The Forgetful Mind

I’ve written many, many times about how relevatory keeping a “thought notebook” in my pocket has been for me. Whenever I have a stray thought that might be useful at all to remember later, I jot it down in the notebook and then review it later, usually a couple of reviews a day.

Figuring this out has truly been world-changing to me. It’s helped me to retain good ideas, remember to do certain things, and record data that I’ll need later on (like addresses and phone numbers and such).

One of the big reasons this has been such a step forward for me is that, by default, I have a forgetful mind in terms of short-term things that I need to do. I’m great at remembering long-term things, like the date in 1989 when I had my appendix removed, but short-term things slip my mind all the time if I’m not careful.

Most of the time, such slippage is no big deal, but when it comes to things like remembering to, say, pay the electric bill, it can be a big deal. I have been late on bills before simply because I forgot to pay them – not because I didn’t want to pay them or couldn’t afford to pay them. The same phenomenon holds true for other personal finance tasks, like remembering to rebalance an account or to check on my children’s 529.

Luckily, such incidences are becoming much less frequent as I figure out more and more techniques to keep me from forgetting such things.

Automatic transfers and bill payments have perhaps been the most useful tool for me in this regard. Every payment I have that has a static payment amount – meaning it’s the same every single month – is automated. I also have a number of automatic transfers into multiple savings accounts that are geared for specific goals.

An “inbox” is always in place on my desk. Whenever a new bill or other item to deal with comes in, I put it in that inbox and it stays there until it’s dealt with. I just go through the items in it two or three times a week and deal with what I find there.

A daily “to-do” list posted in several places reminds me of the things I need to do every day – in other words, defining my normal daily routine. I even include such mundane things as my hygiene routine on this list, but it also includes things like daily work tasks. I also have an instance of “check your idea notebook” and other such things on it.

Google Calendar helps me keep my schedule straight. I have monthly reminders of several different bills and other personal finance tasks on there. These calendar entries automatically send me reminder emails as the day gets closer. Beyond that, I also have every birthday and other event that I can possibly need to remember on it – and these also send reminders to me.

A strong mail-handling routine also helps things from falling through the cracks. All mail is collected in a central place in our home (the entryway table) and is processed in a batch once or twice a week, with all junk mail getting tossed and all bills going in my personal inbox. Doing a batch processing of the mail and having a prescribed way to handle all of the pieces keeps individual pieces from falling through the cracks.

The end result of all of this is that I rarely forget important little things. I don’t rely on my brain to keep all of this stuff straight – instead, there’s a “net” of safeguards and systems that help me to not lose anything through the cracks.

Isn’t it all kind of redundant? Yes, in several places in the system, I’ll see multiple reminders of the same thing. It can be kind of annoying to see mentions of my parents’ anniversary in three different areas.

However, such redundancy pretty much ensures that something important won’t slip by unhandled. I’d rather have three notices of my parents’ anniversary and remember it than just one notice and forget it.

If you have as strong a tendency towards short-term forgetfulness as I can have at times, it’s really useful to get a system in place that’s redundant and really easy to maintain. This system works well for me.

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