I’ve been hearing from several leaders this week, whether they’re working from home, out of work, or even on the frontlines of this pandemic, that no matter how productive they usually are, there are times when they just feel distracted and can’t focus on much of anything. If that sounds familiar, read on for strategies on how to handle this…
First, though, give yourself and your team a break! This is a time of disruption, uncertainty, and rapid change. So, it’s only natural to have episodes when you’re not productive or just don’t feel motivated. Sometimes, the best we can do is mindlessly scroll through social media or zone out to Netflix. Still, it doesn’t feel so great after doing that for a while, right? And, even if you’re exercising some self-compassion in allowing for these moments, there are specific steps you can take to feel much better and stay focused.
1. Limit how much news you’re consuming about the Coronavirus. We talked about this in a previous post, but as the days and weeks of physical-distancing roll on, it’s more important than ever. Yes, it’s important to stay informed, but confine it to 15–30 minutes of news consumption per day, preferably in the morning or afternoon, rather than the evening, when you’re trying to unwind.
2. Limit time on social media. Yes, I know Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are awash with funny memes and heart-warming videos that are all well-intended distractions. Believe me; I’ve spent a lot of time scrolling through them, too. However, the problem with spending too much time on social media is that it turns our brains to mush and zaps our energy…and really, that’s not helpful anytime and especially right now.
3. Manage energy, not time. This is a biggie, and the basic premise is that we can’t be productive all day every day. Yes, even you Type-As who are all about achieving and producing…you can’t produce for 8, 10, 12 hours straight not matter how many time-blocking or efficiency hacks you use. Instead, we need to channel our productivity by managing our energy, and there are a couple of ways to do that:
- Identify the most important and deep-thinking tasks that need to be achieved and work on them when your energy and concentration peak. For me, this type of work only happens in the early morning. By the time it’s 11am, I need to move onto tasks that require less focus and uninterrupted time. Other people are night owls and are most productive after 11pm. Everyone is different, so figure out your most productive time, and make sure you’re using it wisely.
- Maximize time spent in flow. Flow is a state that’s achieved when you are completely absorbed in what you’re doing. And guess what’s particularly awesome about that right now? It means that when you’re in flow you’re not worrying about Coronavirus. Not sure what puts you in flow? Think about the work you find most satisfying, most intrinsically motivating, most absorbing. Then design your day, so you maximize time spent doing this work.
The bottom line: when you intentionally design your days so you’re able to spend more time in flow and you’re matching tasks to energy levels, you’ll find that you’re more productive, more engaged, and more fulfilled.
4. Maximize joy in your day. Okay, this one might seem counterintuitive because we’re talking about work and being productive, but the dirty little secret is that when you feel happy, joyful, or content, you actually increase your cognitive capabilities. Yup, being in a positive mood actually helps you stay focused, and even elevates your performance. Plus, right now, when it’s easy to feel down or disconnected, we need to find ways to be happy for our overall mental health. The good news? There are so many simple and fast ways to induce joyful feelings — here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- 30-second dance break.
- 5-minute walk outside.
- Think of three things that went well today.
- Savor a fond memory.
- Talk to a loved one.
- 5-minute loving-kindness meditation.
- Express gratitude for what you have and what’s going well.
- Perform an act of kindness for someone else.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. What makes us joyful isn’t passively consuming news, social media, or vegging out in front of the TV. It’s moving our bodies, engaging our minds in positive ways, and helping others.
Yes, right now, you and your team are likely to experience distraction and lack of focus, but when you recognize that, you can give yourself a break when it happens, and make a plan for how to minimize it and still be productive moving forward.
Remember, we are all in this together, and we can use these simple strategies to lift one another, so we all emerge better and stronger than ever before.
If you’ve got questions or you just want to share what you’re doing to stay focused and productive right now, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org — I always love to hear from you.
Also, if you want more strategies to keep you happy and focused, just click here to download my book, 25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability, for free.