Ground Down, Focus & Daydream – Even Amidst Challenging Times

Staying focused on important work tasks and projects can become difficult in challenging times. Procrastinating on things that should have priority - for our professional and personal growth - becomes rather easy. In this article, Jeffrey Davis explains how to strengthen your focus and creativity amidst uncertain and difficult times.
Jeffrey Davis is a branding & creativity strategist, speaker, and author.
focus in difficult times work
Jeffrey Davis is a branding & creativity strategist, speaker, and author.

During times of severe challenge and change, our daily rhythms and rituals can get upended, our work and home life can collide, and it’s natural to feel adrift, anxious, or paralyzed. Instead of focusing on our professional and personal growth when we need our inner strength most, it’s easy to immerse ourselves in other peoples’ emergencies – imagined or real – and reward ourselves with the ephemeral dopamine rush of easily accomplished tasks.

Emails checked, yes! Client questions answered, yes! Responding to other people’s urgencies, yes!

Big projects? A shift in work priorities? A new virtual service? Our best work? No.

Yet rather than letting yourself become disillusioned or frustrated, during challenging times you actually have the opportunity to be more open and engaged: in your work, your relationships, and your daily rhythms. Oddly enough, research shows that actively seeking experiences that spark joy, curiosity, and gratitude can broaden our awareness to help us become better problem solvers and put things – including our own emergencies – in perspective.

Read more: In another article, Gillian Florence Sanger explores how to cultivate and nourish curiosity amidst a pandemic.

The question then is, how do we find the focus and drive to pursue these experiences or endeavors amidst uncertain times?

Nourishing Focus & Being Creative Amidst Difficult Times

Here are a few grounding tips to help you take the first steps toward fostering creativity – rather than reactivity – amidst this pandemic, so you can open yourself to creative possibilities and focus on your most meaningful work.

1. Recommit to your most impactful work with devotion

Both high-bandwidth work (that requires deep thought, analysis, strategy, multiple steps, imagination) and personal reflection often get pushed aside during crises. Yet your ability to focus on impactful work can buoy you.

Think of your most impactful work in terms of a meaningful endeavor or dream endeavor. This is work that – when you’re focused on it – lights you up and lifts up others. It brings out the best in you and the people who benefit from it. This kind of high-bandwidth work usually requires your sustained attention and extended concentration. To motivate you to choose this work over the minor easy-to-complete tasks, check in with your devotion to your work.

Devotion – its Sanskrit root vac is related to the resonance of a sacred utterance like a vow. Like a vocation, is work that calls you. The most innovative and fulfilled people I have studied and worked with – from filmmakers to teachers to social entrepreneurs – have a spoken or unspoken devotion to their best work.

You can begin to attune to your devotion by asking yourself every morning, “What am I devoted to?” If you meditate, this question is a potent question to take into your meditation. If you journal, this question can lead you to deep inquiry. You might land on a resonant word, phrase, or even image that speaks to your heart’s devotion.

Tie that devotion to your most impactful work. For instance, almost every morning I know that my devotion is “to foster more courage, wisdom, and wonder in myself and others.” When I look at my day’s work ahead and especially the “big” bandwidth work, I can foresee how that devotion will lead me to my best work in the world.

What possible positive influence does your work have? In this meditation, Jeffrey Davis invites you to imagine the possibility of your work as a gift of love with rippling impact to the world:

  1. The Rippling Impact Of Your Work Jeffrey Davis 10:55

2. Create A Flexible Time Block Schedule

It’s in times of challenge that our mundane routines become more important than ever. Though it may seem impossible amidst such uncertainty, map out a flexible schedule to ground you and help you stay on track. Carve out 45-90 minute blocks of time that you will dedicate to your most impactful work. Give yourself Post-It sized, specific tasks and make your goals for these time blocks as specific as possible. Then plug these blocks into your daily or weekly schedule and commit to focusing on that one activity for each chunk of time.

Our peak productivity ebbs and flows throughout the day. Some of us may work best before the sun even rises while others don’t get their creative minds in gear until well after sunset. Try to pay attention to your work rhythms, and adapt your schedule accordingly. As psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi writes in his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention:

“we must experiment until we discover the best timing for work and rest, for thought and action, for being alone and for being with people.”

Discover tips how to establish a healthy morning routine to start your day and a nourishing evening routine for better sleep.

3. Take truly regenerative breaks with wonder interventions

Too often, our “breaks” from work are just other types of “work” in disguise or brain-draining distractions that leave us more depleted than when we started. You know what your digital distractions are, I’m sure.

Instead of defaulting to social media or mindless email sorting on your breaks, design your breaks with intention and disrupt your work with wonder interventions. 

Wonder interventions are practices that can momentarily dissolve habitual patterns of perception, open your mind with surprising delight, and train you to glean fresh insights to daily, spiritual, and creative challenges. Wonder interventions can clear the mental debris that often makes us immune to change and wary of the unknown. And we know that the unknown is the province of true wonder and enchanting creativity.

Take a walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby wood. Virtually volunteer to help your community. Engage in meaningful conversations with someone you work with by asking them questions to get to know them better to increase your other-focus and expand your awareness of the world during uncertain times.

Actively pursue elevating activities that bring you joy, stoke your creativity, and prompt your appreciation and gratitude. This, in turn, will keep your mind expansive and broad. These activities encourage better problem solving, novel ideas, and exploratory thinking.

Before reading on you might want to listen to day one of Jeffrey Davis’ 10-day course “Deepen Your Focus & Flow At Work” that offers you evidence-based and time-tested practices designed to help you focus, flow, and flourish.

  1. Choose Impactful Work Every Day Jeffrey Davis 12:35

Listen to the full course here.

4. Take care of Flow Foundations

Most importantly, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Nourish your mind and your body with fuel to inspire your work and fend off illness. Especially amidst challenge or crisis, enjoy vibrant, fresh foods rich in antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. An alkaline diet can improve your immunity, reduce inflammation, and help with soft focus.

Don’t be tempted to toss exercise. Studies show that vigorous exercise for 20 minutes a day can aid sustained focus, so try to move your body at least once a day by finding a practice that works for you. There are countless virtual exercise classes, from yoga to pilates to cardio, and such online communities can help keep you accountable in much the same way gym buddies can.

Read more: Explore helpful steps to build the foundations for practicing yoga at home.

Finally, I encourage you to try a regular meditation practice. In uncertain times, our mind’s default wiring will try to amp up the strange comfort of fret, regret, and confusion to distort our perception of the world, our life, and what is possible.

Meditation can help you recognize your thought patterns, and when your brain is taking you down a rabbit hole of worry. By practicing mindfulness, you can better capture and redirect those patterns. Ultimately you can save mental energy to improve your well-being, increase focus, and expand creative insight.

Be well. Be safe. Find peace. Stay open.

Explore thousands of free guided mindfulness meditations and practice bringing awareness to the present and making observations with openness, curiosity, compassion and composure.

Meditation. Free.