How to Stay Focused During Our Return to “Normal”

As we ease into a summer filled with busier social calendars and in-person gatherings, it’s only natural to find ourselves struggling to stay productive — and these tips can help.

4 PM production/ Shutterstock
4 PM production/ Shutterstock

After a year and a half of adjusting to the pandemic’s changes and challenges, many of us are finally transitioning toward normalcy — returning to busier social calendars, in-person meetings, and new opportunities. And while we ease into a summer filled with social gatherings and get-togethers, it’s only natural to find ourselves struggling to stay focused at work.

We asked our Thrive community to share with us the strategies that are helping them stay focused during our return to “normal.” Which of these will you try?

Allow yourself to set boundaries

“I’m leaning into the power of saying ‘no’ more frequently. I’m reminding myself that I don’t need to fill every minute of my schedule and it’s OK to have space in the calendar. If a meeting or opportunity is presented to me that isn’t going to move me closer towards my goals, I protect my time and capacity boundaries.”

—Blair Kaplan Venables, social media marketing expert, Pemberton, B.C., Canada

Unplug over the weekends

“One thing that helps me stay focused is taking 48 hours offline each weekend. Taking that time to shut off my emails and stay off social media allows me to recharge fully and come back energized and restored. Periods of psychological detachment from work are incredibly effective for boosting our concentration levels and preventing burnout.”

—Charlotte Swire, yoga teacher and burnout expert, Manchester, U.K.

Try compartmentalizing your tasks

“My go-to tip for focusing right now is compartmentalizing. That’s the only way I can get everything done. I allocate the first hour of every day to the health and well-being of myself and my foster cat. On Sundays, I write a broad strokes to-do list for the week. For example, Wednesdays and Thursdays are client clinic days. From Monday to Sunday, I write down my priorities for the day, plot any big writing courses for the mornings, and the afternoons are for catching up and planning. And connection with loved ones occurs every day, through phone calls, Zooms, or walks outside. It’s key for my sanity, sense of gratitude, and well-being.”

—Georgina Cannon Author, instructor, regression therapist, and teacher, Toronto, CA

Check in on what you need each day

“My best advice is to listen in on what you need every day to gradually allow yourself to return to normal. Meditation has been helping me a lot when it comes to listening in. I plan a weekly to-do list without filling my agenda completely with daily tasks. Don’t forget to play sports, breathe, and spend time with yourself.”

—Claudia Caldara, digital merchandiser, Italy

Shift your expectations

“I’m reminding myself that we are not returning to ‘normal,’ but rather we are creating a new adaptable and flexible normal. We are stepping into a new way of living. Through this experience across the globe, our experience and perception of life has shifted. Many are still grieving a life previously lived. For others, this time is about adapting to new boundaries and limitations. And some are searching for what this new life is, what it means, and how they can now continue living their best lives as the best versions of themselves.”

—Nichol Stark, intuitive life and business coach, Sydney, Australia

Use the Pomodoro technique 

“In the first lockdown, like many, I really struggled to concentrate. I’d be checking my phone for news and social media updates constantly, and was totally distracted. Over the past year I’ve found a handful of techniques that have really helped but the one thing that has been a game changer for me is deep work through the Pomodoro Technique. I use a 25-minute countdown for deep work, then a five-minute break, then I repeat it another three times before a longer 25-minute break. When tasks or projects feel overwhelming, I just tell myself I only have to do one pomodoro on it. When the world feels out of control, focusing on one thing for short sharp increments has changed my working world.”

Rachael Bull, corporate wellbeing and resilience partner, Leicestershire, U.K.

Pick one top priority every morning

“Returning back to ‘normal’ is the closest we can come to calling the transition to post-pandemic living. Yet the shift from then to now is anything but normal. The pace of change has accelerated in healthcare with no sign of slowing down. I focus by picking one thing to accomplish each day. Just one thing. I end up getting many things done, but focusing on one thing helps me avoid getting overwhelmed. For highly motivated people, the key to doing more is sometimes focusing on less.

—Kim Regis, nurse executive, Columbus, OH

Don’t completely eliminate your alone time

“Going back to normal is just another transition period and we still have to adjust ourselves to a new reality with new routines. Opportunities for socialization are wonderful, but perhaps we still need to take some time to ourselves to kind of compensate. Our body has to adjust to a more intense physical activity. It’s natural  to feel tired, and want to focus on some alone time. And that’s OK. Be patient with yourself and ride it at your own pace. 

—Sara Midões, positive psychology practitioner, Lisbon, Portugal

Stay active

“Staying active has helped me stay focused during our return to normal. Working out, taking morning walks, seeing friends and family members that I haven’t been able to see during the harshest part of the pandemic. Human beings are active beings, and there’s nothing more ‘normal’ than staying active. And while staying active, our body and mind is more at ease, and more likely to focus. To me, that’s the best way of regaining focus as we return to normal.”

—Sentari Minor, social impact advocate, Phoenix, AZ

Use a “success board” to list your tasks

“This is a particularly tough time to stay focused on both professional and personal goals. What has helped me is working with a live ‘success board.’ I have a visual magnetic canvas I made where I put up images, quotes and affirmations. I also have a whiteboard where I list my top goals for the year as the header and then each task I need to accomplish to get me there. As I accomplish each task, I move it to the ‘completed’ column. I am a visual person, so by seeing that column fill up, I’m motivated to keep going.”

—Catherine McCourt, transformational life and business coach, Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Take time to recharge

“So many of us have been looking forward in anticipation for so long that we forget how to stop and look around. The only way we can refocus is to recapture meaningful, obligation-free moments and make space for simple, restorative pleasure. I planned a girls’ trip with my daughters to celebrate my eldest’s high school graduation. Moments spent together, away from it all, can be incredibly powerful. So my tip is to block the time. Book the ticket. Do it with the ones you hold most dear. You’ll never look back and say. ‘I wish I would have banged out a few more emails.’ The deadlines, goals and to-do lists will be there when we get back.”

—Tricia Sciortino, CEO, Charlotte, N.C.

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