How To Focus On Your Work When All You Can Think About Is COVID-19

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Staying on top of the latest updates, tracking the virus, ensuring you’re versed in the most important social distancing or quarantine guidelines, following daily government updates (and learning where toilet paper is still available) are, of course, important. But what happens when your focus on the pandemic becomes overwhelming and you can’t concentrate on work anymore?

Focusing on work can be normalizing and can provide fulfillment in tumultuous times. Finding ways to add value, contributing to positive customer experiences or managing ordinary tasks can provide a sense of meaning and calm. So how should you manage your over-focus on COVID-19 and refocus on your work? Here are five tips:

Set a Boundary

First, give yourself permission to marinate in the current coronavirus and COVID-19 issues, but set a limit for yourself. Perhaps you can allow yourself 30 minutes to catch up during your morning coffee and 30 minutes after you turn off for the day. Set an alarm to help you manage the time and ensure you don’t lose yourself in the media coverage.

Focus on Something Else

Be intentional about giving another topic priority in your brain. Motivational gurus like to say, “whatever you focus on will expand.” Use this logic to find another place to focus. Identify something you’ve always wanted to learn—a language or a hobby—or something you can take on at work—a new innovation or project that can positively affect your company’s ability to respond in the crisis. Identifying something other than the coronavirus on which to focus will help displace your over-emphasis on the pandemic.

Focus on What You Know

Sometimes worry is based on too much focus on questions that have no answers. Resist letting yourself spiral out of control with “what ifs.” Ensure you’re planning for contingencies, but then get back to a focus on the present. Spend time on meaningful activities like delivering on work-related tasks or staying connected with family or friends through virtual coffee or online games like Words With Friends.

Focus on the Benefits of Work

Fascinating research by Brown University found drugs like Ritalin and Adderall help people focus by enhancing the dopamine released in their brain thus emphasizing benefits rather than the costs of their efforts—the contribution of the drug wasn’t on cognition directly, but on motivation. You can translate this to your work, by emphasizing the benefits of tasks. If you’re struggling to get your head into your job, avoid thinking of its difficulty and instead accentuate its upsides. Remind yourself how great it will be to finish the project because of its positive impact on your career or the helpful outcomes for your co-workers or customers.

Focus on Other People

Often, an over-focus on a stressor like the coronavirus can result in the narrowing of your perspective. Your lens gets smaller as you think about the immediate term, yourself and your closest relationships. Multiple studies have shown helping others and volunteering contribute to happiness. Research published in BMJ Journal found volunteering tends to increase well-being, and another study conducted by Ascent, found generosity tends to result in more happiness and enhanced career success. Attending to the needs of others is good for the community, but it’s also healthy for you because it tends to expand your perspective. Find opportunities to help a coworker, make contributions to your team or volunteer during your non-work hours—even through virtual or online means.

While it’s natural for stressful events to overwhelm us, it’s also possible to refocus on work. Seek out information on the pandemic but set a boundary for yourself. In addition, focus on other topics, on what you know and on the benefits of your work rather than the costs. Finally, ensure you’re contributing to others’ positive experiences through helping or supporting them. The pandemic will certainly end, and we’ll return to a new normal. In the meantime, you can enhance your well-being by managing your thinking and reducing the overwhelm of COVID-19.

By Tracy Brower