Two summers ago I lost my keys for a full week. As a hyper-organised person whom Freud would have labelled "anal retentive," this freaked me out. It was my then-9-year-old daughter who finally found the keys. I had slipped them into the pocket of her book bag while rushing frantically between assorted appointments. The keys had a relaxing week with Kelsea at pottery camp while I sweated and stewed over their absence.
All week long I wished I could "call" my keys as I do my cellphone when I need to find it. So I bought a gizmo to do just that. The product came in two parts: a little fob to attach to the item and a remote control to press so the fob chirps like a homing beacon. I attached the fob, stowed the remote somewhere I wouldn't lose it -- wouldn't that be ironic? -- and went about my life.
Last fall I lost my keys again. After searching for 20 minutes, I remembered the gizmo. "Yes!" I thought, pleased and proud of my foresight. I found the remote, pressed the button, and . . . nothing.
The batteries in the remote, the fob or both had died. I'd chosen a system that required me to remember to change batteries. I had failed both.
There are now even higher-tech stuff-tracking-devices that integrate with your smartphone via Bluetooth. They, too, require batteries that can die. If you go this route, I suggest creating a calendar alert that reminds you to change the batteries annually. Of course, you'll need to find the little round batteries the device requires. And you'll need to remember to reset the calendar alert after you change them. You might as well just remember where you put your keys.
Since "smart technology" failed me, I decided to consult a smart person instead: Stever Robbins, a Harvard MBA and former CEO who coaches other CEOs on productivity. Robbins also hosts the "Get It Done Guy" podcast, where I first heard him talk about how to stop losing things.
"Bluntly, a major way to kill your productivity is to have to search for the things you need," Robbins said. "Ideally, you want everything you're going to use close to your fingertips. If it's lost, you have to move your fingertips to go find it."
Robbins offers three pointers for keeping track of your belongings:
1. Create a designated place for essentials.
Try this: Walk into your home with fresh eyes and look for a place where you can easily and reliably stow your essentials. Every time. If there is no such place, create one. For example, you might install a shelf with hooks beneath it near a power outlet. That way you can place your wallet and phone (plugged in) on the shelf and hang your keys from the hook. Having designated spots for true essentials like this will ward off the bulk of losses.
If you tend to lose things you use less often -- say, your tool kit -- the same principle applies: Create a specific place you will always keep it and then stick to it. Label the spot, if necessary, to remind yourself.
2. Create multiple places if needed.
Robbins knows our routines can vary. Maybe you enter your home through the back door when coming in from a run but through the front when coming in from your car. Stowing your stuff near the front door when you've just come in the back goes against human nature. So he suggests you create designated spots for your essentials near both doors.
"You want to limit the possible places where lost things can go to as few places as possible," Robbins said. That way you never need to check more than those one or two places to find something.
3. Scan places before you leave.
What about when you're out and about? First, Robbins quickly creates a temporary "designated place" wherever he is. At a coffee house, maybe he deliberately places his essential items on the table's right-hand corner: "Then, when I'm going to leave a place, first I scan the area that I designated as my homeless-items place."
Next he scans the entire room or, at least, wherever he has been in that room. For example, Robbins gathers all his luggage by the door before leaving a hotel room, then walks the room from wall to wall to see if he's forgotten anything. He may "waste" a couple of minutes doing that, but he saves many more minutes -- calling the hotel, having his lost items shipped -- when he finds something he forgot.
Robbins's guidance is gold. I decided years ago to put my wallet in the left outside pocket of my purse and my keys in the right -- and I rarely lose them. But sometimes I do. What then?
I turned to certified NeuroLeadership coach Linda Cassell of Quantum Leap Coaching and Training, who has studied brain science extensively to help her clients be more effective executives -- and people.
A neuroscientist's key question is, "Under what conditions do we lose things?" she said.
"There is an old adage that says 'never go to sleep when you are angry,' " Cassell said. "If you want to know how not to lose things, never put anything away when you are stressed." This explains why my own system was derailed when I was frantically rushing. "Even if you have the good habit of putting your keys in the same place every time," Cassell explained, "chances are, under those conditions, stress will void that habit."
We don't all have to practice yoga and meditation so we won't lose our keys. Cassell offered tips on quicker, easier ways to reduce and keep track of items:
Cassell studied under Mark Waldman, a neuroscience researcher at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where she learned about the power of yawning. "Yawning can release approximately 1,200 stress-reducing chemicals," Cassell said. "Try worrying while you yawn. It's impossible. Yawning resets the brain. Put away your keys now, and you are likely to remember their location."
Stretching your body while you yawn is even better, she said. Take a moment to stretch, starting with your neck and shoulders and moving to your arms and torso. The theory is that stretching causes your brain to communicate relaxing signals to your body, which, in turn, helps you make better decisions. In this case, you'll decide to put your keys in their designated spot.
3. Be present.
Cassell suggests a quick and easy mindfulness exercise. "When you find yourself preoccupied, do something to bring yourself back into the moment," she said. "Rub the palms of your hands together, take a gentle breath, or make a Mona Lisa smile. When you are present, you are in the driver's seat. . . . You get to choose what actions you will take." The goal is to disrupt the "muscle memory" that allows our bodies to do things without our brains knowing what's going on.
Now that you are calm and conscious, put away your keys, wallet, cellphone or toolkit. Chances are, you won't lose them.
Leamy hosts the podcast "Easy Money." She is a 13-time Emmy winner and a 25-year consumer advocate for programs such as "Good Morning America."