How to remember future to-do tasks

While you may have a system for tracking normal to-do items, how do you remember to-dos that are many years in the future? The following are a few examples:

  • I recently read a FEMA document (PDF) that said smoke alarms should be replaced ten years from the date of manufacture. How do you remember to do that?
  • I just updated my will and trust, ten years after I first created them. How do you remember to review these documents and make updates as necessary?
  • I had hip replacement surgery in May 2016. All’s well, and now I don’t need to see my surgeon again for a follow-up until May 2020. How do I remember to make that appointment?

Sometimes a reminder comes indirectly. When one of the people I had named as an executor of my will moved out of the area, it reminded me that I needed to update my legal documents. While I was removing her name, I found other updates I wanted to make, too.

And in some cases, you’re likely to get a reminder from the related service provider. My lawyer sends me annual reminders to review my legal documents, and my surgeon’s office will remind me I need to schedule an appointment with him. But these follow-up systems are fallible, and I like to have my own reminders in place.

Since I use an online calendar that goes out for many years, my first inclination is always to put critical future events such as the doctor appointment on my calendar as soon as I become aware of the need. I have an item on April 15, 2020 to schedule that appointment for mid-May. When I get the smoke detector down from the ceiling to see when it was made, I’ll add the replacement date to my calendar. I also added a recurring annual item to review my legal documents.

Alternatively, there are all sorts of reminder apps you can use. While people usually add reminders for items in the near future (pick up dry cleaning, etc.) there’s no reason they couldn’t be used for to-dos that are many years out.

If you use a paper planner, you’re probably not going to be able to add something to your calendar for 10 years out. But if you use a binder-style planner such as Day-Timer or Circa you could use a to-do list (or just a blank note page) to capture all these future to-dos and carry that list forward, year after year. At the beginning of each year, you could add any relevant items from that list to the upcoming year’s calendar.

Finally, if you use a tickler file (such as the Smead desk organizer/sorter) you could put reminders for all future-year items in your December file, and then move them to the appropriate months at the start of the next year (or keep them in December if they apply to a future year).

7 Comments for “How to remember future to-do tasks”

  1. posted by tonyg on

    I think the best answer is your last suggestion: “put reminders for all future-year items in your December file, and then move them to the appropriate months at the start of the next year”
    The problem with adding a reminder for 10 years out into, say, Google Calendar is we don’t know if Google Calendar will be around in 10 years, or if it will have changed significantly enough for that reminder to remain where it’s supposed to be.

  2. posted by Greg on

    Smoke alarms beep when they need to be replaced. 10 year smoke alarms do not have replaceable batteries, the entire alarm will need to be replaced.

    You wills and trusts only need to be updated when significant life changes occur. You do know when a birth or death occurs, or when you sell your home, correct?

    You doctor will send you a mail notice when you are supposed to make an appointment. That’s what my doctor does.

  3. posted by Stanley Shih on

    There’s an iPhone app called “Due” which is very helpful. For example, if I need to get an oil change in December, I simply type in “oil change in December” and set the reminder date to, say, November 15th.
    The reminder stays out of sight, but pops up on November 15th reminding me to call to schedule an oil change for a few weeks out.
    One of the apps I simply can not live without.

  4. posted by laura ann on

    I use 3 by 5 recipe cards and write the year at the top, for ex: water heater flush, termite treatments, renew driver lic., etc. Keep ten cards and put them in envelope and write outside to do by year. Put in drawer with other important papers. Pull out card every Jan new year and keep with calendar. Most things like yearly insurance comes in the mail.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    I use a calendar app called Alarm which is ideal for recurring reminders. It’s lasted several years, longer than many reminders. It has settings for annual/monthly/weekly/one time & numerous ringtones (some paid).

  6. posted by Sabrina Quairoli on

    I,too, use the digital calendar for future to dos. It works nicely and are still searchable if I need to change a date. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. posted by debda629 on

    When I install the smoke alarm, I use a china marker (grease pencil, nick n’ pull) and write in big letters the date of replacement that can be read from far away.

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