Three Tactics for Staying Focused During a Difficult Time

Tons of new distractions are surfacing these days. Here are a few ideas for helping to maintain your focus in these strange times.

Focus can be a really hard thing right now. There’s a lot happening in the news, and some of it is dire. People in your life whom you occasionally get a break from might be hard to ignore. You’re having to communicate with people using the phone or a webcam. And you may be working without many of your creature comforts.

And without the standard set of tactics you might use to get out of your funk—say, going to a coffee shop just to get a change of scenery—you might feel a little lost on how to get that focus back once again.

But you still have a job to do. So, given all those factors, how do you find your focus and maintain it? A few ideas:

Use attention management to help narrow your focus. A 2019 New York Times piece by well-known Wharton School organizational psychologist Adam Grant makes the case for attention management—that is, the idea of prioritizing based on the most important things, such as what you’ll gain from a specific project, rather than how long a task will take. The reason this works, Grant says, is that it emphasizes the motivation for the task at hand rather than the fact that something must get done. “Often our productivity struggles are caused not by a lack of efficiency, but a lack of motivation. Productivity isn’t a virtue. It’s a means to an end. It’s only virtuous if the end is worthy,” he says.

Limit the amount of time you focus on the day’s news. There is so much COVID-19 news out there that it can feel all-consuming, taking over every headline, every Twitter feed, and even every interaction. But ignoring the news entirely isn’t an option—as Psychology Today notes, the “Ostrich Effect,” which involves people putting their metaphorical heads in the sand until the very last moment, isn’t productive either. Instead, the best solution might be to allow yourself a period to immerse yourself in the news before you step away, notes sociologist Tracy Brower in Forbes. “Perhaps you can allow yourself 30 minutes to catch up during your morning coffee and 30 minutes after you turn off for the day,” she explains. “Set an alarm to help you manage the time and ensure you don’t lose yourself in the media coverage.”

Give yourself—and your coworkers—room to breathe, and work. There’s a tendency right now, because of the limited human interaction we’re getting, to want to meet frequently with teams and coworkers. But those added meetings can distract from getting things done, and worse can be counterproductive. Over at Quartz, Darren Chait of the meeting notes startup Hugo suggests meeting less to allow more room to focus on productivity. “We’re much more likely to be in different time zones, balancing work commitments from home while grappling with dogs that need walking, babies that need changing, and simply trying not to go stir-crazy,” Chait writes. “This collectively means the cost of each internal meeting has never been higher. Working from home should not be cause for more meetings.”

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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