How to Deal with Lost Focus

Image credit: Hans Thoursie

Martin Luther King Day is an important holiday as well as a school holiday. I had planned to complete my usual work activities. Instead, I spent the entire morning working on one story and didn’t finish it. Writing the story felt clunky, awkward and pointless despite my knowing first drafts were supposed to be like that. Even though the kids weren’t loud or disruptive, the setting was different from my daily work environment.
Panicking
It’s a scary situation because I feel like “I’ve lost it. I’m not going to be able to work the next day.” No matter what I told myself about the day being different, nothing comforted me. I couldn’t check off one thing on my task list; a nightmare for me.
Tuesday came. I fell right back into my routine. My fingers flew as I threw up words on my screen to create a few new articles. I checked a few things off my work tasks for the day. I felt in the zone and full of satisfaction. It was as if Monday had never happened.
This happens on holidays and days of personal appointments. The cruel cycle repeats. Can’t work or focus. Panic. Guilt. Next day arrives. Back to normal.
Even though my mental state would not listen to me and learn from the past, one thing is clear: Schedules make a difference.
Scheduling Activities to Create New Habits
I start my day with email, Twitter and blogging. Thanks to this habit, I rarely write a new blog entry in the afternoon. I exercise after 11:00am on most days. Sometimes it’s 11:30am. Sometimes it’s 1:00pm. 1:30pm at the latest. Whatever the time, it’s still a habit because it’s the mid-day / early afternoon time. Most of the writing I do occurs before mid-day with the afternoons devoted to research, revising and other activities not related to starting from scratch.
I check in with social media a few times a day with the bulk of it occurring in the morning and evening. To make the most of my social media time without falling into the trap sticking around too long, I created a habit to check in for a few minutes and get out. I also figured out how much time I should spend in social media.
Since I do my best writing and focus in the morning, it works well. By the time the younger kids come home, I take a break, give them snacks, spend time with them and help with homework. If I had been more of a night person, I would have to work on creating a new habit. According to various discussions and books, it takes 21 days to develop a new habit.
I’ve also kept the same bedtime and wake up time for years, which ensures a good night’s sleep. I stray from the routine once in a while and it’s never for more than a couple of days in a row.
Habits Help Focus
Because I had the habit of working in a quiet home office with no TV, people noises and other disruptions, I could not focus when the kids had a day off from school.
Bet you’re wondering how I handle this in the summer when the kids have a long break from school. Habit. Summer has longer days, so it’s easier to work in the evenings after my husband comes home. I also schedule a few activities for the kids including visits with Grandma.
Christina Katz shares how she refocused. I did a review of my work and didn’t need to consolidate, streamline or refocus. For some, just the act of writing and brainstorming on pen and paper helps focus. Sometimes this works for me, too. But the best medicine for focus for me is schedule.
How do you focus?

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16 thoughts on “How to Deal with Lost Focus”

  1. Meryl, I have this problem in spades. My son went off to college in the fall and I figured I’d be golden. Well, after battling mommy blues/empty nest for a month or two, I started to get back on track, only to be thrown when he came home for Thanksgiving. Even though he sleeps til noon I could not seem to get anything done! I too like to write and produce first thing in the morning. I save things like paperwork, errands and research for the afternoon. Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one who struggles with this, as my son is due to come home for the first week of March! 😉 I NEED to be able to work while he’s home!

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  2. @Linda, thanks for the warning! While my youngest is only in 1st grade, I know time flies. It didn’t feel so long ago when my daughter was a toddlin’ toddler. She’s a 10th grader. It’s like why do we get cravings for certain foods at specific times of the year. Mint is a biggie in the winter, but I never want it in warm weather.

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  3. Hi Meryl.
    This happens and sometimes there is no answer. Sometimes I don’t focus and the harder I try the more unfocused I become. Even habits can help or hinder. Guess it’s a matter of learning to flexible with those habits. Sometimes when it’s the “time” to write I don’t necessarily feel like writing.

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  4. @Jean, I like your writing group. Sounds like they like to have fun.
    @Davina, that was me last week. It’s like hearing the phone ring and ring to no end.

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  5. Meryl, I have other little tricks but like you habits are my friend. I have set times for social media, writing, meetings, sleep, prayer, workouts. Yes, there are days when life interrupts and I try to go with the flow and adjust but the next day it’s back to routine. I also visually go through my day the night before which is like a pre-race run over the course. I know what’s coming so I’m ready for it!
    .-= Karen Swim’s blog …Unleash Your Passion for a Perfect Performance =-.

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  6. @Heather, breathe! Like I mentioned before, one step at a time. Try to pick one new scheduled habit and do that for three weeks. Then add another. Trying to do too many things will make your head spin.

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  7. Hi meryl
    Note your comment “Habits Help Focus” and you are so right.
    Studies of people who join health clubs show that the ones who stick to a regular schedule are the ones who are still going twelve months later.
    The ones who go now and again, eventually stop going at all.
    And I know what you mean about panicking!
    .-= Keith Davis’s blog …Practice, practice, practice… =-.

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