At Fast Company we’ve been writing about how to beat distractions and find more focus at work for years—we’ve even covered the topics on this podcast before. But right now, all of the normal advice feels less practical. Between the stress and worry that has accompanied the pandemic and economic crisis coupled with the tumultuous presidential election, staying focused can feel impossible.
On this week’s episode of Secrets of the Most Productive People, I asked longtime Fast Company contributor and professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin Art Markman for his advice on how to manage the stress, cope with anxiety, and hopefully regain focus at work.
He broke down how our brain’s natural response to stress is avoidance (think running away from a large animal). So it’s no wonder that in this time of extra ordinary stress so many of us find ourselves falling down an unproductive hole of doomscrolling.
To try to get yourself back on track Markman suggested a couple of techniques, including:
- Redirect your energy toward small achievable tasks that you can cross off your to-do list to feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Focus on a big project or hobby that is positive and that you can get lost in.
- Stop the cycle of rumination by paying more attention to what triggers you to start spiraling and refocus instead on mindfulness to pull yourself away.
He also suggests that we all give ourselves more grace in our expectation of how much we can accomplish. After all, this isn’t an ordinary time and we aren’t working under ordinary circumstances.
However, even though you may feel that you’ve accomplished very little at the end of each day, all of us are doing more than we realize. That’s why Markman suggests keeping track of what you are doing each day with a list. The days may be blurring together but when we take a step back, chances aren’t as unproductive as we may feel we are.