Wednesday 13 March 2024

One Finger at a Time: Fran's Strategy for Getting Things Done

Who’s your favourite vampire?
The one from Sesame Street.
He doesn’t count.
I assure you, he does.

— Source unknown

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with Fran. We were discussing items on her to do list, and she mentioned the next five things she planned to get done. I was impressed she could remember them.

“I have them in my fingers,” she said.

I asked what she meant. She told me she can deal with up to five things at a time, and that she uses her fingers to keep track. I was intrigued. I’ve known Fran almost thirteen years. This was new to me. She said the technique first came to her when she lived on Peaks Island before moving to her current home on the mainland. She’d walk on Centennial Beach composing haikus in her head and using her fingers to remember the lines until she got home and could write them down.

I remembered the haikus. It was the spring of 2012. Fran was emerging from the devastating depression that had engulfed her the previous fall after months of mania. Those short poems — so different in nature from the poetry she’d written whilst manic — were a sign she was returning to herself. More, they were a reminder that she was alive. As she’s said of those days, “I was trying to save my life, to get out of the house onto Centennial and wait for the haikus to come. That was all I had.” Twelve years later, and in a far better place mentally, the finger technique still works for her.

The commonly held idea that short-term memory can hold up to seven items has been revised in recent years. The capacity is now thought to be four, plus or minus one depending on circumstances. This fits with my experience. Phone numbers and security codes — the kind banks send to your phone — are beyond my capacity. If I can’t write them down I have to take the digits three or four at a time.

A friend described a memory test she’d recently undergone as part of a broader mental assessment. The test involved memorising a sequence of unrelated words and recalling them at the end of the assessment. Just thinking about that appals me! I don’t think it’s an age thing as such. I’ll be sixty-three next month but I’ve never found it easy to remember phone numbers and other such details. I can recall only two phone numbers: my childhood landline, and my current landline. I couldn’t tell you my mobile number without looking it up. A technique such as Fran’s could be helpful. My memory isn’t likely to improve unless I take steps to develop it.

Fran doesn’t only use her fingers, of course. We’re both fans of to do lists, both analogue and digital. We used Trello to manage the countless activities and ideas when we were planning, writing, and publishing our book. Being able to share activities in real time was invaluable, as was the ability to easily update task details and deadlines. I’ve less need of such functionality these days, but Fran still uses Trello for certain tasks. When she’s planning to travel we create packing and to do lists for the trip on Onedrive. That way I can help her pack and ensure nothing important gets missed.

A simple checklist widget on my phone’s homescreen suffices to keep me on top of my blogging schedule, as well as household tasks such as submitting meter readings and paying bills. I set alerts on my phone to remind me to get up on time, and a fifteen minute reminder through the working day so my login doesn’t timeout. I have a spiral bound notebook for work and begin each entry with a checklist of items for the day. I write paper grocery lists when I go to the supermarket, and recite a mental checklist before heading out: wallet, token for the shopping trolley, shopping list, phone.

Mostly, Fran prefers handwritten lists. She updates them as needed and transfers three to five priority items to a separate list to keep her focused and prevent her getting overwhelmed. Her finger technique fits into this approach well, allowing her to remember new or completed tasks until she can update her lists. With no such technique to hand (pun intended) I keep a scrapbook text document on my phone. I use that to capture new ideas or tasks as they arise, moving them elsewhere when I get chance or simply deleting them when they’re done.

On the whole, Fran and I do pretty well. We accomplish most of the things we need to without forgetting too many or missing deadlines. Maybe it doesn’t matter how we prioritise and manage the things we need to do as long as they get done. That’s what counts. I must try and remember that!

Over to You

In this post I’ve described how Fran uses her fingers to keep track of things she wants to remember, as well as a few other techniques we find helpful. How to you remember things? What strategies and tools have you found useful? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Dynamic Wang at Unsplash.


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