11 Ways to Stay Productive During Times of Personal Crisis

By GoodTherapy.org Staff

By nature, humans are emotional creatures. When things are going well, you are likely to experience positive emotions that often lead to increased motivation and productivity. However, in times of hardship or stress, it can be challenging to leave negative feelings at home and keep them from impacting your work.

Whether you work in an office or from home, staying productive in times of personal crisis is no easy task. When a loved one is diagnosed with an illness, a pet passes away, or your partner loses a job, the added stress, grief, or anxiety can be distracting and sometimes even debilitating.

At some point, you may face a time when life stressors come up, and you may not be able to put your professional life on hold. Here are 11 tips to help you stay focused and remain productive in a time of personal crisis.

1. Adjust Your Schedule

In a time of crisis, you may need to adjust your schedule to accommodate personal matters. Time management is key to maintaining your professional life when your personal life requires more attention than usual.

Take a look at your schedule and see how you can adapt it. In medical situations, you may need to attend health appointments in the mornings and work later in the afternoon, or vice versa. Try to plan your day efficiently to maximize the value of the time you are able to put in at work. Consider scheduling your time in blocks with frequent breaks. Taking a break can help you reset and prevent emotional overwhelm.

2. Practice Self-Compassion

Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not performing as well as you think you should. Remember: you are human. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, anxious about a medical diagnosis, or stressed about some other personal matter, allow yourself to recognize your emotions as a normal part of the experience.

Feeling distracted or foggy during stressful times is not uncommon. It may take time to bounce back, so give yourself a break. Honor your feelings and do the best you can under the circumstances. Praise yourself for what you do manage to accomplish rather than feeling frustrated by any difficulties you may be experiencing.

Amy Armstrong, LPC, suggests embracing difficult emotions rather than suppressing them.

“For many of us, it’s tempting to tamp down those unpleasant feelings and hide them. This usually just increases your stress levels,” Armstrong said. “Confide in friends you trust. Get professional or peer support, if you are comfortable with that. Go for a run. Have a good cry. Most importantly: feel what you need to feel and let it out. I’m not advising anyone to freely cry at their desk because that can be problematic in other ways, but it’s important to own your feelings and give yourself an outlet. If you can do it in a fairly controlled way, those emotions are less likely to just pop up in places where they are less helpful to you—like in the middle of a stressful meeting.

3. Share with Discernment

When times are tough, talking about your situation can provide you with support and help you process your emotions. However, it is important to use discernment when sharing personal details.

Depending on your situation, you might be obligated to share some information with your supervisor, but you may want to be more cautious when sharing information with coworkers.

Ask yourself how sharing this information could impact the relationship and your personal situation. Do you work in the type of workplace that is friendly and open with personal concerns? Are you prepared to hear any advice or input your coworkers may have about your situation? How might telling your coworkers impact your performance at work?

In some instances, sharing your situation with your colleagues may make things easier for you. In others, it could become more challenging. Consider the effects and use discernment before you choose to share.

4. Practice Living in the Moment

Meditation and mindfulness practices can help you embrace the moment and find feelings of inner peace and acceptance even during the hardest of times. By practicing being present, you can prevent yourself from ruminating about your problems, dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future. A daily meditation practice can help you to remain mindful and present at work and help you stay focused on the task at hand.

It may also be helpful to reframe your time at work as an escape from what is happening in your personal life. Focusing on another task can provide temporary relief from any turmoil or crisis you may be dealing with at home.

5. Use Your Support System

Sometimes it can be tough to ask for help from others, even when it is needed the most. If you are dealing with a crisis, it can be very difficult to stay productive without a solid support system. Seek out the people in your life who you can count on during times of hardship and reach out to them. Perhaps you need someone to take your child to school, prepare meals, clean the house, or just to listen to you. If you try to maintain everything on your own, you’re more likely to experience emotional overwhelm, which will not only increase your stress, but it can wind up making you less productive in the long run.

6. Prioritize and Delegate

Recognize that your productivity potential will likely be lower during times of crisis. So make the best use of the productivity you have by prioritizing your tasks. Create to-do lists and prioritize the most important tasks first.

“Even though it’s difficult, this is a time to be diligent about saying no to extra commitments to people in your personal and professional life,” Armstrong said. “You’ve gone the extra mile for others when they were having difficulties, and you can do so again, but this isn’t the time.”

Delegating tasks to others can also be helpful. Look to your co-workers for assistance when possible, rather than trying to conquer everything on your own.

7. Practice Self-Care

When you are under a large amount of stress, it can be easy to forget about the importance of taking care of yourself. In times of crisis, people tend to be more vulnerable and self-care may be more important than ever. Do your best to take good care of yourself. Remember to eat healthy foods, exercise, and take time to rest.

“Self-care during times of personal crisis is crucial,” Armstrong said. “Don’t skimp on things like sleep, baths, workouts, walks, massages, or just time spent kind of zoning out for 10 minutes. Taking the time to take care of yourself is the best investment you can make during difficult times. It helps you maintain your resilience (and your sense of humor) when you need it the most.”

8. Acknowledge Difficult Days

Remember you are human. You are allowed to feel emotions. Some days will be more difficult than others. There may be days when you don’t have the strength to get out of bed. Even when you’re trying so hard to focus on what’s important, some tasks may slip your mind, and that’s okay.

“Even though it may sound selfish and may seem like everyone says this, if you are going through a personal crisis, you need to make sure that you put yourself first and are honest about what you can and cannot do,” Armstrong said.

Don’t berate yourself for your feelings. Instead, allow yourself to feel the emotions at the surface, knowing that everything passes in time.

9. Choose Positive Coping Skills

Stress often makes it easier to reach for a vice. Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, overspending, gambling, or some other addictive habit, everyone has weaknesses. While vices may relieve some stressful feelings immediately, they usually wind up making things worse and increasing stress over time.

Rather than engaging in a bad habit, use positive coping mechanisms to deal with your stress. These might include spending time with loved ones, exercising, eating a healthy and delicious meal, napping, meditating, trying a new hobby, or working on a creative activity.

10. Take Some Time Off

As much as you might want to be productive, sometimes it is necessary to take some time off to heal. If things get too challenging to maintain, use some of your vacation or sick days and take some time away from work.

Though Armstrong advocates for a combination of an improved self-care routine, increased exercise, and therapy, she suggests people do an honest self-assessment on how they’re coping with everything.

“If you are seriously considering taking a leave of absence from work, talk to your doctor and mental health professional as soon as possible regarding appropriate documentation. Also, contact your Human Resources department regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA),” Armstrong said. “Do not tell your manager or co-workers about your personal crisis. It may seem tempting, but if you are considering a leave of absence, it is crucial that all of your information remain confidential and that starts with you. Even the Human Resources department should only be provided with the minimum amount of documentation required to substantiate your request for leave, and all of that should come from medical professionals, not you. It’s important to remember this because even though nobody is supposed to press you for details, they often do.”

Armstrong suggests the best time to request a leave of absence is before a personal crisis starts to affect your work performance. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from your employer. Oftentimes, people will be willing to work with you to come up with a solution that works for everyone. Many people may feel guilty for missing work, but remember emotional crises can sometimes be as debilitating as physical illnesses, and some time off may be the best way to start the healing process.

11. See a Therapist or Attend a Support Group

Therapists and counselors play an important role in helping people cope with a crisis. Psychotherapy can help individuals assess their situation and create positive coping skills to manage their stress.

Support groups can also be a valuable means of support. They are widely available for those facing many different life challenges, from cancer to divorce to drug addiction. Whatever you’re dealing with, being able to talk with another person who can empathize with your situation can be helpful.

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