Spaced repetition like a boss

Derek Sivers has a post about spaced repetition. If you are new to Spaced Repetition or even if you are not, I highly recommend reading his article or googling about this cool technique a bit. Derek’s article is focused on memorizing a programming language, which is a cool use of SR. However, the way he does it has a weakness: he’s using Anki.

I came across SR while I was learning Spanish. This technique is widely used among language learners to remember new words and phrases they are learning. Most of them use Anki, which is an app built for remembering stuff using flash cards and spaced repetition. But unless you are the really persistent type, it’s not an easy task remembering to load up Anki every day and reviewing the day’s cards.

I used Revunote for some time. It’s an Android app that integrates with Evernote. It gets the notes that you tag as ‘Revunote’ from Evernote and shows them up in increasing intervals (1, 3, 7, 14, 30 and 60 days). Revunote is simple and does exactly what it says, and I still use it; but is there a better solution?

A possible candidate is email. We don’t ‘forget’ to check mail and we check them every day, no exceptions. If we could plug in SR to our email, that would be perfect. And how do we do that? FollowupThen.

Email followups

FollowupThen is a free email service (with optional premium service) that lets you make email reminders. For example, if you send an email to 3feb@followupthen.com, the mail will be sent back to you in the 3rd of February. If you send it to 10h@followupthen.com, it would bounce back in 10 hours. If you want to reply to an email and if you can’t do it till tomorrow, you can forward it to tomorrow@followupthen.com and you can guess the rest. Pretty cool, huh? It’s can be a life-savior to most of us. There’s a comprehensive how-to on using FollowupThen here.

Now think about this: what will happen if you send a mail to both tomorrow@followupthen.com and 3days@followupthen.com? You will get the mail both tomorrow and in three days. Can you see where I’m getting at? Spaced repetition coming into play!

So here you go:

  • Open up your email client and create a new contacts group.
  • Add the following contacts to that group (with each followed by @followupthen.com):
    3h, 24h, 3days, 7days, 2weeks, 1month, 3months, 6months.
  • Compose a mail with what you want to remember.
  • Send it to your new group of contacts.

Voila! FollowupThen will make sure you remember whatever crap you put into that mail! You can add/remove the times you’d like to review as you wish. YMMV. Just make sure you read each email that followupthen sends; no skipping, please. If you can stick to this simple rule, I’m telling you, this simple system can work miracles.

What do I want to remember?

Fair question. What, indeed? Here are some suggestions.

  • Some new words or phrases in a language you are learning
  • An interesting code snippet or a design pattern
  • Lyrics of a song or a poem
  • A Linux/Git/Vim/whatever command
  • Facts for general knowledge
  • Some telephone/credit card/whatever numbers
  • Anything that you wish you could remember

This is no rocket science. There’s little effort required to set it up. And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give spaced repetition a try. Go!

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