Have You Experienced The Doorway Effect?


Have you ever walked into a room to do something and promptly forgotten what you came in the room to do? Or have you thought of something you wanted to tell someone, walked into their office to tell him, and then couldn’t remember what you wanted to say? I certainly have, and it can be very frustrating. Recently I heard a possible reason for this common experience, or at least about one possible contributing factor. It is called “The Doorway Effect.” In simple terms, walking through a doorway, from one room to another, interrupts our thinking and dislodges pre-existing thoughts. People disagree as to exactly how and why this happens, but I think the theory makes sense.

Whenever we enter a new space, our senses are immediately assaulted by new stimuli, including sights, sounds, temperatures, smells, faces, and more. It makes sense that my brain would need to process these new factors, pushing my previous ideas (at least temporarily) to the sidelines. The good news is, the Doorway Effect, or temporary loss of thoughts, happens to everyone: young, old, and in between. At the same time, being aware of this phenomenon can help us cultivate strategies to avoid the Doorway Effect’s potential impact on our productivity.

Doorway opening

There are many ways to manage our focus and memory. Two techniques I regularly recommend are:


Whenever I work with clients to declutter, I ask them not to step away and put things in their designated locations until we are reach a natural breaking point. This may be when we finish reviewing a category or an area, or when we complete an entire session. It is important to take breaks, but not too many. Stepping away from the sorting process – and apparently walking through a door – opens us up to distractions, after which it can be difficult to regain focus.

Think of batching as a way to group like tasks together, much as you might group like items together when organizing a space. For instance, set aside one time period to make all your phone calls, a separate window to run errands, another to read/write/study/pay bills/etc., and yet another to walk around and put items away. An efficient “to do” list not only prioritizes items by importance, but also groups items to be accomplished in the most efficient manner possible.

Opening in a gate


Often, tasks pop into our heads when we are in the middle of doing other things. For example, we may be working on making travel reservations and then suddenly remember that we also need to call a pet sitter and take a spare key to our neighbor. In some cases we can take immediate action on the new responsibility, but often we think of things that would be better tackled at another time. (Read more about this here.) It is important to always have our lists (either digital or paper) nearby so we can add items as they pop into our heads. This way, if we remember that we want to talk to Joe about a specific matter, we can record, “call/email/text Joe re: ______), and then immediately go back to our previous undertaking. The more specific information we record on the list, the better. Should we forget that we wanted to talk to Joe or what we needed to discuss, all we need to do is look at our list. In other words, we can’t necessarily prevent forgetting, but we can make it easier to recall a lost thought.

Since thoughts appear at the oddest moments, this list should always be close at hand, including when we are watching TV, exercising, getting dressed, traveling, and even heading to bed.

*     *     *

Ideally, these two strategies should function in tandem. All day long we track items that pop into our head, and then at least once a day (typically morning or evening) we should review our list and batch items into efficient chunks.

We can’t stop walking through doors, but we can take steps to capture and retain our thoughts.

Have you ever experienced the Doorway Effect?

27 thoughts on “Have You Experienced The Doorway Effect?”

  1. You just described what happens to me quite often with the doorway effect. Thankfully, for the most part, I can remember if I give myself a few moments to recall. But I think your two ideas to help combat this from having this actually happen. And will definitely now keep in mind to record my thoughts, as well as batch my tasks. 🙂

    1. It is a funny – and universal – little phenomenon. I have learned that I have to write it down and carry the reminder with me or I will likely forget. I often can eventually retrieve my thought, but often it just takes me too long and I miss my opportunity. I imagine this delay will continue to lengthen as I age, so might as well deal with it now!

  2. I’ve indeed experienced The Doorway Effect. I also batch tasks and take notes as you’ve prescribed. But I never thought to tie the two (or three) things together. Essentially we’re talking about physical AND virtual doorways (interruptions, stray thoughts, etc.). Interesting!

    1. Oh I love that, Hazel! Virtual doorways could almost be a post of it’s own! I think you could also harness it to your benefit. For example, when you are dwelling on a topic or stewing in a negative place, get up and walk out of the room. Maybe that will help us break free from a negative thought pattern!

  3. I do this ALL the time! In fact just this weekend, my husband watched me do it and laughed at me. Sometimes I remember that I forgot something and if I retrace my steps, something will jog my memory. When I am working, I am constantly scribbling little reminder notes to help me remember what I was working on if I get distracted by a phone call or the dog barking at the front door. Those are my mental doorways.
    Andi Willis recently posted…(Un)Frame Your Favorite Framed PhotosMy Profile

    1. Hazel just coined those as “virtual doorways,” which I love! All interruptions can shoot thoughts and ideas right out of the front of our minds. I sometimes refer to my planner as my second brain. It holds my overflow:)

  4. I love that this phenomenon has a name- The Doorway Effect. How cool and so very familiar. It makes so much sense about why this happens and how common it is.

