Recently, I read an article called The 1 Work Hack That Will Save You 900 Hours a Year. And I did not get it. I found what the author describes a bit – unpractical. Do I really pull out my laptop in a meeting to actually start writing the first few words of a document I promise to deliver? What do the other people do during that time? And do I really leave the document open all the time to not forget finishing it? What if it is a big document – does it need to stay open all the time? What if I promise to make a phone-call – do I actually start typing the number? And above all: how exactly is this supposed to save me 900 hours a year?? Even if I worked 300 days a year (which I don’t) – this would mean it saves me 3 hours a day? Really?? I don’t get it, something must be escaping me, if you know what – please let me know :-) .

Today I would like to share the one hack I use to make sure I never forget an action for me or someone else at work (which is what is really described in the article above). I would not go as far as saying this saves me 900, 100, 10 or even 1 hour a year – but it makes very sure I don’t forget to do something I promised to do and I can always remind someone else of the things they have promised. And that’s also something ;-) . I use it a lot for actions agreed in 1:1 meetings, less so with actions in bigger meetings, as there are usually meeting notes with actions sent after the meeting by someone.

I have a notebook with me at all times during work. Not a tablet, not a laptop (OK, I sometimes carry that as well ;-) ), but an old-fashioned A4 notebook. I record all my notes for all meetings I attend in it. When I promise to do something, I make a note of it in my notebook and mark it with a big, fat arrow (←). When I agree with someone else he/she will do something, I mark it with the symbol for Mars (♂) – don’t ask me why, probably because the arrow is pointing away from me and so signifies that it is not me who needs to do the action ;-) . You can see a (fictional) sample in the featured graphic at the top of this article.

I am a follower of the Getting Things Done-Method, so each Friday I have a slot to clean up my week and plan the next. What I am doing there exactly is a topic for another post – but one thing I do is go through my notebook, make sure to do the small (as in: takes less than two minutes) actions I have agreed to do, and put the bigger actions into my system for following up (based on GTD and Outlook Tasks). This way, I never forget an action I took. Why not put them into my system directly during the meeting? That’s easy: I could put them into it using my smartphone or laptop, but find that to be a bit impolite. In our digital age, maybe this is a bit too cautious, but anyways. The second reason is that in a follow-up meeting I can easily go back a couple of pages and see directly what was agreed to be done, which is harder to do in my system for tasks, as the context where the action originated is lost.

I have been using this system now for two years and it has served me well. I don’t remember if I have copied this from someone or came up with it myself. Probably the former and I just forgot about the origin :-) . What are you using to help your memory?