Never again

It is a wise person who can learn as much from failure as success. I try my best to gain what I can from mistakes and botched attempts, but there are times when it takes me more than once to learn a lesson.

Until last week, it never crossed my mind that I could track these failures and learn from them in a more systematic approach. Then, I saw this unique file folder:

The actual paper folder is unnecessary, but the fundamental idea behind it is brilliant. After seeing it, I created a folder on my computer called “Never Again.” Then, inside that folder, I made a series of plain text documents: Restaurants, Books, Websites, Ideas, Hotels, Vacations, Wines, and Gifts. In these documents I recorded important notes to myself about mistakes I’ve made in the past.

An excerpt from my “Never Again: Gifts” file —

  1. Anything with nuts in it for Mary (allergic)
  2. Massage gift certificate for Katie
  3. Scented candles for anyone
  4. Lilies for Dana (allergic)
  5. Smoking items for David (quit September 2008)

The documents I put inside my “Never Again” file are on subjects that I instantly knew I had information to record. I’m sure that in a couple weeks I’ll have even more documents. Learning from mistakes helps improve productivity, saves time, and keeps us from spinning our wheels. Tracking our mistakes in an organized manner can help us to learn (probably best not to buy anyone a gift with nuts in it) and to free space in our mind to think of something else.

If you’re worried about someone gaining access to your “Never Again” file on your computer, make the file password protected. A simple password will keep your mistakes from becoming public information.

What “Never Again” documents would you create? Do you think this is a way that could help you learn from your mistakes and save you time in the future?


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2009.

41 Comments for “Never again”

  1. posted by N. on

    That’s a great idea I do something similar on my computer and blackberry. They aren’t just never again files but any information that I think is useful. For example gift ideas for various people when they mention something they like. Ideally I could remember all this but the reality is that I’d forget. I can use my blackberry notepad to right stuff down immediately and then transfer the information to my computer.

  2. posted by Glen Allsopp on

    This is an excellent idea. I also recommend doing this when you are working towards certain goals in life. Take notes of the things that didn’t work for you so that you don’t waste time repeating them.


  3. posted by Sherri (Serene Journey) on

    Interesting concept. There would definitely be some things that I would never do again – accumulate debt, build a new house, live with clutter, to name a few.

    The only thing with keeping them in files on the computer is that you have to remember to look back on them from time to time. Perhaps setting up a reminder in your calendar periodically to do this would be a thought???

  4. posted by midlifemom on

    This a great idea for behaviors that I don’t want to repeat and a perfect project for Evernote (and if security is an issue – just won’t sync into to my web account).

    For worries, anxieties, and stress I prefer a ‘worry’ journal – a ‘place’ to release all of my worries, so not to have to carry them around with me. The point being NOT to remind myself and clutter up my mind with worry.

  5. posted by Dream Mom on

    I think it seems like a waste of time mainly because you are taking time to focus on something negative. Most hard lessons, you remember so you don’t need to write them down.

    A far better strategy in my book, is to look at the lesson, make a plan moving forward and not beat yourself up over past mistakes.

    Much better to write down your blessings than your failures. I couldn’t imagine trying to keep a list like this.

  6. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Dream Mom — I don’t see noting someone’s peanut allergy as being “negative” … I see it as being rather positive. The negative would be if I accidentally served my friend nuts and she ended up in the hospital.

  7. posted by Alexandra on

    I actually do the opposite; I have a “someday” file with products or ideas to look up for when I buy a house, get married or have kids…I keep my file organized in GMail as a label and have all of the individual e-mails I send to myself archived. For the subject line, I use a simple format, for example: “House: Doormat” for the link to a doormat I like:

  8. posted by Deb on

    I agree that this seems more like a clutter item than not… although the concept is a good one. Rather than having the “never again” folder(s), though, I think keeping a “notes” folder for certain people, places, things would be handy… for instance, a folder for “friends” with appropriate notations about what they like *and* dislike… something you would refer to when you needed specific info… and ALL info/tips/warnings could go in one place.

    On the other hand, I would’ve LOVED a sticky pad full of those green folders (above) for toying with my coworkers!

  9. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I have a “never again” list of wines and another of authors. They really do come in handy since I drink a lot of wine and read a lot of books and have a memory like a sieve.

  10. posted by Mo on

    Actually, focusing on only the good side of things can be a problem. It’s always best to look on the positive side of events that come up, planning for the future requires a bit more realism. Remembering that you don’t like X’s cooking doesn’t mean being nasty about it, it just means suggesting a restaurant or inviting them over.

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to be different. Being positive and gratitude seeking shouldn’t mean that you can’t avoid situation that you know you won’t enjoy.

  11. posted by maxie on

    Great idea. My head’s spinning, thinking of many ways I can use this idea. Thanks!

  12. posted by Ben on

    I too am interested in this, but would struggle to review it and/or keep it in a format that would be useful to me at the right moment (i.e. when buying a gift, how do I quickly search through it to determine allergies/dislikes/etc)

    Any thoughts on keeping it up to date and organized efficiently?

  13. posted by Susan on

    @Mo –
    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to be different.”
    Do you have a citation for this quote/definition or did you make it up yourself? It is so true.

  14. posted by Terry Matlen on

    #midlifemom: Where do you keep your worry journal- on your computer, in a notebook…?

    I think that’s a great idea! I advise my clients to keep a notebook next to their bed so that if they’re unable to fall asleep due to obsessive worrying or the like, to instead, jot it down and let it go.

  15. posted by Nana on

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over [or again and again] and expecting different results” is attributed to A Einstein.

