This phenomenon can be summarized as thus:

  • You are in one area of your house. You are in the midst of a task

  • Something is required from another area of the house. You leave to get it

  • When you arrive there, you see a non-related task. It is a quick task. You do this quick task, and remember you were in the first room doing the primary task. You return there

  • Upon returning you immediately remember that you couldn't continue until you obtained the item from the second room, where you did the quick, unrelated task

What is the term or phrase that describes this phenomenon?

  • 3
    We of a certain age refer to that as a 'senior moment'. I think.
    – Jim Mack
    Apr 6 '18 at 3:05
  • 1
    I went to look up a phrase I thought might be appropriate but I got distracted and almost forgot to come back. (I'm serious: I was looking for "yak shaving", but it means something a little different.) Apr 6 '18 at 3:10
  • When I am unable, through decrepitude, to remember the expression 'senior moment' I call myself 'sieve-brain'.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 6 '18 at 12:51
  • What was the question, again ?
    – Nigel J
    Apr 6 '18 at 12:52
  • I do like senior moment. I think this term is a bit more nebulous though, including any short-sighted action of the AARP-eligible. Apr 6 '18 at 13:54

I would say that the most directly relevant word for being interrupted while in the middle of something else is being 'sidetracked'. Hopefully you will remember what your original task was once you are done with the task that interrupted or diverted you, but sometimes that's not always the case.

There are several psychological factors that could cause someone to get sidetracked---such as not actually wanting to complete the original task. In which case, "allowing" yourself to be sidetracked could be a coping mechanism or avoidance behaviour.

(But I'm no psychologist, so I can't go into that in any more detail. Except to say that, depending on the situation, such things are not necessarily unhealthy. Also, there could well be a more scientific term for 'sidetracked' that explains the phenomenon at a neurological level.)

You could also be tired, or in another physical state that hinders concentration.

If it's something that you're prone to experiencing but want to avoid, it can sometimes help to keep repeating the task you set out to do in your head. If it's constantly "playing" in your conscious, it's more difficult for you to forget about it. (Of course, the thing that sidetracks you may seem more important at the time.) You could also write down the original task on a piece of paper and carry it with you . . .

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.