Lately my “to do” lists have been getting longer, with fewer items crossed off at the end of the day. Several times I’ve even “misplaced” my list.
What’s going on?? Have any of you found your mind wandering “off task” a little more frequently lately? Even in the best of times our concentration may not always be what it should. In light of recent events taking place internationally, in the U.S., and in our communities, focus seems to be a bit more elusive for some of us these days. A recent survey finds that 21% of us are having difficulty concentrating at work (this is down from 49% three weeks ago.) Despite this improvement, economic worries, questions regarding job stability, and concerns related to the war and terrorist attacks provide many with a continuing level of stress that research confirms leads to poor concentration. New research confirms that particularly for those who are anxious to begin with, focusing on threatening images causes impaired concentration. Add to the mix inadequate or impaired sleep, lack of exercise, and/or poor eating habits and conditions for “focus-lite” are ripe.
By all indications, we are in for a long term of business-not-as-usual. In fact, authorities are telling us that we are never “going back” to the way life was before. War and terrorist threat will be with us for a while; new realities are beginning to emerge for life in America. Does this mean that you or your colleagues will increasingly lose focus? Are we cursed with the phrase “what did you say?” forever?
HEALING AND ADAPTATION
The human mind is resilient and protective. As time goes by we will find new ways of feeling that life is somewhat predictable and therefore obtain an increased sense of control, which reduces our anxiety. A decreased level of anxiety and stress causes our “focus factor” to increase, improving concentration and productivity.
An increased sense of predictability in our environment (safety) yields…
An increased sense of control over our lives, which yields…
A decreased level of anxiety, which yields…
Hooray…there’s hope for my “to do” list!!
Now, I do realize that there are some fairly weighty challenges in this little formula, however it’s a start.
Remember, Response is Individual
It’s true that some people do not experience impaired focus during stressful times. There are those who actually increase their focus on the tasks at hand, becoming more productive. These people bury themselves in “busy.” On the surface we might envy this response, but eventually there needs to be some recognition that our world is not the same and to some extent new approaches will need to be developed.
Managers and all employees need to recognize that there are different styles of responding to stressful times. No particular style is “right” or “wrong”—just different. Patience for approaches different from your own is important for continued collaborative team output.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH “FOCUS-LITE”
If you find your concentration is not at the usual level, try these tips:
- Be Patient with Yourself. Getting impatient and frustrated only makes things worse. Most cases will be temporary and as stress recedes or as we become accustomed to doing things in new ways, focus should improve.
- Set Realistic Expectations. Lighten your load for a little while and look at what you did accomplish (versus what you didn’t get to.)
- Enforce Routine. Try to awaken and retire at the same time for a few weeks (including weekends). This enhances the likelihood of a good nights sleep. Work with your body’s patterns; this is not the time to “push the envelope.” With a good night’s rest you’ll be more efficient and productive.
- Control What You Can (and forget the rest!). Eating three meals per day (or several mini-meals), scheduling and getting regular exercise, maintaining a balance between work and social activities, as well as taking time for oneself all contribute to improved focus. Turn off the news when it gets to be too much.
- Contribute to the Solution. Think about your values and find a meaningful way to contribute to a cause that you care about. Acting on behalf of others can bring us out of ourselves and give a sense of purpose larger than our own needs and wants. This can make a real difference in our level of motivation when we return to work.
If you find that your focus continues to decline or if anxiety, stress or depression escalates with time, then you may need to contact a doctor or counselor. Most of us, however, will eventually demonstrate our resilience and when asked the question “Got Focus?” the answer will be YES!