Did You Forget, or is it Information Overload?

This post is the first part of a multipart series on how I got back to having a system in place to help me remember what I need to get done, even in retirement. Although many of the productivity ideas and strategies that I will be talking about throughout this series can apply to anyone regardless of their age or work status.

Productivity in a different time 1927 – I believe we have come a long way since then
Photo from Osvil & Florence Elston Photo Archives

Did I Forget It?

How often do you find yourself saying,

“I need to do this or that.”

“The next time I go to the store, I have to get…”

“When was that appointment?”

and all the other things that we believe we will remember to do or get. Then we forget what “it” was or that the appointment was yesterday, not today.

If you are anything like me – a bit too often.

Think for a minute, how many of the things do you actually remember to do or go get. Twenty percent, fifty percent, eighty percent, one-hundred percent?

Until recently, if I had answered honestly, it was under the sixty percent mark. This meant too many things were not getting done or causing me a certain amount of embarrassment because I had forgotten something that I needed to do or remember.

As much as I attempted to laugh or smile at others’ witty remarks about my memory or should I say lack of it, their comments bothered me. Yes, being so forgetful worried me that I was beginning to slide into one of the things I fear most – the oblivion of Alzheimer’s?

Not good.

Letting Things Slide

During the five or so years since I retired this time, I let go of most of the productivity systems that I had in place to keep the ship running smoothly – both paper-based and computer programs/Apps. All those wonderful things I used to do, to remember, capture, plan for stuff or help me not look overly inept to TheWife when it comes to remembering to get things done. 

Below is an example of the paper-based system that I put together for my job back in 2016.

Paper Organizer Page I developed

I know how to create, use and maintain a productivity system, but I got lazy and felt that being retired I didn’t need or have to be organized like I had been at work. Even worse, I had gone back to relying on something that never worked all that great to begin with – my memory.

Needless to say, TheWife’s and my frustrations with me forgetting things or having to make multiple and often unnecessary trips to get stuff that I didn’t do the first time around was becoming more of an issue. Although we attempted to laugh it off or use the excuse that I was getting a bit senile, it was getting to be a real problem.

This came to a head for me back in January when I forgot some things and, well, let’s just say it was embarrassing and more than a little frustrating for me.

Especially, since I used to pride myself on being organized and not letting things slip into the cracks and not get done.

Was it simply me getting old and my memory getting worse, or was it more than that?

Taking Stock

After that particular episode last January I sat down and took stock of what was going on. I needed to figure out what and where the issues were, along with wondering if I needed medical advice. I really didn’t want to believe it was just me being older, it might have been part of the problem, but I knew it wasn’t the only thing going on.

What I was actually doing

I had to be organized to be productive

Before retirement, I used the usual productivity tools both paper and electronic (calendars, task managers, note-taking tools) to keep information overload more or less under control. 

At various times over the past five years, I knew that I was struggling with getting stuff done. On several occasions, I attempted to go back to using various productivity tools dependent upon which tech silo I was in at the time, to keep track of things. The problem was that I used them sporadically at best.

When I looked back during this time I was attempting to remember when I needed to do something and more often than not, TheWife reminded me of what needed to get done. She was a LOT more organized than I was.

What I was doing…well, not doing, wasn’t working.

Something else that concerned me when I looked at what I was doing, was my reliance on TheWife to keep me on track.

  1. It isn’t fair to her to make her responsible to remind me of stuff that I should be able to keep track of myself.

  2. If something happened to her, where would that leave me? Not something that I wanted to think about, but a reality at this point in our lives and a possibility that I needed to consider.

It also turns out that on most days I consume a lot of information and attempt to process that information into things I can use or at least attempt to understand. On a typical day, I read over 20 articles (some days many more), write a blog post or two, do research, find multiple rabbit holes to wander down, watch at least 5 YouTube videos, and watch the news for an hour. All that is in addition to running, working out, planning my workouts, doing chores around the house, running errands, along with being the all-purpose handyman for our house and my stepdaughter’s.

When I thought about what all this really meant, I could see the amount of information I was attempting to keep track of, was much more than I realized. When I add in attempting to keep track of various appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, and other assorted tasks, my memory was and is not up to the task of keeping it all straight.

I don’t think I could have kept everything I do now, straight at any point in my life, so when I look at it that way, I am not all that surprised that things were falling into the cracks and not getting done like they needed to. 

But I am Retired

Over the past few years, I have read several articles and even books that are related to information overload and how it is affecting us but never thought that it applied to me. After all, I was retired and that kind of thing wasn’t something I needed to be concerned about since I was no longer working at a job.

I was wrong.

I had let myself fall into the trap of “I’m retired and don’t need to be as organized, or the idea that I must keep a close track of things I needed to get done was no longer necessary.” I had gotten the idea in my head that I could just roll along merrily towards the sunset and let each day come as it may.

Which is a fallacy I think too many people who retire fall into. Believing that once they are no longer working that their lives will be simple enough that they no longer need to actively track or use productivity tools in retirement.

This quote from David Allen really got my attention when I was reading the updated version of Getting Things Done:

*“Knowledge work” may seem an unfamiliar concept to many in this century, simply because so much of our lives now incorporates so many nonphysical and non-obvious things we need to decide, demanding constant thinking and choices. Most of us are in it all the time (the last thing a fish notices is water). But the realization of the thinking process itself that we must be applying is not explicitly realized or exercised yet by most”.

        Allen, David. Getting Things Done (p. 318). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I started reading the updated version of his book (I had read the original several times in the past),  along with more than a few articles and YouTube videos really made me realize my information overload was a bigger part of what was going on with me than I realized. 

Time to get back to it

I have used productivity tools since the early 1980s, keeping stuff in our heads will almost always lead to forgetting something sooner or later and it does bite you in the butt. The alligators have chewed on that butt of mine more than a few times and I did learn the value of keeping track of what needed to be done by several methods over the years.

Also, I figured out that I wasn’t in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which was a huge relief. That is one of the things that do scare me – being here, but not knowing being me anymore. I also know that my memory is not what it once was and that attempting to do keep everything in my head doesn’t work anymore, not that it ever actually did.

Especially, when I realized what a typical day looked like for me and the amount of information I was attempting to remember and process. At that point, I knew that I had to get back to being organized (I know how), getting on top of my responsibilities, and most of all regaining my sense of independence and reliability, which had declined significantly.

So, I set about to get myself organized and on top of what I needed to keep track of. 

That will be part 2 of this series of getting productive in retirement – What Tools Will I Use.

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