstein. ☕︎

Product Manager l Avid hacker of productivity through systems and environmental design