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How to Stay Focused at Work During Personal Crisis

by | Nov 12, 2012 | General Career Advice

They say work and life aren’t supposed to intermingle, but I’ve never believed that to be possible. No matter how hard you try, there will inevitably be a time when stress in your personal life distracts you from matters of work. Whether you’re dealing with a sick child or a dying pet or a personal medical scare, you can’t always just walk away from work while you deal with your emotions. You have to soldier on somehow. You have to find a way to put your personal crises aside and focus on the job, no matter how frustrating and difficult it may be. But how, exactly do you do that?

Having recently faced a personal issue that left me very upset for several weeks, I have first-hand experience with this. Here are the strategies I used to get through it. Though, for the record, it still wasn’t pretty or easy. So don’t look at this as a magic bullet. These tips are purely offered to help—not fix—the situation.

Give Yourself Space and Time

Look, there’s no reason to push yourself to get back to “normal” right away. When you’re going through a tough time, recognize it and be gentle with yourself. It does no good to pile on the pressure. You’re human. You’re allowed to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. If you’re not as chipper as usual, it’s perfectly fine. If you’re a little slower getting things done, don’t worry. It may take days to feel like your old self; it may take weeks. There’s no formula for this kind of thing. The key is not to beat yourself up. Emotions have a life cycle and they need to work their way through it. Eventually, things will ease up—that’s a promise.

Share With Others

This is a judgment call on your part but it may be helpful to share your situation with a trusted colleague and/or supervisor. This will give them some context around why you’re not acting like yourself. They may be able to help ease the load a bit as well by taking things off your plate or offering a helping hand. If you let them in on what’s happening, they’ll be more likely to give you some space. I know it may be hard to talk about what’s going on with you so don’t feel like you have to give any details or specifics if you don’t want to. In fact, in some cases, it’s best to be as vague as possible (especially if dealing with personal medical issues).

One key point here: Please recognize that people aren’t always great at knowing how to help. Most people have good intentions but they might not be sure how to best support you through this period of time. Help them out by telling them exactly what you need. For example, you may want to lighten your workload for a few weeks or, in some cases, you might want to take on more to distract yourself. Be clear about what will work best for you and ask for it directly.

Set Limits

When something is bothering you, it’s easy to spend all day thinking and talking about it. You may find friends or loved ones calling or emailing you at work to discuss what’s going on. They mean well, but be careful about the amount of time you let this happen. It could make things worse for you in more ways than one. You don’t want your colleagues to get the wrong idea and you also don’t want to get yourself all worked up in the office.

Ask people to refrain from contacting you at work to discuss the personal situation unless it’s an emergency, and assure them that you will still be available outside of working hours.

The same thing goes for that little voice in your head. If you find yourself thinking about your personal situation all day, set some personal limits too. Let yourself think about it for 5 minutes and then set it aside for 30. You have the power here. Don’t be a victim of your mind. Take control of your thoughts and make sure you’re not stewing in negativity and stress and sadness all day. Get up and take a walk. Listen to some music. Do what you need to do to refocus.

Treat Work as an Escape

Try to shift your perspective a bit: While home is full of so much stress at the moment, work can be a nice little escape. Sure, work can be stressful too. But it’s a different kind of stress—less personal, less emotional. Time at work can be a good way to take your mind off everything else. After all, if you sat at home all day and dwelled on your personal situation, you’d only feel worse. Consider your office space a sanctuary—a port away from the storm.

Nurture Your Support System

The only way you can be productive at work during a personal crisis is if you know you have a support system. What I mean is this: If you have a sick child, you can’t very well concentrate on work if you don’t feel confident that your child is safe and being taken care of. So make sure you have a small group of people you trust whom you know you can call on when needed. This will give you the peace of mind you need to focus on other things.

If you’re going through difficult times, I want you to know you’re not alone. We’ve all been through it and we’ll all go through it again. We’re human, after all. And the human condition isn’t always pretty. Take care of yourself and remember…this too shall pass.

Photo Credit: Jayashreee (Flickr)

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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