HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
August 28, 2006, Herald Journal

Remind me...


Is life getting more complicated, or is memory just getting shorter?

It seems that more and more often, I need to write things down if I want to remember them.

Memory is a funny thing, and we all need to find our own ways to help us remember things.

This morning, I passed a colleague in the parking lot. He was on his way to put something in his car so he wouldn’t forget it.

He said he has learned that if there is something he absolutely has to remember, he needs to physically bring it out to his vehicle while he is thinking about it.

This may require some extra steps, but it is worth it because he knows he won’t forget, he commented.

Memory tools can be very personal things.

Calendars and planners range from the plain and simple to the colorful and detailed.

A parade of scheduling devices has passed through my office over the years.

In college, a small pocket-sized calendar was sufficient.

Later, as job duties increased, and I had many projects and appointments to keep track of, I hauled around a huge planner that weighed about seven pounds.

It had a leather binder, and it came complete with daily and monthly calendars, phone logs, and to-do lists.

The extra baggage became a bother, and I scaled back to smaller and smaller versions, and eventually gave up paper planners altogether.

I started using an electronic organizer, or personal data assistant (PDA).

That worked for awhile, and I was able to synchronize my PDA with my desktop computer.

There were many scheduling options and programmable alarms available, but eventually, I decided it was more trouble to manage and update my electronic organizers than it was worth, and I reverted back to a simple paper calendar.

It is compact, convenient, and easy to maintain.

Other people have their own systems.

One regional manager that I worked with was constantly leaving reminder messages to himself on a voice recorder.

It must have taken him about an hour just to get through his own messages at the end of the day. That is, of course, if he ever listened to them at all. I have a sneaking suspicion that it just made him feel important to be seen leaving the messages. He would frequently interrupt meetings to talk to his recorder, saying “Note to self, follow up on XYZ order,” and things like that.

A girl I knew used to leave herself messages on her own voice mail when she needed to remember something.

With advances in technology, we have a wide array of electronic gadgets, from simple clocks and timers to sophisticated data managers.

Some people are much more low-tech.

A pen and paper are still a dynamic duo when it comes to remembering things.

The very act of writing something down helps to reinforce it and help us remember it.

I find that if I write a shopping list, I tend to remember the items, even if I forget the list in the car.

We write notes to help us remember all sorts of things.

Writing a note to help us remember to pick up milk on the way home can do wonders when it comes to maintaining domestic tranquility.

A girl I know used to keep a sheet of notebook paper in her car with the word “gas” written on it in 6-inch letters.

If she was low on gas, she would prop the note on her steering wheel at night to help her remember to stop at the gas station in the morning.

They lived in a rural area, and running out of gas a couple of times led her to devise this quirky memory tool.

Some people are addicted to sticky notes. Their desks, computer monitors, and, in the worst cases, their entire offices, are covered with a patchwork of multi-colored notes.

It is unclear how this system actually works, or how they distinguish the new notes from the old, but they continue to add to the mix, sometimes even sticking notes on top of other notes to form a tapestry several layers deep.

Perhaps it is a disease, and they just can’t help themselves.

Some people don’t bother with paper at all, and go around writing cryptic notes on their own hands. This original form of palm organizer has the drawback of lasting only until the next time one takes a shower or washes one’s hands.

As a writer, I am constantly jotting down notes on cocktail napkins or scraps of paper, and stuffing them in my pockets.

I find material for my writing wherever I go, which might include interesting words or phrases I have heard, or names of people, web sites, or organizations that I want to learn more about, or maybe sketches of story ideas.

Each night, when I empty out my pockets, a blizzard of notes spills out onto the dresser and gets filed in my top drawer.

It might be months or years before I use this material, but eventually, I seem to find a use for most of it.

One of the most common, and probably the least effective, external memory devices, is asking someone else to remind us to do something.

The person in question might have an even worse memory than we do, and, unless he has some personal interest in what we want to be reminded about, he is almost certain to forget about it even more quickly than we will.

Scary as it seems, when it comes to remembering things, we are probably better off on our own.