Ever forget something important? We all have…
I am a list maker, but only when I think that the number of things on my To Do list is beyond my ability to track from memory. The problem is that I sometimes exceed the limits of my brain to catalog and remind me about the things that I need to get done. I can handle, say, 95% of the items that cross my desk, but that final 5% could come back to bite me. I do not like being reminded by others of things that I have forgotten to do.
I remember some of the dumbest things and forget some of the most important. Why do I do this?
I can remember things that I learned a long time ago and forget where I left my car keys 30 minutes after I get home. What makes these things happen?
I can remember exact details of some events and totally forget others. What causes this and how can I improve it or protect myself from forgetting the big issues?
Everyone knows by now that we humans have short-term memory that stores small amounts of data for short periods of time - things like how much was the discount on that bag of chips and remembering it until we check out at the register so that we get the discount. We also have long-term memory that stores vast amounts of data for a very long time. Like the home phone number you had when you were growing up… (come on, you can remember it if you try).
But if I forget to remember, is the data lost?
According to recent research by Scripps Research Institute in Florida, forgetting is not a passive process. I am not just letting time lapse to forget something. The functions that the brain uses to remember something are the same functions used to destroy or discard data - a memory - that it deems unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, they found that there are two receptors that process data as it relates to memory. One receptor remembers and one forgets. When an event happens, it is processed by the first (remember) receptor and then passed to the other (forgetting) receptor. If time passes and no “meaning” is assigned to the event, then the forgetting receptor discards the data.
So now, back to my questions. Why do I forget important things that I need to do? In the context of CAD Management and work related efforts, why do I forget to remember things that need to be done? And more to the point, what am I not remembering that is causing me troubles at work and how can I get better at keeping track of things that I need to get done?
I want to avoid the grand scope of memory and all of the research that has been done and all the science-based tips for memory and cognition. Instead, let's focus on what has worked for me and a few interesting ideas I would like to try.
First let me frame the specific problem that I am trying to address. I have found that the things I forget are items assigned to me by others. This obviously happens since I have tasks that others need and that I have to do for them. This is not an issue of having to do something that is on my area of oversight and control. It is when someone comes to me and asks me to provide or do something that is a key item in their workflow or processing, but not in mine. I admit it: sometimes I just forget; but being even more exact, I find that they remind me about the item before I remember to provide it. This leads them to think that I had forgotten it completely, but actually it was just farther down my list and was not in the active process yet.
So what to do when someone needs something from you, but it is outside your defined plans for the day. It happens a lot to CAD Managers. You may have your to-do list, but the fact of management is: others are constantly demanding our time and efforts. This goes beyond the troubleshooting and rapid response to CAD fires. This is related to those items that others need that you are to provide, but take some effort to uncover or define. Like “how much did we spend on plotting paper last year?” or “what was the phone number of the guy who did the Revit training for us?” or “what are our options for outside help for file translation?”
So here are the things that I do to help me remember. They may be things you are already doing. You may have others that you can share with me via email (feel free!)
Ask if someone else can do it better.
You are the center of information for a lot of people in your firm. They come to you because they know you can provide what they need. You may not be the best source for exacting info, but you can provide it quicker and on a wider scale than others. You are connected to just about everything at your firm. You are a one-stop shop.
It might be appropriate to ask if they can get the info from another. Maybe someone else should provide the exact data. Maybe another can give a better focus to the information. Do not always do this, but it might deflect some of the requests that come to you because you are the easiest and most accessible person in the firm.
Document the request
Some requests are multi faceted. You may have to write it down. You should do that or ask the person to write it or email it to you. By getting it on paper, you have started a process that helps you remember to get it done.
Do it now
The best thing to do is to get the task done immediately when asked. This would avoid gaps in time between the request and the delivery that allow you to forget. This interrupts your workflow, but what CAD Manager is not used to that? Stop what you are doing and get the task done if it is a quick check on something. If it can be done in fifteen to thirty minutes, then jump on it.
Define a due date
If it will take more than 30 minutes, ask them for a due date and time. Remember that ASAP is not a date or a time. Get a firm day and time from them. By getting a date and time you also get an understanding of their expectations. If you know that you cannot produce what they want by the time they need it, you can explain the concerns about the time needed and settle on a better due date.
Set a reminder
Now that you have a due date and time, set a reminder. There are so many tools out there to remind you of tasks that need to be done. You can use your calendar or a website that tracks tasks. You can even use sticky notes if that actually works for you. You can keep a To Do list on paper or on your PC or in the cloud. The key is to get something that will send you a reminder or screen popup that will catch you attention. Sometimes the best thing may not be the most high tech, but something that is already in your workflow that you can rely upon.
Ask for a Reminder
You could also ask the person who made the request to check back with you at some point. You should not do this with your superiors or boss because they may think less of you if you need them to remind you. But if it is a peer or other, ask them to check back with you prior to the last minute. This puts a little more responsibility on their shoulders as well as yours.
Here is an example conversation that may take place when someone asks you to help:
Bob, my boss, stops me in the hallway right before lunch as I was on the way to clear a paper jam in the plotter. I am currently focused on getting this project checked off the list.
Bob: Hey Mark, I need to discuss project staffing with the owner. Can you provide a report on the average number of drawings per project over the last two years? I need to project staff needs based on projected project deliverables and documents.
Me: Would it be better to ask the Project Managers? They would know the numbers and be better at framing the scope of our projects.
Bob: That would take too much time for me to go to each one and ask them. I just need a ballpark number to work with. You can just scan the servers for contract drawings and give me a quick list. I would think that it would not take more than 15 minutes.
Me: Actually, to get a valid number, I need to screen out alternative drawings and options that were not used. I could search on final PDF files since we produce final archives in PDF after a project is done. Would that work? And even that might take me an hour or so to verify that I have the correct projects and time frame. When do you need it?
Bob: My meeting is tomorrow morning. I need it before then.
Me: What time is the meeting?
Bob: 10 am
Me: Ok, I have to fix the plotter to get the Bridgeton project out the door. Can you email me your request? I am fairly sure I know what you need, but I want to get it right.
Bob: It is really not that complicated. Just get me the numbers. I will email you if I get time.
Me: Let me review – average project contract drawings for projects completed in the last two years. You need it for a 10am meeting. If I do not have it to you by 8am tomorrow, give me a buzz. This project has to get out the door today, but it may tie up my time for the rest of the day.
Bob: Sounds good – thanks!
As I walk away, I stop to jot down the task summary on a piece of paper I grab from a desk on my way to the plotter. I put the paper in my pocket with my cell phone so each time I take a call I will be reminded. When I get back to my desk, I put a reminder in my calendar as I begin to start looking for the data he needs. I know I will be interrupted, so I put the “alert” in for two hours from the time I added it. I put the written note back in my pocket.
You get the idea. My mind was on the plotter and the project in need. I added a reminder and also keep the note in my pocket. Since this is for my boss, I want to get it right and get it done early. Using some routine processes I can help myself remember.
Now that you have read this… Don’t forget what you have read :-)