Focus management in uncertain times

Focus management has been something that the Carrot team has practised for years now, but right now we’re all facing what could be months of uncertainty. 

How on earth do we continue to be focused and productive when the country’s on lockdown?

We – and everyone around us – need to accept that we’re all human. We all have lives to manage alongside work. We all have worries, anxieties and fears churned up by the current crisis. We all have our limits.

Understanding and empathy are essential things for all of us to practise as the world undergoes drastic changes around us.

It’s not just about our physical health

Of course, the heart of this crisis is physical health. How can we, our friends, family, communities and society as a whole, stay healthy?

But as we all do our best to follow guidelines to maintain that health, more of us are realising that we must consider mental health too.

Most of us will be sad and anxious at times, but we’re also likely to be easily distracted. Your attention span may be ridiculously short, your memory – absolute pants.

What can we do to take care of ourselves and support each other through this?

  1. Accept that productivity will be down. You can’t expect yourself to be at your best at the moment (or your team to be at their best). They’ll be times when you do amazing work – if you take care of yourself – but people shouldn’t be pressured to be their best right now.
  2. Collaborate on smaller tasks. Having a hard time writing an article? Call a coworker and talk through ideas. These smaller tasks are usually a one-person job, but working on them with someone else can be useful when you’re dealing with a distracted mind.
  3. Understand that focus and flow may be difficult to achieve
  4. Separate focus from emotion. You may be feeling down, but unusually focused. Or you could be in a great mood, but still find it hard to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. Mood may influence our ability to focus, but they aren’t the same thing.
  5. Understand that everyone you work with is going through a tough time. Cut each other plenty of slack.
  6. Communicate with empathy. We should all be able to show vulnerability, safely.  Encourage each other to share how you’re feeling and contribute to the discussion with your own experiences. Remember that we’re all in this together.
  7. If you can, adapt your working hours to fit your life as it is now. Most of us aren’t in offices right now – we’re at home. We’re all juggling different demands, often without the usual things we do to support ourselves – childcare, support networks, drinks with friends. 
  8. Manage your news consumption. It’s impossible to avoid the news when you’re in PR, but that doesn’t mean you need to sit with a live Coronavirus feed constantly updating on one of your tabs. If the news makes you anxious, check it once a day and then try to put it out of your mind. 
  9. Curate your social media feeds. Maybe mute certain hashtags on Twitter. Engage with your passions.
  10. Focus on the things you can control and be present. It’s easy to get into thoughts about “what happens if…”, but all we can really control is what we’re doing – how we respond. Even then, we can only really control the present. We can’t change the past, or know what situation will shape our choices in the future. 
  11. Stay in your comfort zone. We all need to treat ourselves as much as we can right now. Doing the things that we love, and that bring us comfort, will help us maintain a healthy mindset during uncertain times.
  12. Have social time with your team. We can’t go for after-work drinks, but we can all share a drink over Skype. Schedule some time for the team to get together and chat about things other than work.
  13. Reassess your expectations. Are you evaluating yourself, or your team, on the expectations you had back in January? Reconsider what you can expect from yourself and other people right now. Realise that we’re all human and imperfect. Know that most of us are trying our best.

Corporate trainer, Rachel Boothroyd, says that the problem with some traditional company structures is that they view the ‘perfect’ employee as someone who can be at work all the time. Someone with no commitments outside of work, no childcare responsibilities, who never gets sick, doesn’t need holidays and has all of their needs taken care of outside of work. How many people do you know like that? We’re understanding now, more than ever, that we are all human, all flawed, and all juggling different aspects of our lives. 

The current crisis is forcing most of us to stop. It’s causing massive changes, not just in society, but in our everyday lives. Some of the changes we’re being forced to make to adapt will stick around. Virtual working, for example, may become much more widely accepted. Shared childcare responsibilities might be discussed in more households. Companies will put higher value on their employees’ mental and physical health, and understand their role in keeping their teams safe and well.

Our productivity often depends on our ability to do focused work. While we can follow all the advice in the world right now, we all need to remember that at times, it will be hard to find that focus. That doesn’t mean that we’re lazy, or bad at our jobs all of a sudden.

It means we’re human, and we need to support each other. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


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