Corona Warriors//

The Thrive Guide to Staying Focused, Even When We’re Not Feeling It

It starts with acknowledging that pandemic fatigue is real.

Marina Borodacheva / Getty Images
Marina Borodacheva / Getty Images

It’s a new year, in the U.S. there’s a new administration, and coronavirus vaccines are finally rolling out. So much has changed — and yet so much… hasn’t. Yes, people are getting vaccinated, but it’s going to take time. For many people, spending the holidays at home, where they’ve been cooped up for nearly a year now, means that whatever break they had is already receding in the rear view mirror. And even in a normal year, February — just past the darkest point of the year, with days getting slightly but slowly longer each day — is just tough.

So if you’re anything like me, even amid all these signs of hope, it can be hard staying focused and on task when so much of our lives, with all the new routines that we thought were going to be temporary, remain stuck and stagnant. Pandemic fatigue is real. We all feel it. So how do we stay motivated when we’re distracted and impatient?

While we can’t control the forces that have so completely disrupted our lives, we can take steps to maintain our mental resilience and help ourselves be productive, even as we eagerly and anxiously wait for that light at the end of the tunnel to get closer and closer. Here are seven ways to stay engaged even when we’re just not feeling it.

Take it one day at a time

Don’t focus on the whole month or even the whole week. Take each day on its own. Ask yourself, “What do I absolutely need to accomplish today?” Define your daily goals. And when you’re planning what your day is going to look like, remember to think about when you’re at your best. For me, I’m best in the morning, so I take care of what’s important early in the day. For others, it might be midday or afternoon. But whenever it is for you, think about what to prioritize for that valuable part of the day. Another tip: If worries and anxieties are distracting you, set aside time in your day to worry. The knowledge that you’ll have time to deal with your worries — even by simply acknowledging them — means you won’t have them with you 24 hours a day.  

Create new rituals

If you haven’t established them already, it’s important to create rituals to break up your day, since many of us no longer have external ones, like commuting, lunching with co-workers, or picking up children from school. Think small: It might just be the act of taking a shower and getting dressed. Just because we can work in our pajamas doesn’t mean we should!

Maintain boundaries

Creating a separate place that’s just for work helps put us in a work frame of mind. And, just as important, it helps us leave work behind when we leave our work area. If your living situation doesn’t allow for a dedicated work space, even the act of closing your laptop at the end of your workday — and especially at night before you go to bed — and then rebooting in the morning to start work, helps maintain a boundary between work and the rest of your home life.

Also, remember to set boundaries within technology. So often the technology we need to work is also the source of distractions that make it feel impossible to work — in the form of relentless beeps and dings and vibrations demanding our attention. So turn off all the alerts for things you don’t need to be alerted to. And while you’re at it, close those tabs. My husband is notorious for his growing collection of untamed tabs. But all those tabs can also be sources of stress. So take back your attention — and revolt against the tyranny of tabs!

Be intentional about self-care

When we’re sleep deprived, everything seems worse. We’re not just less able to focus, we’re also much more reactive emotionally. These are stressful times — a strange mix of monotony and momentous changes at the same time. We’re all carrying around a lot of big, heavy baggage. And that emotional load feels a lot heavier when we don’t give ourselves time to sleep and recharge.

Getting outside during the day is another great way to recharge. When it was summer, we all wanted to be outside. But in many parts of the country, February can be a dreary month. And as easy as it is to stay inside and hibernate, getting some natural light and a bit of nature is essential to our well-being. It can be as simple as taking a walk around the block.

We also need to remember to be intentional about self-care, and define what it means for us. One thing it doesn’t mean: doomscrolling. As tempting as it can be to decompress by sitting on the couch and mindlessly scrolling, that’s going to leave you feeling depleted, not recharged.

Harness the power of others

When you’re feeling low, recognize that you’re not the only one who feels this way. Checking in with friends or colleagues can help you stay motivated. Whether it’s regularly scheduled virtual meet-ups or just a group text, find your squad and make time to connect.

Give yourself some grace

Allow yourself a little perspective — it’s not as if, before the pandemic, we were able to sit at our desks for eight hours a day and be completely focused. Our days were naturally broken up in ways that gave us time away from our desks — and even then, our work conversation was about how hard it was to stay on task. The pandemic has made this exponentially more difficult, so give yourself a break!

Take a day for yourself

Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and unable to bring yourself — and your restless, anxious mind — back into focus, take a mental health day. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do — even if what you need to do is nothing at all! These are challenging times. We’re all human, and it’s natural and normal to sometimes need time to catch up with ourselves.

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