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.
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.
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?