How to stay focused at work when your personal life is falling apart

How to stay focused at work when your personal life is falling apart

Life happens. Sometimes it’s a sudden blow. In a moment, everything in your world explodes, leaving you standing in the middle of the wreckage. Other times, it’s a slow crawl. You are the strong one, so you shoulder crisis after crisis, all with a stiff upper lip, until it’s even too much for you. But the bills still have to be paid. So, you dust yourself off, and somehow make it into the office. Suddenly, your world of expense reports and meetings seems so far away and shallow. How can you possibly concentrate at work, let alone succeed in your job, when your world has stopped spinning?

  1. Seek outside support during a crisis

    Surround yourself with a good support system. Seek help from friends, family, church groups, support groups, and/or mental health professionals.

    While there is much written about the ills of social media, getting the word out about a need or personal crisis, is one of its more admirable applications. Have friends volunteer to cook and bring you a meal or set up  a GoFundMe account to help with expenses.

    If there are children involved, utilize their school’s resources. Most school counseling departments have confidential tools, programs, or referrals in place for personal crises.

  2. Don’t overshare at work; but don’t under share either

    Dealing with a personal crisis at work will likely impact your performance. Most employers and colleagues can be sympathetic if you let them know. Your boss may also be more generous with things like repeated time off to go to the courthouse, or meet with lawyers or such.

    But, be strategic about it. Don’t open yourself up to judgment. You may be unpleasantly surprised at how coworkers or employers view things like financial problems, divorce, or your “out-of-control” son or daughter. Keep it professional. Tell people what they need to know, and leave it at that.

  3. Take time off work to get organized

    Sometimes the best thing for a situation is our undivided attention. A crisis can take over our lives, demanding our time, attention, and emotional energy. To handle it all, you need to get organized. If you have vacation days, now would be a good time to use them.

    Spend time putting routines into place for your “new normal.” For example, if you had to take custody of the grandkids, spending some vacation days to get them settled in and set routines like schooling and childcare, can ease the transition, making it easier to go back to work.

    Make lists, use calendars, organizational apps and charts to set time management tools into place allowing important tasks to get done—like filing claims or meeting with social workers, but ensuring ordinary things, like grocery shopping and laundry, don’t slip through the cracks.

  4. See your job as a place of stability

    When everything at home is falling apart, the routine and stability of going to work may be the only thing keeping you sane. Take advantage of that. Set boundaries in place for how often you check in. Notify friends and family to call you at work only if it is a certain severity level, and that you will check in at specified intervals to hear the less serious updates. This will assure you that silence means no new developments and help keep communication for everyone streamlined.

  5. Do what is in front of you

    Sometimes the best thing you can do for the situation is keep your head on straight. Focus on the task in front of you. You can’t wave a magic wand and make your father’s cancer go away. But, you can enter that invoice on your desk. You can’t make your son’s legal problems disappear. But you can get the filing done. Focus on what you can do, and you will start to feel empowered enough to find ways to actually make the situation better.

  6. Find out about benefits

    Many companies have personal crisis services. Find out if your company has one. Further, find out if there are other benefits you haven’t heard of. Does your company, or insurance policy, pay for treatment services? It would be worth looking into.

  7. Take care of yourself

    When dealing with a major crisis, it’s easy to push yourself into overdrive mode to get everything done. Sometimes that’s necessary for the short term. After all, you can push yourself through a workday on zero sleep because you drove through the night rescuing your daughter from a domestic violence situation. That’s important. But when the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush turns into self-neglect, it becomes a problem.

    Practice proper self-care in the time of crisis. Get good rest and spend time with people that love you. Try relaxation methods like yoga or meditation and get plenty of exercise to boost your serotonin and dopamine levels. Remember, you can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

  8. Try to resist being self-absorbed

    When dealing with a debilitating crisis, we can get so bogged down, it’s all we see. We may withdraw, have blunted emotions, or find it difficult to empathize with others.

    Remember that you are not the only one with big problems. Although it can seem like it. The plaque for the “saddest case in the office,” award is written in dry erase marker—not stone. This month, you may win the award, but next month it could be someone else.

    When the time is right, acknowledge those that help you, in both big and small ways. If a coworker takes on extra tasks, or if someone lends an ear, acknowledge that to them and to yourself. This can help you remember that people are there for you, even though at times you can feel alone.

  9. * Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be medical advice. If in a crisis situation, seek professional help.