Improve Your Memory: Set Boundaries

How often are you interrupted? Whether it is a ringing phone, a person asking a question, or a text or email, whatever you are doing often gets put aside and you handle what just came up. It can be tricky to set boundaries but it would be wise to consider your strategies ahead of time, especially when in the midst of an important task.

Distractions are everywhere. Some come from others who want or need your attention or things you choose to respond to for whatever reason. Sometimes you may be bored with what you are doing and welcome an ability to shift to something more interesting. At a program several years ago we created a list of things that draw people away from a task. See any that might be the culprit for you?   Perhaps it is an open door, gawking, music or talk radio, beeping devices, a computer glitch, other conversations, a new idea, pain or discomfort, noises, weather, mail to open, papers to file, unfinished chores,  your to do list, an upcoming event, or  a worrisome or a personal issue. Notice what seems to happen during the course of your day that takes your attention away from what you are doing.

Research shows that each time you respond to an interruption, it increases your chances of making a mistake. You may have lost your train of thought  especially if one interruption leads to another. Research indicates it takes longer to get back into the task and this task switching is not more efficient.   When this happens repeatedly during the course of the day, your stress level is also going to be impacted as well.

Want to be more efficient, less stressed and increase your accuracy? Set a designated time to check your messages. If you are waiting for  an important message, take a few extra seconds to make sure to make a notation of what you were doing or where you left off with what you were working on at the time. Why? It is likely you will get sidetracked and not get back to the task at hand right away.

Let’s say you are in the middle of a project and when you pick up the phone, someone wants to discuss an idea with you. If at all possible, depending on the circumstances, tell the person you are just finishing up something important and ask when you can get back to them. How great it would be if this could become a more common practice. By setting a simple boundary, you are also showing others your preferred working style.

Recently I received an email which was a great opportunity and my mind was already switching over to how I would respond. I was aware it was more interesting than what I was working on and I was tempted to switch gears. Instead I chose to finish up what I was doing then put together the information to answer the newest email. Each task got my full attention and I was not frazzled in the process.


Just pay attention to what typically distracts you and how often you just switch gears. Decide a better way to handle the situation ahead of time and try it whenever you can. Set boundaries by explaining your need to complete what you are doing first or put some limitations on yourself to stop the bouncing back and forth (task switching) during the course of a day.

Any occurrence requiring undivided attention will be accompanied by a compelling distraction. Robert Bloch

Quick Link to all blogs and Memory Toolkit

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
This entry was posted in Improve your memory and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.