Have you had trouble remembering to complete a task that you vowed not to forget? I know I have. Who hasn't?

Despite our best intentions, we all have had moments where we forgot to do something important. Even if we write down to-do lists, once those tasks are mentally filed away we can only hope to retrieve them from our brains at the right time.

This just happened at Aha! when one of our Customer Success managers forgot to reschedule a demo with someone else on the team. Another team member quickly jumped in to help out, but not before we had an impromptu round of "who's on first."

So how do we get around this very human conundrum?

There is good news: New research suggests that the added step of linking to-dos to distinctive cues can help us remember to follow through with action.

Study participants who were told to look for a particular cue as a reminder to complete a task were 36 percent more likely to follow through. In another experiment from the same study, participants were told to look for an alien plush toy when redeeming a coupon -- leading to a 40 percent increase in coupon usage. Across the board, researchers found that the more distinctive the cue, the higher the completion rate.

These results do not surprise me. I know from my own experience that reminders through association actually works. Here are a few tips for making this low-tech trick effective:

Go off-kilter

Our senses are assaulted with information all day long. A good reminder cue stands out. Sometimes I intentionally leave a book upside down on top of a box of vitamins on my bathroom counter when I really need to remember something the next morning. I see the book is in the "wrong" place and remember to return a call that I got after dinner or make an appointment for one of my kids.

Plan ahead

Whether you put a dog toy in your shoe as a reminder to give Fido his medication or put a sticker on your cell phone case so you will not forget to email financial reports to your boss, this clever hack requires a bit of advance planning on your part. Choose simple everyday household items and start building your custom reminder system ahead of time.

Be obvious

You know your habits and daily patterns better than anyone else. Leave the cue out in plain sight -- where you know you will see it -- to trigger your memory and spur you to action. To help yourself out, clear away unnecessary clutter so that the cue will be unmistakable. That way you will be sure to stop and take notice.

The next time you want to complete a task that comes in when you do not expect it, give your brain some much-needed assistance -- with a visual reminder that you cannot miss. And when you remember something you would have normally forgotten, congratulate yourself on one small victory over forgetfulness.

The only tricky part of this method? Remembering that you will probably forget. So while you don't have to go elephant-sized, make sure your reminder cue is, well, memorable.

What tricks do you use to remember tasks?

Published on: Jul 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.