Ability to Forget - Infopulse
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Ability to Forget

There are many professions where a good memory is a valuable asset. E.g. intelligence officers, linguists and detectives (add your options). But it seems to me that there is another class of professions: those where a developed ability to forget is no less important. And an IT professional is one of such professions. Arguments follow.


You might know the 7±2 rule. It says that a human is a simple being and cannot hold more than 7 ± 2 items in their short-term memory. By the way, this sometimes makes me feel ashamed because my abilities are closer to the lower margin of this number — I start feeling embarrassed when I handle 5-6 items. What conclusions can be drawn? One should try and remember less:

  • If you have more than 7±2 projects simultaneously, change your job.
  • If you edit some module code and have to remember more than 7±2 modules, something’s wrong with your architecture.
  • If all changes have to be approved by over 7±2 people, then your management have misaligned the workflow.
  • If you have a function accepting over 7±2 parameters, then you are doing something wrong.



Only the lazy haven’t heard about GTD, although the general idea can be put in three sentences, and there is no need to detail its practical realizations as they are individual. Adepts of GTD say that this method helps doing (and finishing) activities. I can’t tell, but it’s possible. However, it does help to free your head from unnecessary information. If something is written somewhere and you know it is written, you can forget it till it’s time to take a new task from the list. As the result, the memory holds only a couple of tasks (ideally one) and the human feels free and at ease.


The last few decades have seen such a huge number of technologies change, that it can drive you mad. Today you are an expert in a leading language/OS/engine/DB, and tomorrow you are ridiculed and taken for a dinosaur doomed for extinction. Since long I have stopped writing in my CVs loads of three of four letter abbreviations taking almost a page. What’s the point? Only the thing I use now followed by a few lines about the thing I learn at the moment. And learning can last forever. So, one should know how to forget the obsolete. Sometimes it hurts to spend half a year to master a technology and then to learn the software company decided to discontinue supporting it for marketing reasons. Well, you’ve got upset, had a drink, forgotten it and moved on.

Learning from the Best

Let’s have a look at those who really manage to do many different tasks simultaneously and fast without forgetting any of them. Well, yes, I’m speaking about computers. :) What makes a modern computer do all this? Any shop assistant in a consumer electronics shop will tell you that it’s because “it has the whole N-number of GHz and the same number of cores”. But we are closer to IT and know that such an astounding performance and multitasking is mainly attributed to efficient algorithms of switching the context of performed task, owing to which a processor can quickly “forget” the present task, unloading all related data and switching to a new one. Note this method.


Let’s be frank, how much of the school and university knowledge have you really used in your life? Does it make at least 20%? If it does, then accept my congratulations as you had good teachers. The ability to clear your head of the junk is the same as delete from your HDD the Sort folder that, and let’s be frank about it, you will never ever be able to sort. And deleting it brings such a relief! Search the hard drive in your head and you will surely find something useless.

Work and Home

Not so long ago, I changed my job from “waking up from a phone call in the small hours of the morning to repair everything” to “40 hours per week with flexible time + a possibility to work from home”, and you should know that it feels easier. Now I’m not afraid to answer calls from unknown numbers, and I don’t even have a work phone! The possibility to come home and forget about your work is a very important thing, as well as not to worry about your home when you are at work. To learn to temporarily forget about these things is not easy as they are placed among the most important things in your life. But learning to think and forget about them when required will make things better for you and for them.

Jack of All Trades

Here is an anecdote. A mother tells her daughter: “There are two types of men: those who can make and mend everything themselves and those who cannot. And Heaven forbid you to marry the former as you will never have anything new!”
Along with the main profession you can glue wall paper, make stools, do the plumbing, operate a tower cranes, and tame dragons? It might seem that you’re a sport. But isn’t it better to be professional in one’s field making good money in it and pay all professional builders, makers of stools, crane operators and dragon tamers for their job? The work will be done better and your head will be free of excess information. Of course it doesn’t apply to different hobbies. But a hobby is one thing, and fouling your brains and free time with the things that can be done better by others is another.

I Will Surely Remember This

“Sasha has his birthday coming in two weeks – I should remember, he’s a relative, albeit a distant one. He’s fond of sport, so I can present him with some equipment. No, I won’t forget this. I did recall it … What do you say, love? Shall I buy some bread and milk on my way back home? Sure. Of course, I will remember — isn’t it easy to remember? Bread and milk. As simple as that. Yes, Mr.Smith. Report on Monday. Got it. No, I won’t forget. Oh, yeah, I have another score of reports to prepare, but this one is short and I will do it quickly. I’ll remember.”

“Well, can’t we have dinner without bread and milk? I did remember it at work even on my way home! And then there was that call, and I was almost run over by a car at a crossing, and then it has started to rain, and well… What? You had a birthday yesterday? I did remember it! No, I’m not making excuses – I did intend to remember it and nearly found you a present… What report? Could you be more precise – I have a score of them! Ah, that one…”

You will never remember everything even with the best intentions, even trying really hard – it’s impossible. You’re just a human (if you are not, don’t read the below, and you shouldn’t have read the above). Personally, I assume that I’m incapable of remembering ANYTHING. For all that needs remembering, I have reminders by time, place and context. They are repeated in all my computers and telephones. I remember nothing, so I forget nothing.


I would like to finish this article with a summary of the statement at its beginning. Wait a minute, what was I writing about? I clean forgot it…

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