Relying on Memory

All of the Lab-Rats are in some sort of transition. When in this change state, it’s easy to forget the little things and as well as forget about the needs and feelings of others.

When I get busy, I go into AlexWorld, and forget the basics of living with someone else. I sometimes even forget to eat. Usually this just causes minor misunderstandings or irritations, but sometimes it causes a big muck up, like what happened to me on my trip to Ireland (via Paris) to meet up with my parents in October, 2006. This week, I asked the Lab-Rats to read the post Overconfident Memory then answer the following questions:

  1. Do you rely on memory? If you do, how reliable is it?
  2. What sort of tools do you use to keep yourself on track when day to day life wants to derail your plans?
  3. How do you manage pursuing your dreams while cohabitating with others? Is there a clear division of labour or do things just happen (or not)?

Unreliable Memories

This week, the Urbane Lion was in the middle of a house merger, so his answers are quick and to the point. He never relies on memory because he knows it’s bad. Brett relied on memory and forgot to answer them until I prompted him but normally he has a two systems (one for work, one for home) that function well for him (when he remembers to check them). Crista says that she relies on memory but then discusses her Blackberry obsession, so perhaps she relies less on memory than she says she does. Sal used to rely on memory but he’s been wrong too many times so relies on paper and his wife now.

I’ve learned not to rely on memory at all. I’ve been known to ask Raul what he wants for lunch (to which he replies), then when he gets home from work, I’ll ask again, completely unaware I asked and set up certain expectations (that lunch would be ready when he got home from an exhausting and hateful day at work). Not a good situation, so I now write everything down.

Memory Aids

I was surprised at the “I used paper” responses. While Brett and the Urbane Lion use email and Outlook at work, they say that at home they like to write themselves notes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I lose bits of paper really quickly (usually within moments of writing it down). Because I’m on-line almost all the time, I use web-based tool like Remember The Milk and Now Do This. Crista loves her Blackberry – she thinks she’ll use a paper based calendar but by mid-January of each year she’s stopped writing on them. [Addendum: Brett and the Lion both let me know later that they transfer all their bits of paper into electronic format and if Brett had decent wireless coverage, he’d go for an iPhone.]

Sal’s biggest memory aid is his wife who seems to keep him on track in every way and not just on schedule. In Sal’s case it works well, but be careful with relying on your spouse to be your external hard drive. If I were to do that, for example, Raul would tell me to track it myself or forget about it. He’s no one’s secretary, but that’s our relationship, not Sal’s. Anyway, this idea leads me to the last point which is…

Getting Things Done

Memory and happy relationships are linked. If you are constantly forgetting things and your partner has to remember for you, remind you and/or do it because you’ve forgotten to, then unless you’ve worked it out like Sal and his wife have, you’re going to have problems.

Add in achieving your dreams which likely takes away from the daily-routine stuff and – woo! – look out for the fireworks (and not the good kind – more like the lighting-a-match-in-a-firework factory kind). Brett gets around this problem by working on his own stuff early mornings before the rest of the family is awake. Sal, as we noted, has the full support (in all ways) of his wife.

Crista made a good observation, that in many relationships the division of labour might be equal, but the expectations aren’t. Because of those expectations (such as how much time is spent on what and who should be doing it), it’s easy to let dreams get swept aside. If you’re like the Urbane Lion and the Urban Panther where your dreams are mostly the same then the expectation to mix the routine with moving dreams forward matches, but in Crista’s case, she decided to go off to school on her own, meaning that the expectations of getting other things done has needed to change. Fortunately, her husband is following along with these Lab-Rat exercises on his own giving them a way to talk about the changes.

In all cases communication is key to completing dreams and getting routine stuff done. In my own case, problems arise when Raul and I get too far into our own heads and forget to talk to each other. The Urbane Lion and the Urban Panther have different native languages, so they have learned to avoid problems by asking directly, rather than being “diplomatic” which can just cause language confusion. Brett and his wife admit to being human and note that although they try to communicate well, sometimes it doesn’t happen, but they know their big goals and just let other things slide. Sal also acknowledges that a lot of times with young kids letting things slide is the least stressful way to go.

How about you? How do you balance your task memory (or lack thereof) with getting things done and cohabiting with others? For those who live alone, what benefits or challenges do you find in relying on just yourself to get things done?

Someday Lessons:

  • Memory is fallible by nature – even the most organized people need some sort of support system in place.
  • Everyone has their own way to remember tasks – and it’s usually a combination of systems depending on the situation.
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12 thoughts on “Relying on Memory

  1. I’m a list person. I think it’s because I’m very visual. I have to see the list of tasks, otherwise I just drift through my day. I love paper. I love the act of writing the task and checking it off. At work I use a Harvard agenda.I was thinking of getting one for home, but then decided it would be just one more thing lying around. So, instead I use the task feature in Outlook, since I have Outlook open the whole time.

