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  • Writer's pictureIan Gibbs

Student Tip 16: Assume You’ll Forget

There’s a man called David Allen. Lots of people think he’s a productivity guru—a man who knows how to get things done.

But when asked his secret, his answer was “Get something called a ‘pen’ and get something called a ‘piece of paper’... and write stuff down.”

You need to write stuff down so you don’t have to remember it (at least not at first).

Your brain didn’t evolve to remember stuff like names and dates and numbers.

It evolved to figure things out like how to find food and how to avoid becoming it.

If you write stuff down, no matter how simple, it helps you remember the next time you come back to it.

We’ve already seen the importance of underlining key points when reading from a text.

But what if there’s no text to underline?

For example: this morning, your teacher gave you a few really good ideas to help do your homework.


But that was hours ago and by 7pm you find yourself sitting in front of your exercise book struggling to remember even one of them.

So often we trip over the same stone time and time again.

We think we’re going to remember, but we forget.

The time between hearing (or thinking) an important idea and needing it is filled with distractions, interruptions and temptations.

Remembering is a futile task.

Please, do yourself a favour: Assume you’re going to forget.

Imagine, at a raucous party, someone you really like tells you their number and asks you to call them tomorrow.

Wouldn’t your first reaction be to make a note of the number?

Treat every important idea as you would a potential date’s phone number.

When your teacher gives you a couple of suggestions for how to do your homework, write them down.

When you come up with your own great lyrics for a song on your way to class, write them down.

When you overhear someone say something worth remembering about a chapter, a lesson or a subject, write it down.

At that very moment when it’s there fresh in your head, it’ll seem so clear, so obvious, so evident, that making a note of it is just insulting your intelligence.

But the real insult is when you get round to setting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to do your task and realise the memory has become vague or, even worse, has completely vanished.

Write it down.

Write it down clearly using enough words to make sense. If not, you’ll find yourself staring at the page wondering what on earth ‘calp th hzedl’ was supposed to mean?

Jot down your ideas in the margin or at the back of your exercise book.

Use an app on your phone.

Write on the back of your hand.

Leave yourself a voice message.

Carry round a little notebook and pen.

Take a photo.

Whatever you do, if you assume you’ll have forgotten by the time you need the idea, you’ll be right more often than not.

And of course, do it immediately.

Because two minutes later, something else will catch your attention and that important idea, that key concept will be lost, buried under a pile of other not-so-important things that urgently need your attention.

If you do this, every nugget of information that passes your way will be trapped for you to examine and use whenever you want.

You won’t have to struggle trying to remember because you’ll have it fixed down already.

While you’re not worrying about trying to remember messages and instructions and explanations, you can confidently focus on the juicier bits of gossip and school scandal that requires your undivided attention.

Tip 16: Assume you’ll forget and write down your important ideas.

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