To Remember Tasks Better, Ditch Sticky Notes and Opt for an Object

Placing a strange object in a specific place might be a better mnemonic than making a list.

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Struggling for creative ways to remember your to-do list? It might be time to break up with sticky notes, email reminders, or scrawled notes on the back of your hand. A new Scientific American article recommends this potentially very effective mnemonic strategy: placing an unusual object in a specific place.

The method is based on research by Harvard behavioral scientist Todd Rogers, who divided a group of study participants in two, then told one group to grab a paper clip when exiting the lab and the other group to look for a small elephant statue. Both actions were meant to activate participants’ memory of a specific prompt. Participants who were asked to look for the more unusual elephant statue “were more likely to follow through” and remember the prompt.

Rogers told Scientific American that a reminder object, as it’s called, works best when it’s strange. It should also stand out from its usual context. “For a reminder to succeed,” Rogers said, “it has to capture your attention at the moment you can focus on the task.”

Think of it this way: Instead of grabbing for a pen and paper to jot down a quick reminder, associate a specific task  —  like sending an email  —  with an unusual object. Then place that object somewhere you’re guaranteed to notice it, ideally in the morning.

Read more on Scientific American.

Originally published at

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