How to Focus on Work When Your Personal Life is in Shambles

 In Career, Overcoming painful experiences, Podcast, Work

Many years ago my personal life was in shambles. At the time I was going through divorce. I faced many challenges: concerns about my kids, establishing new housing, paying bills, and several other difficult adjustments. If this set of problems wasn’t enough, I had to deal with a myriad of emotions that surfaced throughout this phase. I had some rough days on the job too. Can you relate?

Here are some of the personal struggles that can put your life in shambles.

  • Serious breakup or divorce
  • Discovery of an affair
  • Major behavioral problem with one or more of your children
  • Family member in the throes of an addiction
  • Chronic health condition
  • You can add your own problem to the list

Is your personal life in shambles? If so, I understand how difficult it may be for you right now. Containing personal problems as you work through them is not easy. It can leak out into your public life. Trying to keep it together at work can be extremely difficult since so much of a waking day is spent on the job.

When your personal life is in shambles it makes everything harder. The world doesn’t stop because you have an issue that drags you down. Nor can you freeze frame the planet until you get it together.

Personal problems can play like a soundtrack in your head throughout the day. Co-workers may notice something different in your demeanor. Perhaps you find yourself making mistakes, missing deadlines, getting to work late, or stuck on personal calls. Like the woman in the picture, it’s hard to focus on your job.

You can do a better job focusing on work by adopting these 5 strategies.

Adopt a “going through” versus “living in” mindset

“Living in” your personal problems can feel permanent. You may feel stuck. “Going through” has movement–a beginning and an end. While your life may look like a disaster zone remember this. After a tornado has swept “through”, people rebuild.

Consider the difference in internal dialogue and decide what attitude you prefer to adopt.

Living in attitude

  • It will be like this forever
  • Nothing will ever be the same again
  • I’m stuck now for the rest of my life

Going through attitude

  • It’s hard now, but it will get better
  • Things will change eventually
  • I can do something little today to move my life forward–like going to work

When you adopt a “going through” mindset you are more likely to find a way to “get through” the day at work and be productive.

View work as a temporary distraction from your problems

Your mind needs a break from your personal problems. Dwelling on them throughout the day can make it worse. By focusing on work, you can get your mind off negative thinking and onto processing tasks that yield positive and productive results. This is really effective if you truly love your job.

If appropriate, have a brief conversation with your boss

Many work cultures are safe and supportive. Having a brief conversation with your manager (if you have one) may be helpful. It’s not necessary to go deep into your personal life. The key is to inform this person that you “going through” some personal struggles currently. Most employers/managers are understanding and accommodating in these types of situations. Be clear on the following:

  • You do not want your personal problems to hamper your work
  • You are working through the problem(s)
Establish boundaries about dealing with the problem during work hours

Hit the pause button on your personal problems. Limit interactions with others associated with the problem. Don’t field phone calls unless it is an emergency. If necessary, schedule time during your break to address the problems.

Establishing boundaries is good for your mental health. By not allowing your personal problems to invade every area of your life you demonstrate good coping skills. Remember, manage your problems or your problems will manage you.

Have a plan outside of work to address your personal problems

Do you have a good support system? What about coping strategies? Have you figured out a plan yet to work through the shambles? Here are some suggestions on how to establish a good plan.

  • Establish a small network of trusted people with whom you can rely on as a support system and sounding board to address your problems.
  • Consider individual counseling as a safe place to unpack the problem, develop coping tools, and devise a plan to “get through” things.
  • Develop daily routines/habits to help you release stress and process internal reactions
    • Exercise
    • Journaling
    • Massage
    • Music
    • Art
    • Reading
    • Your preferred choice…

Now it’s your turn

So there you have it. Five approaches you can adopt that will help you focus on work when your personal life is in shambles. Do you have other suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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