In a personal crisis, how much spillover into work is “normal”?
At what point does an inability to shut out your problems become an ADD-type focus issue?
This question was on the mind of my ADHD coaching client, Daniel, who was in the process of launching a new business. At a critical time in the business launch, he hit a rocky patch in his marriage, and his concern about that had been affecting his ability to focus on much else.
To add to the burden, he was worried that his distraction wasn’t “normal.” He felt he “should” have been able to shut out the fears about his marriage, and to just plow ahead.
The fact is, we’re people, not robots. We have thoughts, feelings and concerns that can’t be shut on and off with a switch.
Some people are better at compartmentalizing their feelings than others, and some are more prone to anxiety and rumination. This will be true among ADD / ADHD as well as neuro-typical people.
I think the important question isn’t whether or not being distracted by one’s personal problems is “normal” (versus ADD / ADHD) but rather:
How do you avoid being distracted and overwhelmed by personal problems during times when you need to maintain focus and be productive?
How to keep personal concerns from affecting your work:
The most relentless source of worry often comes from all those questions that start out “What if…?” As long as your thoughts remain in the “what if” realm, you’ll circle endlessly in a hamster wheel of rumination.
Here’s how to get off the wheel:
Get off the “WHAT IF” wheel with specific questions.
In Daniel's case, those questions would be:
- How will the divorce law in my state affect my finances?
- How will my taxes be affected by my spouse’s debts?
- What affect will our respective incomes have on child custody?
Talk with the appropriate experts to get answers.
Daniel made appointments to consult with a divorce attorney and a CPA.
Separate the advice you get from experts into answers and options.
- Answers – Some questions may yield specific answers, such as what the law is regarding marital property or tax filing in your state.
- Options – Other questions won't be as cut and dried, and will yield a number of “it depends” options which will require you to make a decision.
Get advice on the pros and cons of the various options. That might come from the person you consulted with initially, or perhaps a coach who can guide you through a decision-making process.
Block out times in your calendar when you’ll focus entirely on the personal issue.
Those may be scheduled appointments with others, as well as appointments you make with yourself to think through your options in a concrete way.
Create a mental visualization to keep out intrusive thoughts.
Now that you know your concerns will be handled as well as possible with the information you have at this time, you can deliberately push aside intrusive thoughts about the problem during working hours.
To do that, visualize a wall coming down, blocking out those thoughts, or a heavy gate that closes them off. Be very clear of exactly what it looks like, and use the same visualization each time.
You might also accompany the imagined visual with a mantra or phrase to reinforce it the strength of the barrier.
Have a strategy to handle outside interruptions pertaining to the problem.
- Incoming phone calls and emails – When calls or emails about the concerning subject come in, the best solution would be to set aside time to deal with them, so they aren’t intruding throughout the day. If you must deal with each one right away, immediately afterwards bring down your visual wall so you can get back to work.
- Avoid texting – Discourage any texting or instant messaging apps on the subject during work hours. These simply keep you in a state of on-edge distraction.
It may be hard at first, but be relentless! Remember, you will be able to address your concerns as much as necessary during the appointed times. All other thoughts are just pointless rumination on the hamster wheel.
What about the opposite situation… When worry about work distracts you from your family?
These same steps can be used just as well if concern about your work or career is affecting your home life. Get answers to find out what you can control, learn what you can about your options, and put aside time to think through your options and make decisions.
- Ease your decision-making process – If you feel paralyzed at having to deal with numerous options, click here to download the free Confident Decider Tool.
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Have you had to stay focused on work during a personal crisis? What worked for you? Please comment and share.