It has been a long hellish stretch of weeks, none more than this last. It is impossible to put fingers to keyboard and not think about George Floyd and the wide implications of his treatment, but I said my piece, spoke my outrage, and outlined my sorrow earlier this week. Today I want to concentrate on the challenge of focus vs distraction that faces a everyone—not just writers— in tough times.
More specifically, I want to talk about how we can avoid becoming so emotionally drained that our thoughts careen over everything except the work at hand. Whether you’re attempting to write a book, home school, find work, feed the hungry, keep a business running during full or partial lockdown, keep your job by working from home, or participate in effective political protest, emotional exhaustion can easily get in the way of any sort of productive action.
Here are a few things I’ve found helpful for roping in rampaging thoughts and feelings so that I can focus.
I won’t tell you how or advocate for my own faith (I’m Roman Catholic). I will suggest that prayer has value for everyone, whether it is traditional, new age, God-centered or generically spiritual, do it. Some folks find centering prayer before work particularly helpful. I find frequent short prayers best. I pray the hours based on the old monastic hours. Meditation or spiritual forms of yoga may work better for you.
- Ration your news consumption.
Do keep up, but don’t obsess on it. Turn off the TV. Decide on an amount you will watch and at what time. In the 1950s the “news” was a 15-minute fact-centered program in the evening. Avoid talking heads, pundits, and doom sayers. Look for online news outlets that focus on facts and events; avoid ones with a clear bias. Or, use a news search that presents multiple slants on the same events. Avoid the dark corridors of social media where spewing of anger and inflexible opinion drives out intelligent discourse.
- Turn off Your Phone When You Work
One of the joys of the pandemic has been the instinct to reach out and keep in touch. There’ve been a lot more calls, texts, facetime requests, and emails. Sometimes, however, all those calls from your Mom, your kids, your cousin Bob, or your best friend from high-school not only interrupt your workflow and take time, they drain you emotionally, especially as you pick up on everyone else’s emotions. Conversely, don’t stay isolated; you can return calls—or read the text or email—later.
- Fill yourself up.
Seek out leisure that inspires, affirms, or just makes you laugh. Ask friends for recommendations for funny movies or TV to binge. Puzzles work. Grab a soothing novel—a good happy ending is sometimes the best medicine. I’ve read more in the past three months than in the past three years—inside a romance novel is my happy place. Take a walk, suitably masked, of course. Thank goodness for spring and blooming gardens! You’ll be glad you did when you go back to work refreshed.
- Listen to Music
If you’re struggling emotionally with all the problems swirling around you, music can help. Choose whatever sound gives you joy.
Are you guessing that I struggle with this? You’d be guessing right! My work in progress has gone forward some days and not on others. But I keep going. What works for you?