Get sidetracked

The train took the side track, not the main track.

If you lose interest or focus in the task that you’re supposed to be doing and start doing another task, then you got sidetracked. This means that you shifted your attention away from your primary goal and started doing an activity that was, likely, less important. When you get sidetracked, you delay the progress of your main goal.

Since everyone gets sidetracked at one point or another, we can use this expression in both personal and professional contexts. We usually use it with the verb "get." For example:

  • Sorry I’m late! I went to the mall to buy socks but I got sidetracked by a shoe sale.
  • The speaker got sidetracked by the audience’s questions and didn’t have time to finish his speech.

A. Have you heard back from the client about our proposal?
B. I have, but let's discuss it later. I don’t want us to get sidetracked from the main point of this meeting.

Did you know? This expression dates back to the mid-1800s, where it had the literal meaning "to move a train to a sidetrack." Trains would be moved to sidetracks when they were not in use and were not fulfilling their primary purpose of transporting people or things.