The way to have a 100% perfectly reliable memory is to have a 0% completely unreliable memory.
If you trust your memory and treat it as reliable, you can improve your memory up to 90%, 99%, even 99.9% accuracy. But you will never reach 100%, because the human brain is simply not capable of that. The only way to reach 100% accuracy is to stop relying on your brain and start relying on a trusted system.
Brains are squishy.
Brains are great at lots of things, but they’re not clockwork. If you want perfection, you need a machine and a routine.
Did you forget someone’s birthday? Set up an automatic reminder to email you.
Did you forget to buy soy milk at the grocery store? Make a list and cross things off.
Did a deadline sneak up on you for your current project? Put your deadlines on a calendar and make a habit of looking at the calendar each work day. (A never-looked-at calendar is worse than none at all.)
Got stuck paying late fees on the rent? Set up a monthly reminder.
A machine and a routine
The first step to never forgetting anything again is to set up a machine. Your machine can be an actual machine (like a computer), a calendar, a list, or anything reliable outside of your own head. (Scrawling messages in the dust on a windy day is not recommended.)
The second step is to establish a routine. Create a habit of looking at your machine. If you forget to look at it, you’re back to relying on your memory again, and that’s fallible. But if you get into a routine, it will happen automatically after a while. We are creatures of habit.
My machine and my routine
For my machine, I use two things: Google Calendar (with email reminders) and a to-do list (which happens to be on a private wiki).
For my routine, I regularly check my email at least twice a day (which ensures I read gcal’s email reminders) and I check my to-do lists at the beginning of each work day.
I have a few other routines, too. To remember to do the dishes, I created a habit of doing the dishes every day after dinner. I sometimes forget, though — I haven’t made a perfectly reliable routine out of it yet — so, starting today, I’m going to go into the kitchen every day after dinner even if the dishes don’t need to be done. That way it’ll become a habit instead of relying on my memory.
You can’t form habits by doing things sporadically. The only way to form reliable habits is to do things regularly.
I’ll sometimes leave random reminders in my path, too. If I want to remember to bring something with me when I leave the house, I’ll put it near the door. If I want to bring my computer and microphone (because I’ll need it later for a teleclass) into the next room, and it’ll take two trips, I’ll bring my microphone first, because if I get distracted in the other room, I might forget the microphone, but I’m not going to forget my computer because I’ll realize it’s missing as soon as I sit down at my desk.
Don’t trust your brain, but don’t beat yourself up.
Here’s the most important part, because it will ensure that you reach your goal of 100% reliability.
Whenever you forget something, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t just say, “I’ll do better next time.” Instead, figure out a way that you can remember it in the future, without trusting your brain. Use a machine or create a routine.
The path to perfection winds through the flats of feeble-mindedness
Whenever I want to remember something, I never say “Okay, I’ll remember that.” I treat my memory as a Siren singing me to my doom. Instead I say “Let me write that down,” and I either write it down on my to-do list or put it on the calendar. If I’m not near my to-do list or my calendar, I write it on the back of my hand (I make sure to always have a pen handy) and transfer it as soon as I’m able.
Only by learning to treat your memory as completely unreliable can you never forget anything again.