How to focus when you feel frazzled

I may be super organised but I also know what it feels like to be super frazzled. I actually feel frazzled most weeks. When you have a lot of work to get done, feeling frazzled can have a serious impact on your focus. The worry of whether you can focus to get the work done usually adds to that frazzled feeling. I get a swirling ball of anxiety and stress in my chest. Since I am both a naturally frazzled person, and a busy person, I had to come up with a way to keep my focus. In this article I share with you the steps I take to overcome anxiety and focus on my work.

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Get it out of your head

My first tip is to get everything inside your head out and on a piece of paper. Every task you carry in your head acts like an unfinished loop, causing you to think and re think about it until its done. There is no way you can focus with that going on.  To stop this constant worry and thought you need to sort out your to do lists.

Reach for the paper

I like to get a plain piece of paper, or fresh sheet in my notebook and first write down everything consuming me. This list can be random and needs to be as exhaustive as possible. Everything from finishing a finance report to buying a pot of peanut butter on the way home (I always need nut butter)! Once everything is squeezed from your brain you need to organise these thoughts. I then categorise them under headings like: computer errands, outside errands, emails, calls, reading etc.

Finally, I look across all my lists and circle the top 3 tasks I need to take on TODAY and then I number them by task 1 to 3.

I wrote an article on desk organisation which will act as a good starting point on ridding your mind of mental and physical clutter.

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Start with the task that is worrying you most

Usually when my frazzledness effects my focus it is when I know I have something complicated and brain taxing to complete. It is even the fear of starting this task that can be the catalyst of my anxiety to begin with. However, like with most fears in life my advice is to tackle it head on!

Break it down

First of all write down the outcome that you want from completing this task. If you have a scary report or presentation to create you will always feel frazzled if you simply say “I have a scary report to write”. Instead break it down. The outcome could be something like, ‘convey how the current sales of x are impacting our revenue through y’. Or ‘demonstrate how the new IT process has saved employee time and company money’. Whatever the outcome of it is, get it down on paper.

Next, write down the specific tasks that are required to meet this outcome. Tasks may include researching a topic, emailing colleagues or experts for input, analysing data sets or reading articles. Get these separate tasks down on a piece of paper. These tasks may even become headings for a sub-task list. Under ’email colleagues’ you could then list the colleague and the specific question you have for each of them.

Bite size peices

Finally, plan out when you will complete each task. Take a look at your calendar and work from the deadline back to the day you are currently at. schedule what day and when you will complete each task that will accumulate to make up your ‘big scary report’.

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Consider the worse case scenario

Sometimes we are so frazzled it is actually impossible to properly focus, in which case I ask myself ‘what happens if I don’t do this piece of work?’ We are all human, we are not robots. There are going to be occasions that you just need to stop.

In these cases there are usually the following scenarios:

  1. The deadline is looming and the work has to be done – If you are really unfocused, tired, frazzled you may have to bite the bullet and let people know you are unwell. Asking for help is hard. I am totally useless at it. But sometimes we have to share out the responsibility, even if we feel bad doing it. You may feel guilty or worried for letting colleagues down, but ultimately the work has to be done and you are not fit enough to do it.
  2. The deadline is a couple of days away – In this case you need to ask yourself, if I take some me time today will I be able to get the work done in time tomorrow. If the answer is yes then you have to put this work aside and not think about it. There is no point not working, but worrying about work. Go to the gym, do some cooking, have a long bath, call your mum. Do anything that is relaxing and calming to you.
  3. There is a self-imposed deadline – Sometimes the worst pressure is not external, but from ourselves. If you are self-employed, working on a second income or starting out a new business then being driven and ruthless with your time is often necessary. However, you also need to practice self-care or you will burn out and never get anything completed. Assess the deadline you have given yourself and if you can push it back a little then do, don’t feel guilty, just relax.

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Do some mindfulness

I am not a meditating type of girl. I have not managed to practice meditation regularly each day. However, every time I take a few minutes to clear my head it ALWAYS helps. So remove the pressure of having to meditate and instead use it as and when you need it. This is what has worked for me. I have a few apps (recently using an app called Calm) and I will use a function that allows me to clear my mind for ten-fifteen minutes. I highly recommend doing this before you start your first priority task of the day.

Frazzled to focussed recap

  • Write down everything that if filling up your mind
  • Categorise your task lists
  • Write down your three high priority tasks for the day
  • Start with the project that you find most daunting
  • Break this project down by outcomes and individual tasks
  • Plan these tasks out across your week
  • If you are feeling SERIOUSLY frazzled consider taking a break and understand what this means for your deadline
  • Whether you are taking a day off or starting your first task of the day, take 10 minutes to clear your head

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