How to Stay Motivated When Your Job Isn’t Saving Lives
A global pandemic can make that sales report due Thursday feel less urgent
Laura Vanderkam, the time management expert who wrote Off the Clock and Juliet’s School of Possibilities, is here to answer your scheduling questions. Check back every week for more advice, and send your own productivity problems to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Your name will not be used.)
Dear Laura: I’m having a hard time focusing on my job these days. I spend big chunks of my day reading headlines and feeling anxious. But it’s not just economic worries or concerns about safety. I also feel like my work isn’t particularly important, compared with the magnitude of the pandemic. I’m not saving lives or helping others in a significant way. Any tips for staying motivated?
Plenty of people are having trouble focusing at work these days. Emotions play a huge role in productivity. When we feel threatened, it’s hard to focus on anything except the threat. With our current threat dragging out for the foreseeable future, we have to learn to live with these uncomfortable emotions — and that’s tough.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies that can help with focus, even in challenging times.
First, set boundaries for yourself when it comes to news consumption. You can be an informed citizen by just checking the news once a day. Check the news when you are best able to deal with it — maybe right before you go for a walk or call a friend. Both of these produce positive emotions, which help you process and counter the negative ones.
When you need a break from work, don’t automatically turn to your phone. Instead, do some exercise or meditate, get some low-key housework done, or even just treat yourself to some time reading a book or watching a movie. A break that relaxes you is better than one that leaves you anxious.
Second, create a limited set of intentions for your work each day. When you’re feeling worn down, you won’t get through a 20-item to-do list, but a three-item list may feel doable. Progress is motivational. You might finish the short list and feel good enough to go do something else. But even if you don’t, you can celebrate what you have accomplished.