There are times in life where we feel totally in control – we’re hitting the gym before the sun rises, packing nutritionally-balanced salads for lunch, having meaningful conversations with friends at post-work happy hours, and getting to bed at a time that doesn’t make us dread the alarm going off the next morning. During these times, it’s easy to give our all at work; being balanced in our personal lives frees up brain space to tackle complicated projects and fully engage in growing ourselves professionally.
Then there are times in life where things feel absolutely chaotic – perhaps we’re caring for a friend or relative who needs a lot of our attention, planning an epic wedding for 150 of our closest friends and family, or returning to work after the birth of our first child. When we fall out of our routines due to changing life circumstances, it can feel impossible to be present and productive at work – how could we be, with so much on our plates?
For me, the life events that threw me out of whack last summer were moving from a bustling city to a quieter college town, purchasing a home in said college town, and planning a destination weekend-long wedding extravaganza. I did all of these in the span of less than three months (79 days, to be exact). At times, it felt like I was going to burst from stress due to all of these competing obligations – and that doesn’t include my actual job. My professional identity is incredibly important to me, so I knew I had to come up with a plan to keep my nonstop personal demands from interfering with my performance at work. I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this, so I’d like to share my three most powerful tips for managing the chaos and maintaining your professional productivity.
Get to Work
When we’re stretched thin outside of work, it can be really difficult to focus when we’re actually in the office. However, making that commitment to be all in when at work is vital. Here are some great ways to do that:
- Practice guided meditation or mindfulness techniques. Taking time to re-center myself was key, especially since my work can get pretty intense. I’d often spend the first five minutes of my lunch break listening to a guided meditation (I love the smartphone app Stop, Breathe & Think) or – if a separate lunch break just wasn’t happening that day, making sure I was fully present for the first bite I took of my food (savoring the smell, flavor, and texture of the food and immersing myself fully in that moment).
- Limit distractions. It’s good professional practice, in general, to stay away from multi-tasking, not scroll endlessly through social media feeds, and not spend all day chatting at the water cooler. However, when you’re already having trouble focusing, it’s absolutely vital to control barriers to staying in the groove of your workday. I’ve helped my coaching clients to set firm boundaries in the workplace, and one woman in particular found success having at least one hour of my door is closed and I am hard at work time that her coworkers are happy to respect.
- Prioritize what’s most important. If you’re not firing on all cylinders, you might not be able to go above and beyond what your bosses normally expect from you. It’s key to not let the must-do’s fall behind during these times. On the days when I’m not sure where to start, I make a 3-item to do list to help me stay on top of my most significant tasks.
Leave Work at Work
When we feel like we didn’t accomplish enough during the workday, the tendency can be to pack up our computers and make a half-hearted attempt at finishing up as we eat a bag of chips on the couch and cry watching This Is Us (…or is that just me?). I challenge you to make an effort to not work at home if you’re not fully engaged. Otherwise, your work isn’t up to par, and you’re not really enjoying your weekly emotional release during primetime TV. Here’s what to do instead:
- Make a not-yet-done list before you leave work. The act of listing all the things you need to tackle the next day can help you to release the guilt associated with not burning the (highly distractable) midnight oil to get them done, as well as walk into work the next day able to jump right in.
- Create a leaving work ritual. When I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed by work obligations, I’ll allow myself to fret and worry during my short commute home. Once I pull into my driveway, though, that’s it – I take a few deep breaths, listen to a Beyonce song if I’m really needing some extra motivation, and release the stress of the day. If you want more on how to create a leaving work ritual check out this blog post!
- Limit checking emails outside of work. In some roles, it’s totally acceptable to stay off of emails when you’re not in the office – if so, resist the urge to check and know those emails will still be waiting for you the next day. In other positions, you might need to be more accessible to your team. In that case, reduce the frequency of email checking to once an hour, or communicate to your staff that vital issues that can’t wait until the next day should be communicated to you via text or phone call.
Take Good Care of Yourself
During busy times outside of work, it seems that things that can help us to function at our best are those that are easily abandoned in favor of more urgent responsibilities. However, maintaining at least some balance in your personal life will allow you to be more present and focused when you walk into your workplace. Try these simple tips:
- Maintain good habits through healthy eating and gentle movement. It’s no secret that wellness and workplace productivity are linked, but the challenge usually lies in finding the time to keep up with this practice. In this case, it’s more important to set small, achievable goals instead of attempting a complete lifestyle overhaul. My go-to tricks are choosing a healthy lunch if I’m dining out (a salad packed with veggies and protein instead of pizza or a gigantic sandwich) and challenging myself to some movement each day (a walk around my office complex if I’m wearing the right shoes, or an at-home yoga session with the incredible Yoga with Adriene to help me wind down at night).
- Practice good nighttime habits to make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. For babies or young children, we call it a bedtime routine – a warm bath, a calming song, and a quiet and comfortable environment. Now that we’re adults, we refer to this practice as sleep hygiene, and it includes limiting screen time before bed, sticking to a consistent sleep schedule (even on the weekends), and avoiding alcohol and caffeine as bedtime approaches.
- Carve out time that’s just for you. When we’re wrapped up in professional and personal obligations, can often come at the expense of focusing on our own needs. In times of stress, I find it incredibly helpful to wake up 15 minutes earlier than I need to and spend that time sipping a hot cup of coffee and reading my latest library book. Creating this quiet space is vital in my quest for peace and productivity.
If you’ve made it this far – I’m glad you’re still here! These strategies have helped me throughout plenty of stressful times both personally and professionally, and I hope you’ll find them beneficial too. My final tip is to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes this means asking a loved one to bring over a home-cooked meal, and other times it looks like your best-work-pal-turned-neighbor wheeling her lawnmower over and helping you tackle the jungle that is your new home’s front yard. Other times, you might need to bring in a professional to help you get things back on track. A great source of support can be working with a Certified Career Coach who is trained in working with folks who are passionate about their careers and need some support in achieving work-life balance or getting to that next step professionally in the midst of chaos. If you’re on the hunt for a coach, reach out to our team here – we’re happy to help set you up with a perfectly matched coaching partner.