Don’t make this mistake when you loan things to others

Have you ever loaned an item to someone and felt certain you’d remember it? I’ve done it many times. Then my attention turns elsewhere and that’s the last I think of it until one of two things happens:

  1. The person returns the item and I think “oh, that’s right, I’d forgotten I’d loaned you that”; or
  2. I need to use the item again. As I turn the house upside-down looking for it, I have a vague recollection of having loaned it to… somebody.
Missing spanner

photo credit: Markus U. via flickr cc

The solution

Eventually I learned that unless I wrote down who I’d loaned things to, there was a good chance I’d never see them again. As I started implementing GTD I realised that relieving the mental pressure of remembering trivial things like this was well worth the effort. I extended my GTD system with these two lists:

  1. Loaned: a list of belongings I’ve loaned to others and the date of the loan.
  2. Borrowed: After the first list began paying dividends, I started tracking items I’d borrowed from others. If there is an automated reminder involved (eg. library books) I don’t bother, but anything else goes on the list.


I’ve chosen to manage these lists in OmniFocus because it automatically brings entries to my attention at review time. Evernote, OneNote, or even a Post-it note on the fridge door could be just as effective.

My OmniFocus setup looks like this:

OmniFocus configuration (click to expand)

OmniFocus configuration (click to expand)

I’ve created one project called Loaned and another called Borrowed. They are both single action projects with an on hold status. I only review them once a month — that’s often enough for me. It would probably be more correct to treat these as contexts. I tried that route first, but I found the project-based approach more effective.

The bottom line

When you lend something to a friend, write it down. Your brain will try to fool you into thinking there’s no need, but do it anyway. The tools aren’t important, but you need to keep your lists current and review them periodically to reduce unnecessary mental fatigue. Save your intellectual horsepower for solving problems instead of trying to remember who’s borrowed your reticulating congrozinator.

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8 Responses

  1. Robert says:

    Son, I will return the soldering and camera gear on the weekend. Love Dad

  2. angelo says:

    Totally agree with you John. I do the same thing with Wunderlist.
    Excellent article

  3. I just take a picture with my phone and save that…if i need my stuff back, i just app that person the picture…works every time…

  1. August 14, 2015

    […] items I’m waiting for others to return. […]

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