    In terms of task communication between the Lion and I, it’s very good, however, he wasn’t that great about relaying information that impacted me where arrangements were being made with concern to the comings and goings of the Little Lion. I can understand this, because the direct communication and decision making is with the Little Lion’s mother. However, I pointed out that I am still impacted by these plans and need to be informed. To his credit, the Lion is getting much much better at this at keeping me in the loop.

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Half light

  2. Wendi Kelly says:

    Hi Alex,
    I can’t rely on memory. Especially if I am writing or even reading a good book. You can be talking to me and I am not really there. I am off in an imaginary world that you are not part of. That is why it is such a focus of mine to try and live in the moment because when I am creating, I AM REALLY up in my brain and have left the room. Therefore everything must be written down so I can come back later and look at it. I keep a notebook next to me everywhere I go. The SAME notebook. Every morning when I get up I write down the date, and I write my to do list. My husband, my kids, they write me notes and every time I come back down to earth for a check in, I check the list.I also keep a timer next to me and set it for 30 minutes. ( Or for however long I want to work) When the timer goes off, I check the list.That way I can stay focused and still not loose track of life.

    The perils of being ADHD.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Dirty Dishes in the Sink

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    You’ve been working in government too long. “Impacted”? Isn’t that what happens to a wisdom tooth? 😉

  4. Alex Fayle says:

    I can relate totally – yesterday I almost forgot about a job interview because I hadn’t added it to my list even though every hour or so I’d remember it (but as an abstract thing – sometime in the future, not in the moment)

  5. @Alex – EVERYTHING I do in the government is an impact statement on this and an impact statement on that. I have been assimilated! BRETT, get your Viking butt over here and rescue me!

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Half light

  6. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Alex – I have to write to do lists, to remember to get things done. Like you, I forget things like having lunch, if there’s nobody there to remind me, as I never know what time it is.

    If I have to go to a meeting or make an important call, I set an alarm to remind myself.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Grilled Frog On Toast Anyone?

  7. Marelisa says:

    I bought myself a beautiful hard-covered notebook and I empty out my brain into it (some people call it a “brain dump” but I don’t like that term). I have a good memory but I find that if things are just floating around in my head I feel overwhelmed, but when I write it down it suddenly looks manageable. I’ve never been able to rely on an online system to keep track of my to-do list or calendar, I need to physically see it written down on a piece of paper. I love trees but I can’t get myself to go paperless (but I do recycle).

    Marelisa’s last blog post..Success – On Your Own Terms

  8. Glen Allsopp says:

    Great post, i don’t trust myself to remember all the things I learn so use (in no order);

    – A notepad
    – & Google Docs

    To keep down most of my thoughts and observations that I don’t know where else to put!


    Glen Allsopp’s last blog post..10 Things You Are Not

  9. Alex Fayle says:

    Glad to know I’m not the only one who’s a complete space cadet when it comes to day to day living.

    @Marelisa & @Glen
    I love hearing about other people’s systems because they are so varied. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who uses the same time management system in quite the same way (so it’s no wonder that the time management industry brings in millions of dollars each year). 😉

  10. Karen Putz says:

    Ah, that’s a big problem for me– I rely on memory too much. I write things down, have an appt. book and set up web reminders–and I still forget things. Somehow, I’m not remembering to look for those things to keep my day humming. I daydream a lot too, which makes me lose track of time.
    I’d be perfectly happy at home on an island with no deadlines and no appointments. 🙂

    Karen Putz’s last blog post..Wordless Wednesday–Beautiful Columbine

  11. steph says:

    My hubby does everything on computer. He uses Outlook and spreadsheets and so on. And he has a fantastic memory (at least for his own stuff!). On the other hand, I learned long ago not to rely on my memory. It’s never to be trusted. The way we remember things, if we remember them at all, is clouded by so many things.

    To remember stuff, I use paper. I make lists of lists. Always have, always will. I’m a notepad, notebook, daybook kind of girl – none of it electronic. I can’t trust electronic stuff either! 🙂

    steph’s last blog post..Of Questions That Need Answering and Other Stuff

  12. Brett Legree says:


    Ta-da! Viking in da house… talking about impact. We have a computerized reporting system called ImpAct (Improvement Actions). Buggy as hell. Whenever I hear the word ‘impact’ I simultaneously cringe and snicker…

    Oh yes, everything has an impact. A document I’ve written with next to no information will have an impact on the site for the next 100 years… *sigh*

    Brett Legree’s last blog you’ve got yourself a gmail account – now what? backup!

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