How to Use the 'Idea Parking Lot' in 4 Simple Steps

It's hard to keep meetings focused when side issues and tangents come up. Use a “parking lot” to keep your tangents under control.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #474

actual parking lot representing the 'idea parking lot'

Oh boy, meetings. I just love meetings! No...I don’t. I hate meetings. You start talking about important points, like market share penetration of Opus-branded Penguin Panty Snowcones, and the next thing you know, someone goes off on a tangent about who left Tom Riddle’s diary in the gender-neutral bathroom. Again. But it’s the middle of the discussion about what sizes of Penguin Panty Snowcones to offer. As relevant as it might be, now is not the right point in the conversation.

Tangents in meetings waste everyone’s time. People who showed up for the main topic have to sit through the meeting, trying to pretend they’re not reading their email on their laptop. The person who called the meeting doesn’t get the answers they need, like what colors of Penguin Panty Snowcones are expected to produce the highest sales. 

Tangents are “sticky”

People go on tangents—and stay there—for good reasons! They think the tangent is important: Tom Riddle’s diary might contain a clue for magically insuring the success of the Penguin Panty Snowcones product launch. They keep returning to the tangent to make sure the concerns don’t get lost. And of course, just because the person thinks their issue is relevant doesn’t mean it is. But debating the relevance in the middle of a meeting probably isn’t constructive. Parking lots solve all these problems.

Step 1: Add a parking lot

To make your own parking lot, draw a square on your whiteboard, blackboard, flip chart, smartboard, or whatever canvas you’re using to capture ideas in your meeting. If you don’t have a shared visible space for the parking lot, ask one team member to be the Meter Person and keep track of the parking lot in their notes.

Explain to everyone there that this is the “parking lot,” where all tangential ideas live. Ensure that everyone in the meeting understands that everything in the parking lot will be addressed at the end of the meeting. Tom Riddle’s diary goes into the parking lot. 

Step 2: Make relevancy personal

Then assign one person to give a “relevancy challenge.” When something comes up that isn’t relevant to the meeting’s purpose, the Relevancy Czar says, “Should we put this in the parking lot so we can stay on track?” The group can then decide by a quick show of hands, verbal agreement, or a quick cupcake-throwing battle, whether or not the tangent should be put in the parking lot.

When your co-worker yells out, “We must test market to the aquarium-going population!,” it’s the Relevancy Czar’s chance to pop that right into the parking lot.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.