I was watching The Devil Wears Prada the other day, and although it is fictional, I must say the scenes between Miranda Priestly and her assistants did have a grain of truth to them. This piece of the dialogue seemed particularly realistic:

Miranda: Tell Simone I’m not going to approve that girl that she sent me for the Brazilian layout. I asked for clean, athletic, smiling. She sent me dirty, tired and paunchy. And R.S.V.P. Yes to Michael Kors’ party, I want the driver to drop me off at 9:30 and pick me up at 9:45 sharp. Call Natalie at Glorious Foods and tell her no for the 40th time. No! I don’t want dacquoise. I want tortes filled with warm rhubarb compote. Then call my ex-husband and remind him that the parent-teacher conference is at Dalton tonight. Then call my husband, ask him to meet me for dinner at that place I went to with Massimo. Tell Richard I saw the pictures that he sent for that feature on the female paratroopers and they’re all so deeply unattractive. Is it impossible to find a lovely, slender, female paratrooper? Am I reaching for the stars here? Not really. Also, I need to see all the things that Nigel has pulled for Gwyneth’s second cover try.

Now, the glamorous references are not something I am used to hearing, but the endless stream of random requests is! I’ve spent many many hours searching for bits of paper my manager has lost (or never actually had), I’ve tried to remember hotels and restaurants they visited five years ago and clients they met briefly at a conference the previous summer. Aside from remembering the details we have to remember the task itself – how the heck are we supposed to do that?!

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of tools and techniques to ensure I remember everything my boss and my colleagues ask me to do. Here are my top ten tips on how to remember those random requests.

1. Good old fashioned pen and paper

This is still my favourite go-to tool to remember everything at work. Every time I get called into my manager’s office, I grab a pen and my note pad before seeing them. Similarly, I have a large A4 desk pad next to my keyboard for any quick notes I need to make, things to remember (like phone numbers for instance), and tasks people give me at my desk. I will then transfer all of these notes on to my task list. I even go so far as carrying a small pack of post-it notes and a pen around the office with me – you never know who is going to stop you for something.

2. Ask for confirmation

If the request comes from a more junior member of staff, I tend to ask them to email me the details so that I have a record of the task and I can keep the email in my inbox until I have completed the work. I find it is also a good way of making sure the colleague does need you to do the work rather than being lazy!

3. Set an alarm for tasks of a timely nature

If I need to, for example, print my boss’s boarding pass before they leave the office for a flight the next day I will set an alarm on my phone to remind me to do it at say 4 pm. I might well remember to print it off before 4 pm, but at least I’ve got something to remind me in case I forget. I think it is worthwhile having as many reminders as you can.

4. Calendars are not just for appointments

Similar to the alarm reminder, I will also add things to my diary that I need to remember – not just appointments or meetings but anything that relates to a future date. I find this helps remind me of things a week in advance. I can also look back through my diary if I need to remember something from the past too!

5. Do stuff immediately

 If my manager has asked me to do something small, I usually do it immediately – for example, printing or photocopying something. I know this will interrupt whatever it is I am doing, but I would instead get the small tasks off my desk as quickly as possible. Plus I don’t think it looks very good if it takes a few hours or days to do those basic jobs.

6. My to-do list is my best friend

I certainly spend more time with my to-do list! Seriously though you should know precisely what is on your to-do list, what you have completed and what you have left to do. I make sure I update my to-do list every day and then create a new to-do list every week, making sure I have carried over any incomplete tasks from the week before. I love the feeling of crossing off tasks, and it does make me more productive.

7. Archive and search rather than file

I read that phrase recently and thought archiving and searching is precisely what assistants do these days rather than filing. To remember the details that my managers so often forget I have a comprehensive archive system that I know how to search through. I know this goes against everything that ’email gurus’ tell us, but I keep everything. I archive all of my emails after a year, but I never trash them because you never know when your boss is going to ask you that random question. I love the line in The Devil Wears Prada. “Find me that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday morning.”

8. Technology does help

I do make use of apps like Evernote to keep track of information. A great app for when you are on the hoof is Dragon Dictation, which converts a voice message into an email. I’ve used this a few times when I don’t have a pen and paper with me and need to remember what someone has just asked me to do. Another tool I use quite a bit is the camera on my phone if I have read something that I need to remember I will often take a picture of it and email it to my inbox.

9. Pay close attention to your boss

I don’t suggest you stalk them, but I find paying close attention to what they are doing helps me answer those random requests. Particularly the ones that start with ‘have you seen…?’ I always try to get to grips with their system of working pretty quickly, for example, I find out what they do with their paperwork and make a note of how good they are at storing their documents. This means when they do ask those questions, I will know where to look if I haven’t already rescued the documents from their temporary resting place! The same goes with people they are meeting, I will always make sure names and places are added to their calendar entries so that I can quickly reference any past movements.

10. Habit

This is my most important piece of advice. I have made my techniques to remember stuff a habit so that I don’t miss anything. I will now instantly pick up a pen and notebook when I go to my boss’s office or write something down on a post-it while on the move. If you can get into a habit with these things, it will make it much easier!

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How to remember those random requests