It’s hard to focus on work when Coronavirus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Soap is flying off the shelves, and conferences, concerts, and college classes are getting canceled.
“Our work responsibilities, by comparison, may feel less important, even if they’re not,” says Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, a psychologist in Washington, D.C. and author of the book “Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do.”
It’s also hard to focus on work when you’re wondering if you’re taking the proper precautions: Am I washing my hands enough? Have I touched my face? “In trying to be vigilant and change habits we don’t often think about our focus naturally wanders away from other priorities like work,” says Clark.
But the reality is that we still need to get stuff done—and do it well. So, how can you remain productive amid Coronavirus concerns and panic? These seven actionable strategies can help:
1. Manage Technology
“Constant distraction is the new normal,” says Maura Thomas, a trainer and author on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance. “COVID-19 is really just the latest distraction in a world of unrelenting distractions.” The key, she says, is to manage our attention by managing our technology: Turn off notifications on your phone and delete social apps. Use airplane and off mode more often. Download website blocking software and browser extensions that limit your time on certain sites and lock you out once you’ve reached your limit.
2. Take Rejuvenating Breaks
Laura Vanderkam, author of several time-management books, including “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done,” suggests creating a plan for each day that includes intentional breaks with genuinely rejuvenating activities. This might be anything from taking a walk to listening to a guided meditation. “If you don’t have planned breaks,” she says, “you’ll take little ones to read headlines—and then you’ll just get anxious again.”
3. Prioritize Purpose
When your attention shifts to questions and concerns about what might happen, refocus “on what you care about in your work,” says Clark. Think about the greater purpose of each project and task. How will your project help your clients or the public? What’s the desired outcome of your meeting? What can you learn from what you’re reading? How can you grow?
4. Practice the Self-Care Triad
According to Clark, anxiety is exhausting—no matter the source. The self-care triad—sleep, nutrition, and exercise—is especially critical in building up our “mental and physical stamina.” This means eating nutrient-rich foods, moving your body when you can, and sleeping for 7.5 to 9 hours, she says.
5. Be Self-Compassionate
North Carolina mental health counselor Laura Torres, LPC, emphasizes acknowledging your anxiety and being supportive and understanding. For instance, you might tell yourself: “Of course, this is taking me longer to do—I’m anxious,” “It’s okay that I didn’t finish that task,” or “It’s okay that I’m feeling overwhelmed.” If you can’t come up with a self-compassionate statement, consider how you’d comfort a child who’s feeling afraid.
6. Perform During Your Peak
Are you typically most productive in the mornings or afternoons? Make sure you’re spending your best time making progress on your projects. “Avoid wasting your peak energy times of the day doing something that isn’t your work—[whether it’s] Coronavirus [related] or something else,” says Clark.
7. Practice Deep Breathing
“When we are wrapped up in anxiety and fear, our nervous system is mobilizing our fight/flight resources, which takes resources away from the areas of our brain that enable us to be efficient and productive,” says Torres. Practicing deep breathing several times throughout the day, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and signaling to your body that you’re safe.
If you can’t stop feeling anxious, remember that your anxiety is simply attempting to protect you. As Torres says, “Accept that anxiety might be sitting in the backseat as you work—but try not to let it drive the bus.”