How To Capture Distractors and Focus On The Task At Hand

News flash, you get distracted. We battle distraction daily, hourly, in extreme cases, even minute by minute. By definition distractors are attention thieves which steal our focus from our tasks at hand. In some cases distractions can be avoided. In others, those thieves deserve our attention – just not right now. 

Two Natural Distractions

Like you, I get distracted. It happens in meetings, during a webinar, reading a book, or having a conversation.

From what I know about the human brain, and from watching this happen to others, I know I’m not alone.

Human beings get distracted by two things.
  • External distractors – things in our environment grab our attention
  • Internal distractors – our own thinking grabs our attention

In this post we’re going to tackle the latter (us distracting ourselves).

While we’re supposed to be focused on one thing, our brains may be processing different thoughts. This is especially true if the task at hand doesn’t require our full attention.

Some of these thoughts are extraneous, random, or irrelevant. But often they are things that we need to revisit.

The Parking Lot Technique

Distracting thoughts which you deem important, relevant, or don’t want to forget need to be captured for later review. This is where the parking lot technique comes in.

The parking lot is a place where you capture your distracting thoughts, such as:
  • to-do items
  • questions
  • ideas
  • resources
  • things to remember

Parking lots are often used in meetings or group work to keep the discussion on task. However, it can be a very useful on a personal level too.

Your parking lot is your place where you capture all of those internal distractors that are worth revisiting. Once thoughts are captured, your mind is free to refocus on your task at hand. Later, revisit and process your parking lot for action items, reminders, etc.

Thoughts pertinent to the task at hand should go in your notes. You do take notes, right?

Analog or Digital

Your parking lot can be customized to your individual preferences and the setting you’re in. Remember, the point is simply to capture your distractors.

A parking lot can be as basic as a blank sheet of paper or as advanced as a digital app. I often use a sticky note and then transfer each item to a more suitable place after the meeting or appointment.

This past weekend I was mowing the yard when an idea struck. I pulled out my phone and entered the task right into Wunderlist, my to-do app of choice.

Here is a creative example my wife used in the classroom. Now she uses it personally by attaching sticky notes.

Here is a creative example my wife used in the classroom. Now she uses it personally by attaching sticky notes.

Capture Your Distractors

Tailor the parking lot technique to work for you and make it a habit. Capturing distractions as they occur will help you focus on the task at hand. You won’t be repeating the thoughts in your mind for fear of losing that golden idea or forgetting to pick up barbecue sauce on the way home. Simply jot down the distractor and revisit your parking lot once the task is complete.

Its simple. Its easy. Its a productivity no-brainer.

Question: How will you implement the parking lot technique? I’d love to hear your creative ideas in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.