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Zack Gallinger-Long

Reduce Cognitive load by 'Parking' Your Thoughts

  • Did I remember to schedule that dentist appointment?

  • Was milk ever added to the grocery list?

  • Am I supposed to meet friends for dinner this weekend or next weekend?

There are lot of thoughts that go through our mind when we're trying to focus on work.

If you're like most people, you push them aside and try to remain focused on your work only to have the thoughts reemerge later. Might I suggest, instead, that you capture them in a Parking Lot.

Part of the reason we find ourselves so distracted by rogue thoughts is because the mind has an open loop, an unresolved task that it is trying to keep track of. By taking an action to resolve the issue, we allow our minds to relax by taking the thought off our mental RAM and documenting it elsewhere.

When making a Parking Lot, I like to use a single piece of paper, or a blank space in my journal, to capture all of my one-off thoughts throughout the day. Whenever an unresolved task or creative idea comes to mind, I simply write it down in my parking lot for future resolution.

During my next break or at the end of the workday I review the list of items and take one of the following actions:

  • Handle immediately - this is for any quick or time-sensitive tasks

  • Assign the task for a specific date/time in the future - for example, I like to schedule any household-related tasks for the evening or on Saturdays

  • Relay the task to the appropriate person - for example, I may need a status update on an open project

By utilizing the Parking Lot method, you'll find you're able to return to work more quickly once you acknowledge the thought and capture it, instead of trying to ignore it. After a task is documented and clear next steps are defined, you should start to notice less mental interruptions during focused work periods.

When you first start using the Parking Lot method it can be challenging to remember to write down each thought but, after a few days, it will become easier. Most people report a greater sense of control amd mental clarity after adding the Parking Lot method to their productivity toolbox.

I'd love to hear how the Parking Lot method works for you. Also, if you have any other best practices for remaining focused throughout your day, please share them with on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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