Staying Focused In Overwhelming Times: The How-To

Seek professional help if you start to feel constantly overwhelmed, experience anxiety and panic attacks, or find that no amount of rest is enough to recharge your batteries.

learn more about Alfred Gull

By Alfred Gull


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Leaders in various fields credit constant focus as one of the most essential elements of their success. In the words of George Lucas, "your focus determines your reality," and it's often what sets entrepreneurs apart- until a global pandemic comes along and changes everything. In this scenario, even the most driven people are prone to distraction.

The link between crisis and cognition

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have reported struggling to stay focused for any length of time, and not just at work. They're also finding it harder to concentrate on the recreational activities they enjoy.

A dwindling attention span is quite normal right now. Cognitive and emotional processes interact in the brain, meaning our thoughts are not possible without the presence of emotion. Therefore, when dealing with a perceived threat, we're unable to think without fear and distraction.

The so-called higher functions of the brain, such as thinking, impulse control, and, especially the ability to focus, are governed by the prefrontal cortex. In the face of danger, our prefrontal cortex shuts down to make way for the other parts of our brain that can react fast to protect us from harm.

Some of the main effects include:

  • stress hormones flood the brain
  • trouble putting thoughts together
  • concentration and memory problems
  • physical or mental exhaustion
  • lack of motivation and interest

Related: The Art Of Convenience In Motion

Managing distractions

Focus is the gateway to perception, memory, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making. Without adequate focus, all cognitive abilities will suffer, and you can no longer maximize efficiency- a crucial tool for any entrepreneur.

Every time your mind wanders away from the goal, you're are wasting precious time and reducing the quality of your choices. We see this even with typical distractions, such as emails, social media, or constant queries from employees.

From a lifestyle perspective, improve concentration with the following:

  • eat healthily, and don't skip meals.
  • minimize caffeine and sugar intake.
  • exercise regularly.
  • make time for a short daily meditation.
  • maintain good sleep hygiene, and get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same time.
  • keep communicating with loved ones, and enjoy your hobbies.

As for your time at work, here are a few tips to declutter your mind at work:

  • not everything is urgent- prioritize tasks ruthlessly, and ask yourself what can be put off to another day, delegated, or not done at all.
  • streamline and simplify your workspace– avoid too many photos, books, and unnecessary items that can easily distract you.
  • silence your phone for set periods, and stop social media alerts.
  • understand what you need to perform at your best, and then create an environment that supports it.
  • focus only on the present moment and the task at hand.
  • avoid working on multiple tasks at once, feeling like you're not fully achieving any. Complete an action, and "tick it off' before beginning something new.

Personal worries

The COVID-19 crisis has made it harder to separate work life and personal life, and people are dealing with constant concerns that inevitably affect their job performance. The key is to put yourself in a position of control to reduce uncertainty as much as possible. Get you and your family tested regularly, and take all the precautionary measures.

Also, ensure you have contingency plans in place to mitigate the impact if you have to quarantine or be off sick for a period time. If you have procedures to deal with disruption, you'll feel better able to deal with the possibility. In short, be active in solving any potential issues, rather than denying them.

Your staff also need to feel supported, and their own problems acknowledged- as such, make sure the following is communicated to them regularly:

  • recognize hard work, and make sure they feel appreciated, even for the little things.
  • remind them to take regular breaks.
  • always keep the lines of communication open.
  • don't watch over them or constantly question their work, build trust by setting scheduled time for updates.
  • consider providing access to confidential mental health support.

Is it time to get help?

People in senior positions can convince themselves that everything falls to them, making it harder to get help. Of course, some degree of pressure is inevitable, but chronic stress can soon lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and intestinal issues. A burnout situation exhibits in the form of utter and complete exhaustion, feeling drained, unable to cope, and disengaged from responsibilities.

Seek professional help if you start to feel constantly overwhelmed, experience anxiety and panic attacks, or find that no amount of rest is enough to recharge your batteries. Another red flag is when you go from pushing yourself harder to losing your drive, joy, or self-esteem.

Related: Keeping It Real: Lessons From 2020 (Through The Lens Of Dubai's Startup Ecosystem)

Alfred Gull

Clinical and healthcare psychologist, German Neuroscience Center

Alfred Gull is a German clinical and healthcare psychologist based at Dubai’s German Neuroscience Center, and who was trained at one of Germany’s most reputable universities in Goettingen. With over 28 years of professional experience, he is one of Dubai’s most experienced psychologists. To compliment his broad area of expertise in psychology, Alfred obtained an additional master’s degree in applied social science and an additional master’s in sports science in Germany. During his outstanding career, Alfred worked in multiple settings with all sorts of psychological issues. Having grown up in a multicultural and multilingual context, Alfred gained invaluable personal experience as a result of this multicultural contact.

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