Struggling to focus? Find what works for you
Don't fall for articles suggesting "THIS ONE THING ALWAYS WORKS" or the "MUST DO TECHNIQUE USED BY ALL CEOS"... Finding things that work for you takes a bit of exploration and support.
As part of our ongoing series of articles on tackling lethargy, we’re looking at five ways to help restore more energy during coronavirus.
When you’re self-employed - it’s common to not have much of a structure to your day. If you’re working on your own, you’re in control of your own schedule: when and where and how you work - after all, more control over work is the main reason people choose to go become self-employed.
However, without a routine, it can be all too easy to react to things which are pressing and present, rather than doing the things which are essential and supportive.
During the coronavirus pandemic, lots of us are seeing lockdown lethargy - brought on by the lack of social connection, lack of structure to our days, and ongoing stress of the unusual situation - leading to low energy, low motivation and low mood - so adding back some of the structure we’ve lost can really help.
Even if you’re not a ’timetable’ type person, adding a little light structure to your day helps you in a number of ways:
President Obama had a wardrobe full of the same clothes - he explained "I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing, because I have too many other decisions to make.”. Having a routine helps us reduce the number of decisions we have to make, and frees up some mental space for the things we really need to think about. Not having to plan your day, list out the regular tasks, worry about when you’ll get something done - means we can concentrate on doing, rather than thinking about doing. It’s called decision fatigue, it’s a thing, and is one of the reasons why lockdown lethargy can be a struggle to get out of - as we use our energy for decision making, rather than doing.
Try this: block out a time each day in the morning for big decision making.
If you're working from home - it’s hard to know where work starts and home ends - so having a time when your work day begins, and most importantly, when it ends, really helps to add a mental distinction between to the two - especially if you’re not moving from one place to another. Having a regular time when you ’start’ work, and when you close the laptop means you have a time to prepare for in the morning, and a having an end of day means you’ve got something to work towards.
Try this: create a “end of the work day” for this week, and try to stick to it. See how it feels, and adjust it the following week if needs be.
It can be all too easy to just be head-down, slogging away at work for hours on end, and if there aren’t others around to ask if we want a cup of tea or go for lunch - suddenly we can look up at the clock and its 9pm and you haven’t left your seat - or if you’re really struggling to focus, we force ourselves to stay at the computer until the task is done - but both are counterproductive. Making sure you take a regular break is critical - get up, stretch your legs, drink some water, chat to someone, get some fresh air. You can even go as far as scheduling them in on your calendar - set an alarm for a mid-morning break, for instance, or schedule which days you’ll be working, and when you’ll be taking time off. This works at the micro and macro level - block out your weekends for rest, or go as detailed as the 3pm tea-break.
Try this: add a tea-break mid-afternoon, where you down tools for at least half-an-hour. Add it to your calendar.
Scheduling in breaks is important - but regular times for good habits can go even further than rest. Having a monthly routine - perhaps business planning, invoices and reflection; having a weekly routine - perhaps new business every Tuesday; and so on - means you’ll get used to regularly doing tasks you don’t always think about doing - the stuff which is so often important, but not urgent. At a daily level, this also means positive healthy habits like connecting with our network, and sharing concerns or little wins. Even just saying good morning to your virtual team in the helps - not only you, but those you’re connecting with.
Routines also give us positive things to look forward to - not all routines have to be work based, scheduling in something we love doing, a treat, a moment to do something completely different, a hobby, a conversation with a friend - make sure you're balancing habits which enrich your routine, as well as help you get things done. For example, the Swedish idea of Fika, the afternoon coffee and cake break, is a wonderful routine that brings an entire team together for a moment.
Try this: think about a couple of regular habits you’d like to add - something daily, something weekly, something monthly, something quarterly.
You can use really structured time to create more focus - by using a method like the Pomodoro technique, a burst of 25 minutes work, and then five minutes rest - or longer periods of time where you’re doing certain tasks or types of work. It can help to build this around your energy levels, for instance - if you’re more able to focus on creative tasks in the morning, build your routine around that.
Try this: Find a time in the day which is for zero-distraction work - it doesn’t need to be long, but give yourself a period where you can turn off the notifications, and concentrate for 30 minutes, and schedule it in each day.
Don’t try and add too much structure too quickly - else you’ll only feel like you’re failing at doing all the things you’ve given yourself to do. Try gently adding one routine a week, and give it a go for a month, and then build up over time. And - rules are made to be broken, so you can also give yourself a break by choosing to throw the routines completely out of the window and following how you feel, as long as you’re not doing that every day!
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