How to Keep Track of Irregular Events
Scheduling the unscheduleable is a challenge. But with modern tools, as well as pen and paper, we can make sure you have what you need, when you need it, even if you don’t know enough to plan ahead in the traditional way.
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Listener Stacy writes in:
How do you track something going forward? For example, “next time I go for an oil change make sure to ask about discounts on a lifetime supply of paisley-colored motor oil.” I don’t have an exact date for the event nor do I have a “to ask mechanic” page in my planner. How would I track an irregular event like that?
Stacy, memory is hard! Sure, ancient Greeks memorized 6-hour poems word for word. But we’re more advanced than that. We recognize the superiority of staring comatose at a screen, blankly scrolling a Facebook feed, and letting our devices do all the work.
You want to remember irregular events. A second semester quantum mechanics student would have some proof for why you can’t both identify an event and know what you need when you get there. But I’ve never taken Quantum Mechanics, so I’ll tell you how to control the uncontrollable.
It’s all about triggers. Find what will trigger your future action, and connect your reminders and reference material to that trigger.
For Tasks, Connect Notes to To-Do Items
Some things you do because they’re on your task list. Whether you use one master system to organize your life, whether you use a paper system—my favorite!—or an online task management system like Todoist—my other favorite!—at some point you’ll select a task from your task list as The Thing You Will Do Next. (Side note: my favorite way to scan and select tasks from your to-do list is the Autofocus 4 task management system by Mark Forster. There are links to all of these at getitdoneguy.com/tasks)
If you use an electronic task management system like ToDoist, you can add attachments and notes to a task. You’re reading a magazine and find a fascinating advertisement for a new product. Some young nerd with no social skills has created the perfect robotic shmoopie, powered by artificial intelligence. And there’s a limited-time coupon in the ad for 30% off!
Eager to solve your relationship woes for life, you would add the task “Order backup shmoopie” to your task list. When you add it, also add the URL of Shmoopie Incorporated in the notes field of the task. Take a screen shot of the coupon and attach that to the task.
For Paper Triggers, Keep a “Details” File
If you keep your task list on paper, like I do, you can’t do electronic attachments. So create a place in your computer to hold the electronic attachments. Create one, single folder on your computer called “Details.” Inside that folder, create a subfolder. Name it “1.” Put all the electronic attachments related to a given task in one subfolder. When you write your task in your paper task list, write the number 1 and put a square around it. That tells you to look in your online Details Folder 1 for the supporting material for that task. When you have another task that needs details, call the subfolder “2”, and so on.
Also create a real-life Details folder. When a task has physical papers, like the copy of your psychiatric release that was approved by the staff, put it in the details folder. Just like the electronic details folder, number the items. Write the sequence number directly on the papers, or on a sticky note that you attach to the papers. All the items related to a single to-do item get the same sequence number. Then in my task list, I write the sequence number and circle it, so I know it’s in my paper Details file.