Even in the early days of the pandemic with stay-at-home orders, remote work and learning online, along with a constant bombardment of email communications with how really bad things can get, it seemed to be a near impossibility to practice attention management and pursue measures of productivity in any given day. Many psychologists in the medical community attest to the importance of attention management as a necessary ingredient in this global season. Attention management is essentially recognizing where our attention travels to and how to maintain control over what tends to steal it. This can be ruminative thoughts, worry and anxiety, or even external distractions that contribute to the loss of daily focus. We cannot change what we do not have awareness of in the first place! Changing habits require us to first gain awareness; this will be the first step toward creating meaningful change as a lifestyle of focus rather than being riddled with distraction.
Start with taking a personal inventory of your attentional resources for better management: Where is your attention going right now? Is there a recent news notification that popped up on your phone? Are the dishes and laundry piling up and not being cleaned right now? Are the kids growing even more unruly at home? What are your more common attention-grabbers during your daily routine? Everyone has periods of life that can be disordered, busy, and altogether stressful. It becomes altogether important to learn weekly and daily practices to help assist with long-term goals associated with focus, survival, and being in a place of thriving.
Write out the habits you want to maintain in the daily grind. Write them down, perhaps use the Momentum App or other form of documentation to track what daily habits are and also record them. Writing it out allows for reflection to occur while also creating a measure of accountability. Learning to write out the most important habits of your day, staying accountable to them, and visualizing this daily is a key feature of building a focused life. Personal reflection tools such as diaries, gratitude journals, and crafting moments of important events that occur throughout the week can be important considerations for remaining joyful, but they also create attention to the good that we experience regularly.
Also generate time to attend to your professional responsibilities. Sit down and map out the week for what is ahead on Sunday evenings with a planner. This creates energy and focus on what is most prioritized as well as structure time and attend to what is visible and important as different demands arise in the work week. Daily reflection on priorities and tasks to accomplish can enhance productivity and produce clear focus.
Another element of attention management is in the relational arena
Prioritizing and developing healthy relationships amid this global season is central to well-being according to social science research. Building a life of focus and attention can be altogether refreshing when you centralize it on your most important relationships every day as well as in any given week. Structure your time around the small aspects of the day-to-day circumstances in order to maximize a sense of emotional well-being and positive relationships. Creating time to build into the daily schedule for our most important relationships will lead to greater life satisfaction when productivity and focus are an essential commodity.
Recognize when your thoughts are turning darker and inducing greater anxiety and despondency. Practicing attention management within our thoughts can be an important skill set amid this global season of perpetual crises. The media has a tendency to exaggerate negative news while also blunt important testimonials and positive headlines through long-form stories and op-eds as well as an endless sea of information tied to war, pollution, inequality, terrorism, drug abuse, and oppression among other trending themes. When everyone is a crime reporter and a war correspondent, rumination in thoughts of despair can be a commonplace experience. Note when your anxiety may be altering your current perspective amid this pandemic and other-related crises amid this global season. Taking action with thoughtful planning and deliberation, and an intentional focus upon emotional resilience and the good that emerges from difficult and challenging circumstances can mitigate fear and preserve optimism both at home and at the office.
Consider when to communicate with your colleagues and loved ones during peak periods of life-related stress. Other people could be a true energy drain – or gain – during work time crunches and other setbacks. Pause and consider how you can renegotiate deadlines, set tighter boundaries, or ask for more support during this time:
- Renegotiate deadlines. Loop back with colleagues to ensure that you understand when the other person needs something and is going to review it. In other cases, if you anticipate not being able to meet a deadline, be sure to inform your colleagues of the new timing or renegotiate it. Keep your integrity by doing what you say you’re going to do, and being up front about when you need to shift gears.
- Set tighter boundaries for yourself. Our boundaries and guardrails need to be different during work crunches or acute periods of stress. Let others, both professionally and personally, know when you’ll be available or not, so they are aware of your more limited schedule.
- Ask for help and support. Many of us pride ourselves on not bothering others and being self-reliant. These are great qualities, but there are times when we need to ask for help. Recruit loved ones to help more on the home front. Share the weight of the accountability for projects with your colleagues by delegating or teaming up, versus doing it all on your own.
Attention management techniques are part of maintaining a healthy life outlook while prioritizing our focus on what is centrally important to our life core. Knowing how and when our attention is being stolen is important for managing distractions as well as developing action toward positive and meaningful change. Our focus drives us forward to a fuller potential; when it becomes confronted by unmitigated stress and other pitfalls, our productivity and well-being receive the impact. Developing focus allows us to build on emotional intelligence skills and effectively navigate the overwhelm of perpetual crises in this global season.