Staying Focused on the Job During a National Crisis, by Dr. J. Mitchell Perry
The nation has been shaken with the horrific acts that occurred on September 11, 2001 in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. We have all been experiencing a whole spectrum of emotions: shock, disbelief, fear, agony, sadness, guilt, anger, rage, helplessness, pride, and frustration. Most of us who are only indirectly affected have felt tremendous sympathy and care for those directly impacted by this attack. In some way, we, as a nation have all been moved by these shocking scenes of terror, and in our grief and outrage we have joined together with a renewed feeling of national pride that seemed buried for a long time. It is sad that it has taken such an obscene crisis as this one to get our attention and replace our cynicism with caring. On the other hand, we have witnessed first hand, in this darkest hour, the triumph of the human spirit and its healing power.
This national crisis has created a huge distraction from our daily routines. In addition, there exists now a signifi-cant disruption in our perception of control of our own lives. Because unpredictability is now normal, and most of us are also in the deep end of the emotional roller coaster, we can be easily distracted from our work, our jobs and our focus. What can we do? How do we stay focused instead of constantly worrying, or remaining hostage to the latest newsbreak? Here are some ideas that can be helpful:
1. Embrace the obvious:Admit to yourself out-loud that rather than life being the way it SHOULD be, in reality LIFE IS THE WAY IT IS. It is curious how people have so much trouble reconciling that gap. When you accept the cards that are dealt, and play those, life becomes easier. Further, you begin to SOLVE problems rather than simply describe them. So look at the obvious: Life has changed, there is a national crisis, your work and life are seriously impacted, and so is your emo-tional resiliency. You will actually begin to feel better when you can learn to embrace the OBVIOUS. Life has changed for all of us but we can move on.
2. Give yourself permission to be human: So often people apologize for being emotional when it is a perfectly normal and expected reaction. It is difficult to stay focused at work when you are feeling upset. When you admit that, you can actually experience episodes of emotion and then recover faster. To repress these emotions only makes them worse and the result is an increased inability to focus. Staying focused on the job during a National Crisis
3. Set up a routine of short breaks with longer intervals of concentrated work: When you are upset, it is difficult to spend long hours of concentration at work. You might want to take frequent short breaks (if your job allows it) so you can decompress regularly. Still it remains important that you stay steady in returning to work. It is easy to rationalize taking longer breaks and then blowing off the rest of the day. So, break up the day into bite size bits and you will have more success in staying focused.
4. Take initiative to establish or re-establish affiliations: When you are upset it is easy to let anxiety and worry increase your sense of isolation, disconnection, and meaninglessness. Solve this by making contact with family, friends, co-workers, customers, and people you would like to know. As your connection to people increases, so does your ability to cope and remain pro-active at work. Initiative creates more initiative. Therefore, your taking action to offer support to people increases your feeling of strength. Many people are offering help to the victims and their families. Many businesses are doing the same. These support efforts increase productivity and add new meaning to work and life.
5. Create multiple options: When you are upset, and it is difficult to concentrate, you will often polarize about what to do. You will automatically think in two options: win/lose, success/failure, smart/stupid, all/nothing. When you do this, you will become hamstrung and paralyzed and end up stalling and unable to move forward. To prevent this, make sure you always keep multiple options in mind. Think of all the ways you can deal with the work at hand. You will be quite amazed that as you think of several options, several new ways of dealing with the job will emerge. For example: because of the national crisis, many of your major contracts with your clients have dried up or been postponed until next year. You are now feeling panicked because you were counting on that income. Yo u polarize and think you have only two options:
Notice the anxiety building! Is it difficult to focus? Now, instead of polarizing create multiple options: (minimum 3):
As you can see, you will recover faster when you create multiple options.
6. Learn the lessons: Whenever you go through a crisis, there exists a great opportunity to learn some new lessons about life. Remember: Life is about learning lessons, and lessons will be repeated until they are learned. So, now is a good time to ask yourself: Since this national crisis has happened, what can I learn about me, my life and life in general? Spend some time reflecting on the answers. You might begin to change your behavior and live your life differently, perhaps with greater meaning, higher standards, more compassion, stronger character and with more of a contribution to society.
7. Write down your basic governing values: When you do this, you will reduce the gap between the way you would like to live your life and the way you are living it now. Your decisions are reflective of your values, and if your values are unclear, your focus and drive will be fuzzy as well. So spend some time becoming clear about your values, your standards, your principles. Write them down and put them on the wall. They will be marvelously helpful in guiding your decisions. As a result your productivity goes up, as well as the quality of your work and relationships.
This time of national crisis has exposed us once again to the ugly underbelly of the human species. We have become afraid, horrified, suspicious, and angry.
On the other hand, this crisis has helped galvanize us in our feelings of nationalism, our commitment to American values, and the triumph of the human spirit. Our cynicism has been minimized and it has been replaced with a new and revitalized commitment to community and our need to support each other.
Focus at work can be difficult at this time. However, this is a great time to change our behavior, improve our standards, take some initiatives, share our strength of character, and learn some valuable lessons about life.
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