Don't forget about pending tasks

Don't forget about pending tasks

Forgetting is a common phenomenon and often plays against us. What can we do to not forget the pending activities?

Don't forget about pending tasks

Last update: July 07, 2022

The brain is a complex network of interconnections that allows you to successfully perform very complex tasks; thanks to it we can acquire and develop new knowledge, learn a new art or build machines that take us to the moon. However, its functioning is not perfect and sometimes it commits mistakes that can cost us dearly, such as forgetting pending tasks.

In this article, we will briefly review the factors that lead us to forget a pending business and present some strategies for avoiding it.


There are several factors that lead us to forget something. Among these, memory can be weakened by the passage of time, by contextual changes or by interference.


The passage of time is one of the factors that most affects our memory. If we examine our experience of daily life, we can easily see that we tend to forget information that we do not review frequently.

Baddeley, Eysenck and Anderson (2010) state that the forgetfulness over time is due to the weakening of the memory traces.

This thesis has not yet been proven and is not exempt from criticism, which is why it is not accepted as a cause in itself, but associated with two other factors: contextual variations and interference.

Contextual differences

Contextual variables can make oblivion more likely when the information retrieval context does not match the context in which it was encoded.

This forgetfulness curve is based on the fact that scenarios change over time, so the retrieval and encoding contexts differ greatly, which does not facilitate memory retrieval.


Experiences accumulate and new memories are formed, which pays off difficult to access stored information. The more similar the information, the more likely interference will occur.

As a result of the interference, the information in the long-term memory can be confused or merged with others during encoding, distorting or interrupting i ricordi (McLeod, 2008).

Interference can be of two types: retroactive (new information interferes with old information) or proactive (old information interferes with new information).

How not to forget about pending activities

Based on the explanations we have briefly reviewed and other ideas, some strategies have been defined for not forgetting the pending activities.

1. Write down the activity

Memory weakens over time, so we need to help it. For this purpose, we can write down the task to be carried out on an agenda or a post-it. Writing not only helps us remember, it also makes it easier to consolidate information.

2. Better to do short-term tasks on the spot

Jotting down every little task will create an endless column that you won't even want to look at. Therefore, simple actions such as make the bed, clean the kitchen or go to the pharmacy.

3. Relax so as not to forget about pending activities

Sometimes we are so saturated with things to do that we get stressed out and don't give the brain time to properly process and code the information we want to remember later.

Take a few seconds to relax, breathe and take a break it can be useful for not forgetting pending tasks.

High levels of stress can negatively affect the cognitive faculties involved in the formation of explicit memories (Sandi, 2012).

4. Emotional associations

We tend to better remember events permeated by intense emotions. This has been highlighted in numerous studies that support the idea that emotional events are remembered to a greater extent than neutral ones.

We know that emotional arousal positively affects long-term memory performance (Cahill and McGaugh, 1995; Bradley et al., 1992).

Based on the above, in order not to forget the pending activities, we can associate them with an emotion (preferably pleasant), in such a way as to facilitate their consolidation in memory.

For this purpose, we can think about what we want to achieve and link it to the task in question. For example, if we have to do a math test, we can associate it with the desire to graduate and the pleasant emotions that will be felt at that moment.

5. Don't mix similar tasks

We have seen that similar information tends to produce interference. When we organize our agenda of pending activities, therefore, we must seek as much as possible not to schedule two similar activities for the same day; otherwise, they can interfere with each other when trying to remember them.

6. Recovery key to not forget pending activities

Another way to not forget about pending tasks is create several recovery keys, but these must be important or meaningful to us.

“Recovery depends on the number and quality of signals available during the recall. When irrelevant keys are used, recovery can fail; the same happens when a previously relevant key changes over time ”(Baddeley, Eysenck & Anderson, 2010, p. 229).

To achieve this goal, we can set an alarm to remind us of the task, write a note and post it in a visible place, ask someone to remind us, etc.

7. Sleep well so as not to forget pending activities

In order not to forget about pending activities, information must be properly encoded and stored. This consolidation process can be favored by a determining factor: sleep.

In a research conducted by Diekelmann et al. (2013) we read that sleep improves perspective memory, that is, remembering to do something (potential component) and what to do (retrospective component). A good strategy for not forgetting pending activities, therefore, is to sleep well.

8. Encrypt and retrieve information in the same place

We know that information is more easily recalled when signals present during encoding they are also present at the time of information retrieval (Tulving, 1974). Based on this, in order not to forget the pending activities it is better to try to remember them where they were coded.

For example, if we have to submit an assignment to the university, it is better to record this information (“I have an assignment due in three days”) in the room where you study and spend most of the day. So you will encode the information in the same place where you intend to retrieve it.

It would be counterproductive to try to store this information while traveling by bus, for example, as it is not where you want to retrieve it.

9. Use alarm clocks and rituals so as not to forget pending activities

In addition to mnemonic training, which is always good for mental health, we can count on alarm clocks that remind you of the tasks that you absolutely must not forget. Like this we will not be overwhelmed by the constant worry of forgetting something essential.

Another solution is to repeat certain actions. For example, every time we sit down to study, we can revise the agenda so that no commitments are omitted. By repeating this action, automation is generated that will help you remember all activities.


One last tip for implementing these strategies: forgive yourself when you forget an activity. In this hectic and busy life, sometimes it is normal to have some forgetfulness. Mistakes happen should always be forgiven when effort is present.

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