Take notes during phone calls with friends and family

Amazon: The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us SmarterKatherine Ellison's book notwithstanding, "mommy brain" (or, as I prefer to think of it, "parenting brain") is a real condition for me. My ability to retain details has gone down dramatically since I had kids. Or perhaps my ability has actually gone up, it's just that I'm full. No more room at the inn, so to speak.

Forgetting the school form that needs to be turned in or the location of my cell phone is one thing. It's quite another to forget the life details a friend or family member tells me on the phone. The kid's strep throat, or the upcoming vacation, or the unexpected doctor's appointment. When I forget enough of these details, the next time I talk to that person it sounds a lot like I wasn't listening, or worse, don't care.

I've taken to writing quick notes while on the phone. "Lara's mammogram next Wed." "Gina's waiting to hear about her job interview." "Kara gets back from Japan on April 22." If I'm offline, I write them on a sticky note and then transfer them to my calendar. If I'm online, I plug my notes straight into Google Calendar and set reminders to follow up.

At first it seemed odd to rely on tools to remind me about details I thought I should just be able to just keep in mind. I felt slightly guilty about even needing reminding about the most important people in my life. But it's better than forgetting, which I'm tired of doing, and I'm sure my friends are tired of hearing.

Do you have any tips for keeping on top of the details in friends' and family's lives despite your full brain?

Related: Use Google Calendar to remind yourself to get a life


  1. Monera Mason says

    You should try Jott, (http://jott.com/default.aspx). You can take notes with your cell or online and have them sent to who ever is listed on Jott. It is really cool. Also the other mommy tool I have been using a lot is Cozi it is a family calender which is online and you can send yourself shopping lists, and keep track of everyones busy lives. It is also colour coded.

  2. says

    I am a total google calendar addict, and I have a separate calendar (color coded yellow, even) where I keep “Family Travel and Events.” My husband and I both have divorced and remarried parents, so we have twice the family most people have. I keep track of birthdays, death dates (sad, but true, because I don’t want to be talking to Uncle A on the day that Aunt B died, and not mention it…), travel (Mom in Florida… Step-Mom back from business trip to Seattle…), and other major life events, (Mother in law – mammogram).

    For repeat events, I set it up to repeat yearly, of course.

    My kids each have their own calendar, and my husband and I each have one, and we all have access to each others’. I also keep one for bills, one for meal planning, one for work stuff… It seems like I’m always finding ways to use gCal. I LOVE IT. And it makes me the one who never forgets, which I also love.

  3. says

    I need to do this more often as I sometimes feel like I am floating in my own world these days. I think taking notes would really help me. My grandmother does that for all of her family members and I am always amazed at all that she remembers that I forget (Why are you home? Don’t you have a hair appointment at 10?) It’s so sweet!

  4. STL Mom says

    Can I just get adopted by Amy’s grandma instead of having to write things down for myself?

  5. MorahLaura says

    When we bought our house, the kitchen broom-closet door was painted with black chalkboard surface. We keep chalk there and write stuff down when we’re on the phone. Then everyone can see it and it’s easy to erase when the date passes.

  6. Parent Hacks Editor says

    CallingSpades: Hilarious! I joke with Rael that I talk to Sandy more than I talk to him. (He would probably say the same thing.)

  7. RollTimer says


    “I keep track of birthdays, death dates (sad, but true, because I don’t want to be talking to Uncle A on the day that Aunt B died, and not mention it…)”

    Good idea for me because I don’t want to be talking to Uncle A on the anniversary of Aunt B’s death and ask how she is.

  8. says

    Hi Asha,

    I have some thoughts to share on this subject…

    Oops… gotta run: Sandy says tonight’s date night and you’re expecting me any minute now.



  9. Aliza says

    LOL – I never really thought about this – but when I open up my mail I keep the envelopes and put them right behind my phone. That way when I’m on the phone I can use the back of the envelope for notes (or doodling, if it’s my mom!).
    I also use them for to-do lists and they stick out quite nicely in my purse so I remember to actually DO the things on it. They’re great for shopping lists too – and you can put coupons in them too!

  10. Parent Hacks Editor says

    So there you have it, folks, a little peek into the marriage of Asha and Rael Dornfest, and our “special friend,” Sandy.

    PS. On our date night we saw “Run, Fatboy, Run.” We figured anything with Simon Pegg in it can’t be bad, even if it’s directed by David Schwimmer.

  11. says

    I don’t care if you created Sandy yourself, she’s the best web application I’ve come across in years. And I love the idea of using her for reminders of this sort. I’m always making paper notes while one the phone and then can’t find them. Thanks!

  12. says

    I need this. Thanks! It’s really difficult to ask a good friend ONE MORE TIME what kind of cancer her mother has…..

    And the longer I can’t remember the details of the situation, the worse it gets. I really do care — there are just so many people with so many things going on in their lives and my brain, like yours, is just full.

  13. says

    I’m really, really intrigued by the idea of using Sandy and google calendar but I seem to have a block about using them. I even registered for Sandy but never really got around to testing the waters. It’s strange, because I really am a big computer person (blogging, email, surfing …).

    I love your description of using Sandy, Asha. Am I going to sound really thick if I ask you to explain even more? (Or describe what “working with Sandy” looks like in your world, I suppose?) Same goes for google calendar and other applications.

    I seem to have a mental hump to get over. And yet I clearly can’t keep track of everything in my head, which is what I’ve been trying to do! Gah!

  14. says

    Alisa: Not dense at all. I don’t use Google Calendar, I use Sandy as the electronic counterpart to my paper calendar.

    Here’s what I do: while I’m on the phone, I usually scribble my notes on paper because I don’t want the person I’m talking to to hear me tapping on the keyboard.

    When I’m next at my computer, I create a new email addressed to Sandy. (When you sign up at http://iwantsandy.com you get a unique email address to use to email Sandy.)

    If the thing I want to remember is just a fact (no date or reminder associated with it), my note to Sandy will look something like this:

    Remember Mel’s feeling nervous about her interview. @mel

    The @mel part is the tag — all tags start with @, and I use the friend’s name. That way, I can later ask Sandy to show me everything tagged with @mel to get a rundown of my notes.

    If I need to remember a date, or remind myself to follow up on something, the note to Sandy looks like this:

    Remind me to ask Mel how the interview went next Thurs @mel

    Sandy will store the note AND send me a reminder next Thursday (whenever that is). If I had wanted to, I could have used a date instead:

    Remind me to ask Mel how the interview went 5/1 @mel

    Sandy emails the reminders, but I can also have them delivered via text to my cell phone (good when I’m out a lot).

    I also ask Sandy to send regular reminders to prompt me to call long distance friends:

    Remind me to call Mel next Thurs @weekly @mel

    Adding the special tag @weekly tells Sandy that I want a reminder next Thursday AND every week from then on.

    Does this help?

  15. says

    I also use the Cozi program and have really found it easy to use. I mainly use it for the calendar. This is an interesting topic, I’m so glad to know there are others who have also have “mommy brain” and that’s something I don’t recall reading about in the pregnancy books! For me, it appeared after baby #3. I’m going to try the taking notes method, as that hasn’t occurred to me before. Thanks for the tips!