A very common question in our training that comes up when we cover task management is ‘Should I set a reminder for a task?’ My answer is generally no. Reminders work well for calendar appointments, but are unnecessary for tasks and priorities if you manage your task list well.
This is a hard concept for people to get their head around, as they fear that without a reminder, they will forget to do the task. Tools like MS Outlook and our smartphones have made us heavily reliant on reminders to cut through the noise in our busy days.
The challenge is that we now have reminders on too many things, and often on activities that don’t need a reminder. This creates its own level of noise. We are either faced with countless pop up alerts interrupting our day at the wrong time, or a reminders pane that we ignore because it holds 37 overdue reminders that just make us feel guilty. The useful reminders then get lost in amongst the useless ones.
Reminders only work when they provide a cut-through message that we need to take notice of at the exact moment. So, a reminder fifteen minutes before a meeting in your calendar gets noticed. A reminder on a flagged email that is not time-critical just creates noise.
If you want to ensure that reminders serve you well, use them sparingly for the right things. Otherwise they become the boy who cried wolf, and will get ignored. Here are some creative ideas on how you could get reminders to serve you better.
- Set reminders on meetings in your calendar. 15 minutes is usually the default and is an appropriate reminder time. If needed, snooze to 5 minutes before rather than dismissing the reminder to ensure you don’t get caught up in something else and miss the start of the meeting.
- Only set reminders on tasks that must happen at a specific time. This is not usually the case with task workload, so most of the time will be unnecessary. As an alternative, consider putting a time-specific task into your calendar as an appointment.
- Schedule All Day Events in your calendar for major deadlines and events like Birthdays. Then set a 2-week reminder so that you anticipate the looming deadline or event with plenty of time to spare.
- Resist setting reminder flags for other people when sending emails. While it is a common strategy to ensure that other people don’t forget your request, it is better to fix the root problem and work with them on improving their workload management rather than just putting a band-aid on the problem with a reminder.
- Set fewer reminders but take notice of them when they appear. Allow reminders to do their job!