  16. posted by timgray on

    I call it my “donts” field in my contacts for everyone.

    attaching it to the person’s contact brings it to my attention when their birthday, etc reminders pop up.

  17. posted by larochelle on

    @Ben – I keep notes about friend’s allegies, hobbies and other gift preference information in the notes section of their contact info in my iphone.

    I can enter the data from my computer or on my phone on the fly. And since I always carry my phone with me, I have the info at hand when I’m shopping.

  18. posted by Rue on

    I do agree that keeping an actual paper file for something like this is cluttering. But I think keeping a file on your computer or phone or whatever is a good idea. Plus, just the act of writing it down is a good memory aid. 😉

  19. posted by Deb on

    I am constantly making notes to myself on my lesson plans after I’ve taught them. The “don’t ever try this again” list includes everything from “don’t make seaweed soup when studying algae” to “don’t let the kids spray paint …anything… as part of a project”

    I also have a “don’t” list of glue, masking tape, sticky-note and ink pen brands that I will never buy again.

  20. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Deb — I used to love to find notes to myself on lesson plans. My favorite ones were along the lines of “only do this assignment if early in the morning and students are still groggy.”

  21. posted by kayleigh on

    I like the idea of tracking things you’ve learned over the years through mistakes — gifts not to give, etc. but I think it makes more sense to include those notes wherever you have your other gift ideas. Otherwise, you always have to check two places — gift ideas and never again gifts — when you need to buy someone a gift.

    I don’t see an example where a specifically “never again” file would help you out. And, in some cases, it looks to me like an excuse to keep garbage around — if you’ll never look at, use, read, or refer to something again, it’s time to throw it out!

  22. posted by Dream Mom on

    Erin-I can appreciate making notes on the allergy issue.

    I was referring to the concept of tracking the failures that seemed quite tedius and unnecessary. But if it works for someone else, that’s fine.

  23. posted by Vanessa on

    I think this is a great idea, because I’m always trying to remember things that I KNOW I should remember, but can’t. Having it in a certain place will definitely help me.

    One thing that would make it much easier, in my opinion, is to make your lists in Microsoft Access instead of a basic Word type document. Then you can Sort Ascending/Descending, and be able to quickly find the item you need. And all related items (maybe a few on X vacation or X friend) can all be sorted and placed right next to each other instantly, instead of rearranging each time to place the related items next to each other. Plus, I just really like how organized Access looks compared to Word.

  24. posted by catmom on

    What a great idea to keep track of things that didn’t work out for whatever reason. No point wasting time doing it again. Also when it comes to preparing meals for friends and family, it’s good to know people’s allergies and likes and dislikes.

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  26. posted by Rachel on

    I keep an abbreviated “never again” list in the grocery list I keep on my iphone. I tend not to be very brand-loyal, and usually just buy what’s on sale. So it’s helpful for me to remember things like, “Whole Foods brand granola is too sweet,” or “Brown Cow yogurt is too thick” when I’m shopping.

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  28. posted by Laura on

    This idea sounds indeed very good. Recording the things that didn’t work for you can be very helpful in the future. My only concern is that, as time passes and you keep accumulating a lot of lists in your documents, you will not go over the lists again. So it is, in fact, very likely that you will do those mistakes again in your life. The really big mistakes you will remember even without a list. This is not to say that things like grocery comments aren’t good. They are, but in my opinion the system should be a bit more organized that just documents with lists, for it to be really useful.

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  31. posted by Nicole on

    If you know someone well enough to get them a specific gift, you should know if they have allergies or stopped smoking, etc., right? Like I know my friend A is allergic to scallops, and my friend B is allergic to all seafood, and my friend N is allergic to nuts and bananas… I also know which friends are vegetarians. Maybe my circle is small enough that I don’t need to make notes on these things…
    But I can see where it might come in handy for certain people/things. I would think that making notes in the note section of your digital address book would be more efficient, though.

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  33. posted by Muchenjeri on

    Great! Even better, create a section in your OneNote.

  34. posted by Mom25dogs on

    I like Microsoft OneNote or Excel for creating a notebook for these things. You can create a section or separate worksheet for each of the things you listed: Restaurants, Books, Websites, Ideas, Hotels, Vacations, Wines, and Gifts. I’m using OneNote this year for a household notebook. I’ve kept a hardcopy version of this for years but I’m thinking OneNote will be more convenient and versatile. I have a section for all my websites/usernames/passwords, another for credit card info, another for all the insurance we have from auto, homeowners, life, disability, medical, etc. I have a section for all my vehicle information (tag, VIN, purchase date, etc). I have a section for Books To Be Read, Movies To Watch, Book Reviews. I have a section for Shopping information like sizes, printer cartridges, filter size, vacuum cleaner model (for bags), etc. I have a section for Names & Addresses. I’m really getting happy with all the things I can stuff in a digital notebook and it’s easy to find again. If it continues to be this easy to use, then I’m going to stick to OneNote!

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  36. posted by nXqd on

    I really like this idea . Not to do list is my favorite .
    But the problem is, how can you track it everyday ?
    It’s nice but almost time , you’ve done it before looking back the never-do-list .
    I want to know how you guys can remember it everyday 🙂

  37. posted by April on

    I could see how this would be handy for things like restaurants to never eat at again, hotels you never want to stay at again, etc. That way, when you’re planning a trip or want to go out to eat, you can pull up the corresponding file, take a quick glance, and know where to avoid when choosing the establishment.

    Also good for remembering what e-cards or gifts you gave someone, so you don’t accidentally get them the same thing the next year (or two years later).

    Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  38. posted by Jill on

    I think this is an excellent idea.

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