    Two things work for me when this happens. The first one is that I stop, go back, and retrace my steps. 99% of the time when I do that, the thought I had forgotten will return immediately. The second thing I do is that if I’m walking from place A to B with a specific thought/task/concept I want to focus on and remember at this moment, I will repeat it over an over in my head until I reach my destination (which is often a closeby room.) Then I can write the thought down or take the immediate appropriate action.

    It’s not unusual for the mind to wander. That’s what minds do. So having a few techniques to work with the wandering mind is valuable. It’s also nice to be in good company, knowing that this happens to everyone.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Use Two Simple Concepts That Will Improve Your Perspective About NextMy Profile

    1. I felt the same way, Linda. If an experience has a name, you know that you are not alone in experiencing it! I love your point about repeating the thought in your head. I sometimes will speak something I am trying to remember out loud. For example, when I get texted a security code and need to hold it in my head until I can move to another location and key it in. Andi also mentioned retracing her steps. This can be a wonderful way to jog the memory. I think it comes down to finding what techniques are most helpful in keeping the thoughts we wish to retain close at hand.

  5. Yes! I have totally experienced it. Probably throughout life, although not severely. I actually get a weird version of it on the computer. Like I open up a blank tab and then forget which website I was headed to!

    1. That is an interesting one, Tamara. That is what Hazel called a “virtual doorway.” The simple act of opening the tab is enough to shift your thinking and dislodge your intention. At least we know that we all have these experiences. I find it comforting that there is a name for it:)

  6. It’s nice to have a name to put to this phenomenon. Like Linda, I also do this on the computer – I think because each new webpage is sort of like a doorway and sometimes if I can’t remember why I opened a particular one. I’m sure it’s because I’m trying to process too many things at once. I also batch tasks and I’m a firm believer in writing things down.

    1. My husband always teases me for having too many tabs open on my computer. It works for me, but I can totally see how opening a new tab might have the same impact as walking through a door. It is a shift in thinking, and it often doesn’t take much to knock our brains off course. I’m loving all of these comments, and seeing that pretty much everyone has had this happen!

    2. I also have a doorway effect of sorts with my iPad. I’ll pick it up to look something up, and by the time I have a window open and ready to google, I’ve forgotten what I was going to do!

      1. I’ve had that too… I guess this is the modern day equivalent of walking through a door, right? I feel better to see that everyone is experiencing the same thing:)

  7. I always wanted to know what that was called. Thank you. I have experienced it, especially when I get busier. I find that if I write it down at a different time or on a Post It(R) and stick it to my phone, helps me remember since I usually take the phone with me when I move around the home. If I have tasks to do outside of the home, I like to bulk those tasks together and write the to-do list on a sticky note and place it on my phone or on my pocketbook.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How To Complete An Effective Spring Cleaning Process Made SimpleMy Profile

    1. I love your sticky note system. It is simple and works great. When you are finished with it, just toss the note out. There are many ways to deal with tracking our thoughts, and the best one is the one we trust and use!

  8. Oh, how I love that there’s a name for this besides “senior moment!” LOL I usually back away slowly from the doorway (while silently berating myself for forgetting) and retrace my steps. Most often, by going back to the original space (or while on my way there), the thing I forgot pops right back in my head.

    And, if there’s more intense thinking/planning/doing needed after I remember, I usually write it down or/add it to my task management app. Writing it down helps it stick in my head and the app incessantly reminds me to get it done. If I’m having more, ahem, senior moments than usual on a particular day, then having a digital reminder is a must.
    Deb Lee recently posted…80 Percent of Resolutions Always Fail (But You Can Fix That!)My Profile

    1. Many people have mentioned retracing their steps. I think this gives our brains a sort of “reset” to draw from. I do this as well. A digital app is a great way to keep track of what you want to remember. Small and easy to refer back to. I even put details in my tracking system, such as what number to call or the location I need to go to. The more details, the better. If I’m not specific, even my note can sometimes fail to trigger the right thought!

  9. Wow! There’s a name for this! I am excited to know how common this is. I also find the better rest I get, the less there is a doorway effect. For this reason I prioritize getting rest and getting a great task management system in place.

    1. From the reactions, it seems we are all experiencing with it, and coming up with our own ways to cope with it. Retracing our steps has been a popular one. Getting rest definitely is important for me as well. I can only run on adrenaline so long and then my productivity crashes.

    1. I agree, Anne! It doesn’t have a “deeper meaning,” just something we all experience. I’ve been happy to see in the comments how universal this is, and to get even more ideas for holding on our thoughts:)

  10. Pingback: Why do we forget things when entering a room – The doorway effect – Stuff I Learned

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