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My Secret for Staying Focused

Every dedicated journaler knows that some days are easier than others. Sometimes you’ll sit down to write, simply bursting with ideas to explore. Other times writing will feel like pulling teeth.

The enthusiasm is cyclical. I definitely find it easier to jump in when there’s something specific on my mind. The days when my brain is overflowing and I can’t write fast enough to capture the cascade, I make use of a tool I call the “Parking Lot.”

How it Works

I picked this idea up during a Corporate Facilitation Seminar (I almost fell asleep writing those three words). Before starting a group discussion, the facilitator hangs a giant sheet of blank paper on the wall and labels it “Parking Lot.”

Then the conversation begins, focused on a specific issue. If someone offers an idea that’s potentially useful but totally off-topic, the facilitator says, “Great idea – let’s put that in the Parking Lot and come back to it,” and writes the idea on the sheet.

The present discussion isn’t lead astray and the tangential idea is preserved, with a visual reminder to revisit it once the current conversation is complete. All participants feel important since their ideas are fully acknowledged, and more timid team members aren’t steamrolled by colleagues trying to re-focus the conversation on their personal agendas.

What a brilliant solution! I can be quite ferrety (“Look! Bright shiny things!”) and easily distracted on those days when my head is full and my thoughts are leaping about. I get anxious my random tangents will be forgotten. If I pursue the tangent, I worry my path back to the original topic will be lost.

So I started using the Parking Lot to see if that would help.

Wowza. It’s pretty amazing. Not only does the parking lot help me continue with my current topic while preserving a worthwhile idea for later exploration, it also creates a bank of topics to write about on those mornings when I’m convinced there’s not a word to be had in my honor. Plus I can continue on writing without anxiety that I’ll forget to cover something essential.

How to Use it

Your Parking Lot can be sentences, phrases, or just a simple list. My tends to be one or two word reminders that easily jog my memory.

If you have time, you can take your topic from the Parking Lot during the same journaling session. Or you can save the topic for another day – assuming it’s not earth shattering and timely.

I tried jotting Parking Lot topics in the margins while writing, but I don’t often re-read so they’d get lost. I decided to start using a giant lined sticky note as my Parking Lot. This is handy since it doubles as a bookmark – I can re-stick it to the next blank page at the end of each session.

Then it’s there, waiting for me, should I open to a blank page and be anxious due to its blankness. “Oh yeah – I did want to write about that conversation I had with Toni last week…” So I’m off and running on a morning that would otherwise have been a tooth-pulling session.

You can also use the Parking Lot to store ideas you get while doing something else, like sitting in a boring teleconference at work or waiting in line at Starbucks. If it’s inconvenient to take 10 and start journaling, jot down the topic in your Parking Lot and it will be waiting for you when you do have time.

I need all the help I can get remaining focused, especially at 6:30 in the morning. The Parking Lot helps me stay on topic and provides writing fodder for a rainy day.

And I thought Corporate Facilitation seminars were a waste of time…

One comment

  1. Wonderful, Kristin! This is exactly what I need as I often have too many thoughts in my head and trying to remember them all while trying to write in my journal is very difficult. Thanks for the post!