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20 Jun

Two things to remember when using physical reminders

Datum: 2017-06-20 17:57

A mes­sage both I myself and oth­ers work­ing with per­son­al effi­cien­cy keep com­ing back to is that we are wise to keep notes regard­ing what we have to do in as few places as pos­si­ble — prefer­ably in one sin­gle to-do-list.

But, as is often the case, things are some­times a bit more com­pli­cat­ed than we would like them to be, and there are excep­tions to every rule. The impor­tant part of this rec­om­men­da­tion is not that we strict­ly adhere to the rule, but that we are able to do the right thing at the right time.

If there is some­thing we can only do in a par­tic­u­lar loca­tion and nowhere else, and we are in this loca­tion often enough for the task to get done some­time in the near future, we might be bet­ter off just cre­at­ing a reminder for doing the task when we are in prox­im­i­ty of this loca­tion and not both­er putting the task on the to-do-list. Hav­ing the task on our to-do-list is of no use to us when we are any­where else than in that par­tic­u­lar loca­tion, and if we cre­ate a noti­fi­ca­tion that reminds us when we are in said place, we will be noti­fied of the task at the right moment.

Doing some­thing different
In a recent study, the behav­ioral sci­en­tists Todd Rogers (Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty) and Kather­ine Milk­man (Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia) explore how we can opti­mize phys­i­cal reminders regard­ing to-do-tasks. Phys­i­cal reminders can for instance be delib­er­ate­ly plac­ing a stuffed ani­mal (like in the study) some­where, stick­ing a label with a cer­tain sym­bol on some sur­face, putting up a sign with a cer­tain word, or just hang­ing a reg­u­lar note some­where (”Turn off the lights when you leave.”)

Rogers and Milk­man found a cou­ple of cru­cial qual­i­ties all the reminders had in com­mon that we can use in our own work:

  • Reminders are more effec­tive if they stand out from the envi­ron­ment we choose to use them in. If for instance the space we want to place the reminder in is usu­al­ly emp­ty, we will react when there is sud­den­ly a large note there instead.

  • They are also more effec­tive if they dif­fer some­how from all the oth­er items around them. If there is a lot of text on the wall, an image will catch your atten­tion. If there are a lot of pic­tures, you will pay more atten­tion to a text.

Trip­ping on purpose
If we design or choose our phys­i­cal reminders with care they will serve us much bet­ter in remind­ing us to do some­thing at the right time and place. It is almost like you are plac­ing items you will fig­u­ra­tive­ly tripp over through­out your work­day, that will catch your atten­tion and remind you. If we already know when we will need to do some­thing in a cer­tain loca­tion, we place a friend­ly reminder right there now, so that we will stum­ble upon it lat­er in the day — just at the right time.

But, the reminder has to be valid every time you see it. If it is placed in a loca­tion where it some­times reminds you of the task need­ing to get done but oth­er times just sits there (since you do not have to do the task right then), you will still need to remem­ber when to do what by your­self, which under­mines the method.

Do this

  1. Take a few moments to think about if you have a loca­tion and sit­u­a­tion where you need to remem­ber doing some­thing spe­cial, and can use Rogers’ and Milkman’s conclusions:
    • Is there some­thing you must always remem­ber to bring when you leave?
    • Is there a step you always for­get to do when work­ing with a par­tic­u­lar machine?
    • Is there some­thing you have decid­ed to do from now on when­ev­er you arrive to a cer­tain place, but have a ten­den­cy to skip since it is bor­ing (but you still have the ambi­tion to do better”)?

  2. What would be the best pos­si­ble way to remind yourself?
    • A writ­ten note?
    • An item con­vey­ing a sub­tle mes­sage only you are aware of?
    • A sign with an unmis­tak­able symbol?
    • Some oth­er visu­al sig­nal that will help you do what you must get done?

  3. Do what­ev­er you need to do to cre­ate the reminder (or put doing so on your to-do-list if you pre­fer tak­ing care of it later).

You will see it when you need it
If you arrange phys­i­cal reminders that stick out from their sur­round­ings at your office, you will get the right thing done at the right time much eas­i­er — even if the task is not on your oth­er­wise com­pre­hen­sive to-do-list. You will need to keep few­er things in your head, and can rest assured that you will be remind­ed at the right time to do what you want to get done.

What’s your way?
What phys­i­cal reminders do you use to make your life eas­i­er? Any good ideas are wel­come, so write your in a comment.