4 Tips to Maintain Focus at Work When Life is Happening


No matter what stage you are in your career, there will be times when your personal life will interfere with your ability to perform at your fullest at work. It could be a recent break-up, job loss of a spouse, sick family member, etc. But even exciting events can distract you from your full-time job, such as wedding planning, arrival of a new baby, or even the prospects of a new job.

During these times, you know you need to focus on your job AND you know that people at work will notice that you’re distracted. However, you can’t help yourself, you’re constantly checking your phone, fidgeting or searching the internet for something to calm your nerves. Here are four tips to help you (re)focus on work, when at work.

  1. Communicate with your boss(es): Even if your relationship with your boss is tenuous, try to work in some type of signal to them that there is something outside of work that is holding your attention (and when it is resolved). This does two things. First, in a way, it ingratiates you with them because it gives them a peek into your personal life, making them feel a deeper more personal connection with you. Second, it builds in a tacit reason why you may be a little distracted, leave exactly on time, etc. Most reasonable bosses will understand (as they have good and bad stressors going on in their lives too) and give you some leeway.
  1. Compartmentalize your day: You will usually have something, good or bad, happening in your personal life that can distract you while you’re at work. However, your work and work performance must be kept at an acceptable level. To do that, compartmentalize your day and give yourself time slots that you can focus on your personal life while you’re at work. For instance, while I was planning my wedding I would set aside lunch as the time to call vendors, search the internet for items, etc. Knowing that I had a dedicated timeslot for wedding planning made it easier to focus on work when I was either in a meeting or preparing a report. If you find yourself with unaccounted hours at work, you can start blocking off time on your calendar to do more quiet work, such as report writing. Doing that will help you focus at the task at hand.
  1. Give yourself a “brain break”: Whether it is a friend you can instant message throughout the day, or a 10-minute walk around the workplace, find a quick activity that can serve as a brief outlet to help you vent or expend some of the nervous energy. For example, if you find venting cathartic, it may be faster and more productive to vent to a confidant for a few minutes than dwelling and thinking about the stressor all day. (Tip: let them know up front that you want to vent and aren’t looking for advice, it cuts to the chase, saves time and reduces unnecessary frustration.) Likewise, walking to the cafeteria and back gives you an opportunity to move and reset your thoughts.
  1. Honor yourself: Find something that you enjoy doing alone and commit time of the week or month to do that. It will serve as a mental and emotional break that will refresh you. Some find cooking an intricate meal as calming as meditation. Others may enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. Ultimately, find something that will rejuvenate you so that you’re not feeling like you’re “running on fumes” when you’re at work.

Shivani Sharma is a career Federal employee who has an interest in the role in networking plays in career development and advancement. Throughout her career, she has served as a both a formal and informal mentor at work and has volunteered in career mentorship programs. In 2010 she spearheaded a summer career mentorship program for college students, which is still active today. Finally, this interest has lead to founding a new startup (Lateral-Me, launching Summer 2016) that will increase lateral career opportunities in the Federal government.

She is also part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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