The last few months have been … strange, to say the least. As we continue to at least partially hunker down at home, many of us are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety as we worry about our jobs, our health, and the health of our loved ones.
While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m personally having a hard time concentrating, and I know many people in my life are as well. Work tasks that once took me an hour now take three, and while I used to be able to completely shut off at the end of the workday and curl up with a good book until I fell asleep, I now can’t get through a few pages without reaching for my phone to see what I missed on Instagram (spoiler alert: it’s usually nothing).
As time goes on, I’m getting increasingly exhausted by this pattern and anxious to get back to my old efficient, goal-crushing self. If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, here’s what a mental health expert recommends.
When it comes to work, plan effectively and practice mindfulness
Dr. Navya Singh, psychologist, founder and Chief Clinical Officer at wayForward Digital Mental Health, says an inability to concentrate on work right now makes perfect sense. “Most of us are getting used to a new ‘normal,’ and change can be difficult, especially when circumstances feel uncontrollable and unpredictable,” Singh explains.
Plus, it doesn’t help that many of us have moved our work spaces from an office to our living rooms or even our bedroom. “A lot of us are working from home, and that usually means more distractions and tasks that require our attention outside of work. This might lead to an inability to balance or switch between work and life tasks. Not being able to step outside of the house or disconnect from work to social life and back can feel disorienting,” Singh adds.
While it would be great if we could all check out of work for a while, that’s not a reality for many people. In order to start getting your work concentration back, start by structuring your work day with maximum productivity in mind.
“Use a calendar or planner to schedule both work and leisure activities, closing non-essential tabs, muting your phone, closing the door to the room (if you can), and building in a balance of undisturbed blocks of time for work,” says Singh. “Ideally these blocks would be 60 to 90 minutes long, with 15 to 30 minute breaks built in. This will help stave off mental burnout and frustration.”
While it might not seem connected, daily mindfulness can go a long way in improving concentration on work tasks as well. “Mindfulness is the ability to pay focused attention to your thoughts, feelings and tasks in the moment, without judging or trying to change immediately,” Singh says. “Daily mindfulness practice can promote greater concentration and greater ability to let go of distractions.”
For non-work tasks, try giving yourself “rewards.”
While getting through my work is a requirement, spending my spare time doing things that actually make me happy isn’t. Which is unfortunate, because it’s made it so that my precious spare hours are spent zoning out with my Instagram feed.
According to Singh, creating awareness around exactly how much time we’re spending on social media can be a great first step. And then, check in with your own values. “If social media use is getting too frequent for your own liking, remind yourself of why you would like to incorporate things like reading, exercise, or any other activity that’s important to you.”
If you’re still having a hard time striking a balance, try using a kind of reward system. For example, if you spend an hour reading, you can then spend 15 minutes on social media (but no more!)
“Remind yourself that you believe that one is more valuable than the other for you, and that’s where you’ should be spending the bulk of your time,” says Singh.
Just as with work, mindfulness can help — pay focused attention when you’re drifting toward the activity that you believe might not be most helpful.
Last but not least: Don’t be too hard on yourself. These are weird, unprecedented times for all of us. As much as I’d love to have my pre-COVID levels of concentration back (and all these quarantine “self improvement” projects I’m seeing on social media certainly aren’t helping things), I can also acknowledge what a weird time we’re living in. So here’s to all of us doing our best.
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