Even before the election, there were plenty of ways your mind wandered during the workday. Maybe you found yourself Googling recipes for dinner or perhaps you were doing a quick scroll through Facebook. For the most part, these occasional distractions are healthy, providing a necessary mental break so you can return to your work with a fresh mind. Now, with continual streams of news from DC and politically charged social media, you might be finding that your once healthy mental breaks are now anxiety-inducing. Or you might find yourself struggling to focus on work at all. Still, you have customers and employees relying on you.
When you have too many streams of information coming in at once, it can feel like difficult to focus on one task. One way to combat that feeling of helplessness is to give yourself a series of tasks or exercises you can complete to center yourself. Here are four ways to take the sense of urgency you feel when you're compelled to do something, and harness it in a positive way.
1. Set aside 5 minutes solely for brainstorming at your desk
Sometimes, when you're having trouble coming up with ideas about your own business, it's helpful to think of similar ones in the same or even different industries. Diving into an analogous business and understanding how it solves its problems may provide you with inspiration for your own. As an example, say you hear or read about a new policy or decision that you don't like. Instead of getting sucked into an internet hole, spend 5-minutes brainstorming how you would improve this policy (then maybe even commit to acting on your favorites!). This generative moment will help you feel empowered and energized, and you can then transition that momentum back to your work.
2. Ask, "How would I explain this to a five-year-old?"
The best designed products and services are ones that present customers with simple and intuitive ways to accomplish their task at hand. This means that your job as a business is to take complicated problems and make them easy-to-understand for your end-users. A good way to think about this is to ask, "How might I explain this to a five-year-old?" The more you practice, the easier it will be to apply both to your product as well as in the way you communicate with stakeholders. One way to practice is by taking a political issue, with its multiple perspectives, pros and cons, and implications, and considering how you might explain it a to a child. Consider using visuals, stories, or metaphors.
3. Write a letter by hand
Sometimes we need to shut down our laptops to shut down distractions. Beyond helping you focus, writing by hand boosts your cognitive skills, fuels creativity, and even calms you. Even if you need your computer for work, consider picking up a pen and paper when you're feeling distracted. For example, you might spend ten minutes writing a postcard to your local representative about policies you do or don't support and why. Putting pen to paper will clarify your thoughts, clear your mind of these thoughts, and leave you feeling more creatively inspired than before.
4. Embrace your meandering thoughts
Ironically, we have our best ideas when we aren't trying--when our minds are relaxed and are able to meander into crevices that we might otherwise shut down. By forcing yourself to focus and ignore seemingly unrelated thoughts (like those about politics) to pop in your head, you may actually be making yourself even less productively creative. At the end of the day, we are only human. Occasionally, allow your thoughts to spiral. For example if you are thinking about the implications of a new appointee, fully step away from your work and set your thoughts free. Given the chance to fully go down the path, chances are that at some point, your thoughts will turn around and return to work.
With news being created as fast as your internet connection, it's understandably difficult to focus on your day-to-day. Instead of getting down on yourself for your lack of focus, focus on ways you can harness your distraction towards productive activities.