Memory doesn't always work perfectly. Example? I spent seven minutes yesterday looking for a car key I'd clipped to my pants. And since the office can get so frantic, it seems reasonable that a few reminders from others could do you good.

But generally speaking, reminders are just seriously irritating, and they tend to spark nostril flaring for a few reasons:

1. They pile work on top of work.

Most people have enough to handle without also having to respond to "Did you..." or "Just a reminder..." notes. Every email, text or chat reminder message adds responsibility, distraction, clutter and stress while robbing you of time you could spend being truly productive.

2. They insinuate incompetence.

Even if a reminder is well-intentioned, the underlying connotation can be, "I don't quite trust you to handle this like an adult, so I'm going to hold your hand to make sure you don't screw this up." It's pretty dang hard for someone to return trust if you won't hand it out first, and when you passive-aggressively communicate that you think someone has a lack of capability, it can do a real number on a person's self-esteem.

3. They come off as egotistical.

Each team member can have dozens of tasks to complete through the work day. But when you send a reminder, you're telling them that all those things come second, and that what they really ought to pay attention to is you and what you want or need. Sometimes reminders really are about priority jobs. But if they aren't, then they can spark anxiety that you don't really understand what's important on the recipient's plate. That can grow into harsh hierarchical disconnect that hinders collaboration.

4. They steal the chance to learn.

If you want someone to develop a skill, then they actually have to practice it. By constantly sending reminders to people, you virtually guarantee that they'll become dependent on you and will fail to find their own strategies for keeping it all together.

3 ways to keep people on track without constant reminders

1. Aggregate.

Part of the problem with reminders is that they're a little like water torture, drip, drip, dripping onto you through the whole day. Pull operations-critical reminders for specific people, teams or the entire staff together and send them all out in a consolidated message at whatever time works best for everyone. You also can post them on a public, traditional or digital board or other login-based system for people to check at their leisure under their own responsibility.

2. Ask them to request.

There can be situations or jobs where a person has a good sense that something might fall through the cracks. Instead of assuming they need you for everything, encourage them to heed that instinct and ask for a reminder for only these instances. As an example, when I'm working on different stories, I do set my own reminders, but if I'm overwhelmed, I also will ask a few critical people to ping me in a few days or weeks as a failsafe so that I don't drop the ball. Most people I ask to do this are more than happy to accommodate me, because they want to demonstrate a commitment to the project, and because they appreciate my transparency.

3. Provide tools and/or training.

People sometimes struggle to remember everything they need to, simply because they don't have a good, streamlined way to empower themselves. A good piece of software or cloud service, for example, could offer an opportunity for individuals to add items to their own calendars or to-do lists in real time. Keeping these kinds of tools as simple and integrated together as possible, provide whatever instruction is necessary for team members to feel comfortable using everything you offer. Then let them take control while you get out of the way.

Published on: Jun 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.